DYI Forever Water Heater

By RonP · Dec 15, 2015 · Updated Jan 20, 2016 · ·
  1. RonP
    There are many proposed solutions for keeping water liquid for a backyard flock during subfreezing temperatures. Personally, I like to keep it simple and with little maintenance.

    Unless multiple trips to replace the frozen water seems effortless to you, I have found no methods for maintaining ice free drinking water during sub freezing ambient temperatures, without the use of electricity.

    I have been a proponent of the basic cookie tin heater for the last 4 years or so, recommending it to all who ask. Easy to construct, inexpensive, and effective.

    The laws of thermodynamics, the heat source in the center of the bottom of water supply will cause the warmer water to rise, creating a continuous "current", as warm water is displaced with cold, thus circulating the water without the need for mechanical assistance. This is one of the reasons why a cookie tin heater works wonderfully for so many.

    I have unfortunately since discovered one of the main attributes of a cookie tin is also a severe detriment, and with proper timing, a potential disaster.

    Pros: Cookie tins, are readily available, and as such are comparably inexpensive. They are easily constructed into heaters. See my link posted above. Great!

    Cons: They are also just cheap steel cans plated with a thin layer of corrosion resistant tin. Not so great...

    Thus the pending disaster.

    I kept my tin in my coop plugged into a thermo cube, on @ 35F off @45F,
    ready to perform when called upon 24/7 365.

    I used a popcorn tin due to the additional height.


    It was the base to my water supply, keeping the water at the proper height, half buried in my deep bedding. It served very well for the last 4 or so years, requiring only one single bulb change during that time period.

    However, upon a routine inspection this year, I discovered the opening and closing of the tin lid caused the thin tin coating to wear or scratch off. The now unprotected steel rusted the tin shut. Claw hammer in hand, I had to destroy the tin to open it... It was not a pretty sight and I rendered my heater useless.

    I try not to do anything twice due to design or build flaws...no matter how inexpensive the materials, as I value my very limited time. Had I discovered this during sub freezing weather, with frozen water, well, let's just say I would not have been a happy camper and leave it at that...

    Since it was discovered in a timely manner, I gave the situation some thought.


    Design and build a SIMPLE water heater that withstands inhospitable (chicken coop) conditions...

    My solution:
    This solution assumes the builder has a basic knowledge of electricity, coop is properly wired with GFCI protection, and ability to use hand tools.

    As I have a phobia involving electricity and water, no matter how careful and well engineered the product, submerging anything electrical in the water was not going to happen. This is why I was originally attracted to the cookie tin heater design.

    So...let's design, source, and build a better cookie tin heater, one that will last indefinitely!

    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] [​IMG]

    That's it...


    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

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    You can probably already guess where this is going...[​IMG]

    The pot is stainless steel, as of 12/2015, under $12. Available online.
    Zoom in, I pictured all the necessary information.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Prepare the pot. Paint the inside of the pot flat black, high heat paint. As anyone sitting in the sun can attest, there is heat given off by light, I will not get into the scientifics, but why have that light bounce off reflective surfaces. This is the most efficient form of material to absorb the light and heat energy.

    Next, bend the handles down, fairly easy as this is not an expensive well built pot, but perfect for what we are building.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Drill a 1/2" hole around one of the handles. Drill another one directly above, (1.5") from the bottom of the pot, and one 180 degrees away, also at (1.5") the bottom of the pot. You should have 3 holes total.
    This was fairly difficult at first, be careful, the bit wanted to walk, and it took some effort to start each hole using a handheld drill as opposed to a drill press.

    Once you have your holes drilled, insert the grommets from the parts list in the holes. Hint, these were purchased in the Big Orange Box (Home Depot) store. Please note, the pictures do not show the 3rd hole, opposite side, bottom of the pot.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    The next step is to prepare the 10 1/2 inch brooder/clamp light fixture.
    Start by removing and tossing the clamp.

    Next, cut the wire about 3.5 inches from the fixture, and place the fixture into the pot. The fixture is a very tight fit, actually scraping the paint off the sides of the pot.

    Note that the two grommeted holes on the bottom of the pot are there should the fixture decide to slide down, the grommets will hold the fixture in place. Mine did not slide at all. You will have to squeeze the light fixture past the two bottom grommets.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Next, install a male replacement plug to the cut fixture wire.


    Now you have an option. You must decide how long a cord you will need to plug in your heater. It would be best not to have any other breaks in the power cord until plugged into the power source. My power source is less than 5 feet away, so I just used the remaining wire from the clamp light, fed it through the hole near the handle, and installed a replacement female plug. Going 25 feet? Sacrifice an extension cord, and do the same. If going a very long distance, just make sure the wiring is suitable, and install the female replacement plug.

    Use some zip ties to restrain the cord as shown to the pot handle. This decreases any tension on, and protects the fixture inside the pot.
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    Your heater is now fully assembled!

    I choose to keep the bottom open. With my application, the heater will be placed on a wooden floor.

    My build tests show no heat loss (less than 0.1 degree F) from the sides of the pot at all. All the heat from the bulb is transferred to the top of the pot.

    You could flip the included cover and simply tape it to the bottom of the pot.
    I flipped it into the recycle/repurpose bin...

    Total costs should be under $30.00

    You now have to choose your heat source.

    This fixture will accept normal light bulbs up to 150 watts. As I will be heating a 5 gallon nipple water bottle, I decided to use a 50 watt halogen flood. This bulb is rated for 4 years, I'm guessing around 4,000 hours. I purchased two, one for the shelf for when the one in use burns out. With today's electric prices, it will cost me around 10 cents per 24 hours use.

    Well worth the cost to ensure my flock has drinkable water 24/7 365.

    If heating less volume, I would recommend using less watts. I know 38 watts kept 2.5 gallons liquid till -9F, my coop's lowest recorded night time temperature.

    Please drop me a note with any suggestions or comments. I'm always open to new ideas.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    All the best, Ron.

    A 50W halogen flood bulb consistently keeps 4-5 gallons of water in a non insulated water bottle ~30F above ambient temperatures.

    1-3 gallons, more than 40F above ambient under the same conditions.

    This is more than sufficient for my needs.

    Take the time and build one of these base heaters, you will not have any regrets. I don't believe there is a more reliable, safer, or easily serviced heater available.

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Recent User Reviews

  1. LlamaGirl4
    "IT WORKS!"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Nov 14, 2018
    ive something very similar with my ducks and chickens before. It works and keeps the water warm and it saved my butt so it doesn’t get cold!

    The only thing is that it’s a pain to clean out. But in my opinion it’s worth it!
    webbysmeme likes this.


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  1. Acre4Me
    Looks like a possible project for us! We've tried a few things this year with disappointing results. Now using heated dog bowl inside the coop, but needs refilling 2x per day and gets shavings/dirt in the water, so by next winter will want a new solution. Of course, we might get around to it this winter, too. Funny, I happened upon these exact pots at Walmart when they were getting rid of them - they were a set of 3 sizes, shrink wrapped together, so I already have the right pot to use! And I've used that exact hi-temp heat paint on a cast iron fire pit (and lid) - with great, and long lasting results.
      RonP likes this.
  2. Grammieshens
    Wow! Thank you, Ron, for the detailed instructions. We will definitely considering trying this. All the best to you, too. :)
  3. TxFlyGuy
    Why not just use an aquarium heater directly in the water? Works great and is actually designed for this purpose.
      webbysmeme and Mimi’s 13 like this.
    1. Mimi’s 13
      How hot does an aquarium heater get? In other words, how large a container of water would it keep heated/thawed?
      webbysmeme likes this.
    2. TxFlyGuy
      It depends on the heater and the overall size of the tank. A 400watt heater with no thermostat could boil a quart of water. I would probably use a 100wt heater on a thermostat switch like the one described in the article. Set the built in heater thermostat as low as it will go.
  4. brezbyme
    Does anyone know a brand/place to get the pot? When I checked, this one is unavailable now.
    1. RonP
      I was just at my local Walmart. There sitting on the shelf was the exact pot?
  5. IdyllwildAcres
    I made this last year, getting ready to pull it out again. It has worked well for me so far.

      webbysmeme and zoocrewpals like this.
  6. PetesChicks

    Just wondering how this is working now, a few years later. I'm thinking of building the same, to replace my heated dog waterer for this winter. Last year, we had a week where the high was -5' F, not sure what the lows were. Never had a problem with the dog waterer freezing up, but just looking for a cleaner option.

      webbysmeme likes this.
    1. RonP
      Heater has worked flawlessly since installed.
      Still waiting for a light bulb to burn out...
      webbysmeme and PetesChicks like this.
  7. RonP
    The two holes near the bottom of the pot are there simply to install the grommets. The grommets are installed to inhibit the clamp light from sliding down the pot. It's a tight fit, the grommets are more than suficient
      LlamaGirl4 likes this.
  8. chattery41
    I see one of ur holes is for wiring, what are the 2 near the bottom/top for ?
  9. chixcoop
    Nice idea, Gonna have to try that in my coop!
      webbysmeme likes this.
  10. RonP
    Thanks aart. Improved simple but effective design. Add a 13" pizza or serving pan for drips, then a water container (with horizontal nipples if you so choose). Easy inexpensive heat source exchange for severe or moderately cold weather. Corrosion resistant for outdoor (or indoor) use. Couldn't think of anything easier or better to address frozen drinking water ...
      webbysmeme likes this.
  11. aart
    That's one hell of a 'cookie tin' :D
    I could use one of those for a scalding pot tho.

    On my inexpensive infrared, the target light quit working :(
  12. RonP
    At 65.9F, with a 50w flood bulb, surface temperature reached a high of 116F with nothing on the heater.

    At the same ambient temperature, a 5 gallon plastic water bottle reached a max of 92.6F.

    Coldest recorded ambient coop temp to date with this heater, 8F.

    At 8F ambient, water in transparent bottle, ~4.5 gallons, liquid and warm to the touch, as was a small puddle in the drip pan. When releasing some water through the nipples, it also was also predictably warm to the touch, warm as if I had to wash my hands warm.

    Unfortunately my inexpensive infrared thermometer, like most, is unreliable at ambient temperatures below 32F. Accurate readings are not available.
  13. aart
    What's the temp on the surface the bottle sits on?
    Have you had any freezing weather yet there?
  14. RonP
    No need to grab the cord, just the reflector. Pushing in a bit will pass the grommet. The bulb I use is advertised as a 4 year bulb @ 3 hours per day. Incandescent halogen bulbs work well in enclosed fixtures, not burn out sooner, as there are no electronics as in compact fluorescents or LEDs. Seems like over 4300 hours. If used for 2 1/2 months straight... it will last for 2 years or so. The pot has a wide footprint and would be difficult to flip, most especially if half buried in deep bedding or litter as designed.
  15. coop410silkies
    Love the use of the SS pot. To change the bulb, you have to pull up the fixture by the cord? What about a hanging type fitxture that has a metal hanging loop? In all my years with keeping reptiles, I never found a reflective halogen lamp that lasted very long, even when not enclosed. People using lamps in enclosed fixtures should be careful to buy those bulbs suitable for enclosing. The idea of leaving it open on the bottom makes me nervous; I think some of my cocks would find a way to knock it over. Maybe a weighted non-flammable base mounted on some risers would work for multiple situations. Also, maybe the edge of the fixture could be notched, so that it could more easily slide past the grommets. Great little appliance to work with.
    1. Ibchduckin
      This sounds like a great idea, and I would use it. My question for you is how would you keep the little nipple water things from freezing? This year already they froze along with those little cup watering things. The water in the bucket did not freeze though. I was using those bird bath heaters that you can submerge into a bucket. Have now switched to the heated dog bowls. (messy)

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