Monday, June 15, 2015

Chicken Coop Solar-Powered LED With a Timer for Under $50

Let me preface this post with a statement: I'm not an electrician. I am not even experienced with electricity; I'd wager this was my first proper experience in trying to hook something up with my own brain power. This is how my husband and I rigged our set-up. You have the liberty to do it however you like, as you need it to be. This is just how we did it. Use common sense in approaching this project. Now for the fun part!

Our chickens have the tendency to rely on lighting in their coop, not for heat, but because they seem to be much happier going to bed where the light is on. It being June, we have the light on for about 45 minutes before they go to bed, and about 5 minutes after they're shut in for the night. 

Additionally, we like having fresh eggs in winter, so we wanted a light that would mimic daylight in their coop during the shorter, darker, colder months of the year here in New England. 
Here we are, testing our system. 
This was a tough project to figure out, mostly because of the timer wiring, but I have wanted to have a solar-powered LED on a timer in the chicken coop forever. In fact, if it were up to me, everything I own would be solar-powered, but that's easier said than done. I spent a long time reading and emotionally preparing for failure on this, but we succeeded!

There seemed to be some very limited information on doing this on the internet, so I wanted to put it all down right here for anyone to see how we did it, and for fairly cheap.

We have an automated chicken door (which I highly recommend, if you're looking for an automated set-up) that runs on solar power, so we already have the solar panel and battery on-hand.

Here's what you'd need:
  • x1 12v, 5AH deep cycle battery (< $15 on Amazon) - I really don't know if the 5AH is necessary, but it's what we have, and it works. Someone wiser than me could tell you whether it's necessary or not. I'm just replicating. :)
  • x1 12v solar panel ($15-25 on Amazon, depending on what kind you get). I wish I could tell you how many watts mine produces, but unfortunately, all I know is that it's 12v. It came with the door, and their website doesn't mention wattage. Whatever is in your budget should work if you're not planning on running the light for more than a couple of hours.
  • x1 12v LED bulb ($4 on Amazon). This is a plenty bright enough bulb! Just do not put it into an outlet that accepts 120v - it'll blow instantly. Ask me how I know.
  •  x1 DC timer ($5 on Amazon): This is the tricky element to get into your system. It's why this project was so challenging, and why I am writing this post. 
  • 1x light fixture. You can pick these up at the hardware store for cheap, but we had one that we already had in the cellar from a light fixture we swapped out a month ago.
  • Connectors for each terminal that you'll be using. This is totally up to you. My father would use wire nuts, I used these neat things called "disconnects" and "ring tongues." I'll include a picture in this post. You'll probably want some electrical tape handy, too.
Ring tongues, disconnects, etc.
We put our whole rig, save for the solar panel of course, on the inside of the coop in a plastic bin to protect it from the chickens and any unwanted elements. Pop holes where you want wires in out, or just run them out of the box and rubber-band/tie/tape the box shut. Get creative here if you want!

So here's how you should think of your system:
Solar panel -> battery -> DC timer -> light fixture -> bulb
Follow this line, and the general principle that black is negative, red is positive, and you'll be golden, I swear. If you have different colors, use your head, or look things up. Not everyone uses red and black for some reason, but I'm sure you can figure it out :)

That means the red(+) line from the solar panel connects to the red(+) terminal on the battery. Then, the red(+) terminal off of the battery connects to the DC timer (more complicated), and then, after rigging the timer, the red(+) line out goes to the bulb.

The line is the same for the black(-) line from the solar panel, straight through the system (except for that pesky timer).
Let's talk about rigging up the timer. This one was a beast. The instructions are so unclear. This should help anyone looking for a photo or something. This works with the model CN101A 12v DC timer. I made a little diagram in Photoshop for this timer, I hope it helps anyone who's looking into how to use it. (I had to figure it out watching a YouTube video that had really poor audio on the very part I needed to hear about!)

How to rig the CN101A timer for an LED bulb
Once we got it installed correctly (which took the better part of last Friday evening), it has worked flawlessly. The light was easy to program, and it has a manual override button for turning it off and on, independent of the program you set. It's great for being able to click the light on when I'm cleaning out the coop, and clicking it off when I'm done. 

This set-up could probably be used for all sorts of fun stuff. I've been planning a water pump system on a similar rig, just to get the water pressure of our rain barrels up to a decent level.

We've only had it installed for... let's see, four days if you include today. The door and the light are operating fine. They're all on the same power source, and we've had no issues with dim lights or a slow coop door.

It feels good have the coop "off the grid," and the ladies seem more than pleased with set-up. For all parts under $50, this is a nice way to give chickens some light in their coop without kicking up the electric meter!

No comments: