What Can Cause Temperature Fluctuations in Your Incubator?
by Misty Johnson
Many factors can have an effect on your incubator's temperature. Some are simple to fix, some are a little more complicated. It's best to check the ones that don't require you to open the incubator first. Remember, at the very start of incubation, you have added eggs to the incubator that are cooler than the temperature inside. Due to this fact, you are likely to see a small temperature drop during the first few hours after setting, until the eggs warm up. This can take as little as 4 hours to as long as 8.
Check your water levels - Dry water troughs in the incubator is the most common reason for overheating. If needed, add water and leave the incubator lid open just long enough for the temperature to come down. You will need to keep close watch on temperature and humidity levels over the next 30 to 60 minutes. Besides the obvious reasons, it is also to make sure lack of water was indeed the cause and not controls that have been tampered with (children, pets, a well-meaning spouse, etc.).
Being near a heat source or direct sunlight - If you sit in direct sunlight, you're going to get warmer. The same applies to your incubator, and more than a 1-degree temperature change in either direction can cause potential problems. Check again to make sure your incubator is not in or too close to direct sunlight. Is it near a heat vent, oven, or any small appliance that gives off heat?
Being in a drafty room, near an air-conditioner window unit or vent, or in a room that changes temperature often (kitchen, bathroom, porch) - Kitchens and bathrooms are the most likely rooms to have too much of a temperature change due to cooking and hot showers. A bathroom that will not be used is an OK choice. Is the incubator too close to an AC vent or source of cool air? (On the other hand, people who live in dry climates often find the bathroom an ideal room for incubators, as bathrooms tend to be the most humid rooms in the house.)
When adding water for humidity, having the water too hot or cold - Adding water that is too hot can raise the temperature. Adding water that is too cold can lower the temperature. You want to add water that is close to the temperature of the air in the incubator.
An unplugged incubator (my cats have caused mine to come unplugged) - A quick and simple solution: plug it back in. How did it become unplugged? If you're unsure or have overly curious pets like I do, you might just find yourself using duct tape to hold the plugs in place.
A wall socket needing to be reset - If you're in a panic over a temperature drop, you might not remember to see if the socket needs to be reset. Along the same lines, you may have a tripped or blown fuse. Just check your box.
A thermometer malfunction - Calibrate your thermometer again to make sure it isn't broken. If it's not digital, you can put it and another thermometer into a cup of warm water and see if they end up with the same reading. If it's digital, you'll need to compare with another digital thermometer.
A broken fan/thermostat - This should be checked quickly. Open your incubator enough to get your hand inside. Do you feel heat coming off the heating element? If you have a circulated air model, can you feel the air blowing? If you're unsure, you'll have to have a closer look. You'll need to replace a broken heating element as soon as possible. A broken fan doesn't require as much of a rush. Check your incubator instructions for the proper temperature for non-circulated incubation. If it doesn't say, a general standard is 102 degrees. Circulated models are said to have a better hatch outcome than non-circulated, so it's recommended you still replace a broken fan.
Opening the incubator too often - When opened, the incubator loses heat and humidity. Opening too often will cause more to be released, making it take longer to warm back up to the proper temperature. You should only open your incubator for hand turning, adding water, candling, turner removal, removal of fully dry hatched keets, or during a power outage as is explained in the next section.
Power Loss - Try not to be too concerned if your power is out and temperatures in the incubator drop for a few minutes or even a few hours. Eggs can withstand quite a long period of being cool (12-24 hours) and still go on to have a pretty reasonable hatch rate. Growing embryos produce heat of their own as a by-product of metabolism; but to develop properly, it is important they receive a constant flow of fresh air to take in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. If air circulation is not sufficient, especially during the later stages of incubation, the oxygen supply will be exhausted and the keets will suffocate. To allow for proper air exchange, a forced-air incubator should be opened immediately when the power goes out. It is best to keep the room temperature at or above 75 degrees F (23.9 degrees C). A still-air incubator should be kept closed, as the eggs will fare best with conservation of the heat and humidity. If the room is very cold or the outage is prolonged, it might help to cover the incubator with a large cardboard box. Hot water bottles or instant hand warmer packets can be placed under the box to help warm the insulating air space. Low temperatures slow keet development, so depending on how long your power is out, expect that hatching could be delayed.