There are three types of electric fences: electric grid powered, battery powered and solar powered. Each relies on a component known as an electric fence charger to convert the incoming charge into a safer form of electricity. The difference among the three is how the charger is powered.
Solar electric fences rely on sunlight to power the charger, rather than an A/C outlet or a standard battery. Most solar-powered electric fences are used on farms or in remote areas where there is no easy access to the electrical grid. They’re used to contain cattle or livestock in a field or to keep unwanted animals out of a garden.
Solar electric fences work by sending the animal a shock when it comes in contact with one of the live wires. The solar chargers require batteries, but the batteries last a long time because they are constantly recharged by the sun.
Solar chargers range in price from about $100 to $500, depending on how many miles or acres the charger will power. Occasionally, they run as high as $1,000 or more. Electric fencing usually costs anywhere from $0.10 to $0.20 per foot - far less than conventional fencing.
Replacement batteries, which are necessary every three to four years, cost anywhere from $10 to $100, depending on the voltage.
Installing a solar fence is manageable for most do-it-yourselfers. The process involves mounting the solar charger where it will receive the maximum amount of sunlight, setting up posts, running the wire, grounding the system and attaching the fencing to the charger.
The step-by-step process is outlined here. If the directions sound like they’re written in a foreign language, you’re better off hiring a professional installer.
Keep in mind that the vast majority of problems with solar electric fences are related to improper grounding. If you don’t understand this step, seek help. Also, know that some cities and towns require a permit to install an electric fence, while others don’t allow electric fences at all. Check with local officials before installation.
The solar panel on your charger should be cleaned from time to time - a dirty or dusty panel will not operate at peak efficiency. Simply use a soft cloth and water.
The battery requires some maintenance, too, if you want it to last for several years. When the battery is not in use, make sure it is fully charged before it is stored. And during any period when the battery is stored, place it in the sun for three days every three months to recharge (with the controller off).
- Ideal for remote areas - Solar electric fences are widely used on farms where access to electricity is difficult or nonexistent.
- Low maintenance - Solar electric charger batteries last a long time because they are constantly recharged by the sun. With traditional battery-powered electric fences, you’ll have to recharge the batteries yourself when the power gets low.
- No energy costs - You won’t see a spike in your electricity bill, as you would with an electric fence that is connected to the grid. And you won’t have replace the battery as often as you would with a traditional battery-powered electric fence charger.
- Price - Solar electric fences cost significantly more upfront than electric grid- or battery-powered electric fences.
- Not as powerful - Grid- and battery-powered chargers produce more electricity.
- Dependent on weather - A fully-charged solar electric fence can work for up to a couple weeks without sunlight. But if the battery is only partially charged during a period of days or weeks without much sunlight, you’re out of luck.
Regular electric fences are either A/C powered - meaning they’re plugged into an outlet that draws power from the grid - or battery powered. A/C-powered electric fence chargers tend to be cheaper and easier to maintain, so most experts recommend them if you have access to power.
Like solar electric fences, A/C- or battery-powered versions can be used to contain livestock or to keep unwanted animals out of gardens. Don’t confuse them with invisible fences for pets, which have wires that are buried underground.
A/C- and battery-powered chargers cost about $50 to $400, depending on how many miles or acres the charger will power. A charger on that low end of that price range might power 2 or 3 miles of wire; a charger on the high end might power 200 miles of wire. Wire is priced at about $0.10 to $0.20 per foot.
- A basic electric fence kit for small animals with 100 feet of aluminum wire might cost $100 to $150. Kits typically include poles, a ground rod and a ground clamp. Extra wire is sold separately.
- An electric fence for livestock is likely to cost about $0.50 to $1 per foot. That includes the charger and materials such as posts, insulators, springs wire and grounding rods. Labor is also included.
Installing an A/C- or battery-powered electric fence is a very similar process to installing a solar electric fence. Of course, you don’t have to worry about placing the charger in direct sunlight. And if you opt for an A/C powered version, you have to make sure the charger is close to an outlet.
Inspect your electric fence every so often to make sure it is working properly. Check the charger for cracks or water damage, measure the volts to determine the amount of current coming through the wires and physically inspect wires for breakage. When you do this, make sure the electrical box and electricity are turned off. Replace any sections of wire that are damaged.
You’ll also want to trim trees and shrubs near the electric fence, as they can weaken the electric signal.
- Cheaper upfront - Regular electric fence chargers tend to cost about $100 to $200 less than comparable solar charges.
- More powerful - Regular electric fence chargers are capable of powering larger areas.
- Higher operating costs - With A/C-powered electric fence chargers, you’ll see a spike in energy costs. With battery-powered versions, plan on dumping a significant amount of money into replacement batteries.
- Ineffective during power outages - A/C-powered electrical fences are useless during a power outage, so you run the risk of losing animals.
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