DIY insulated water pail


5 Years
Jun 29, 2015
Maryland; Carroll County
Below are instructions for building a DIY insulated water bucket (2 bucket system). This will allow your ducks to have water all day long without freezing. I tested this @ a overnight temp of 13F. When returning in the morning, only a thin top layer of the water was frozen and could easily be cracked by tapping it with a finger. With solar radiation from day exposure, top layer of water should not freeze (this system is probably effective down to about 20F or so during the day).

5 gallon buckets; $2.97 each (will need 4x): purchase from Home Depot
Easy Off lids; $1.68 (2x): purchased from Home Depot (note I found that they sold this individually at my HD)
Gap and Filler Spray Foam; $4.96 (x6): purchased from Home Depot
2" x 4" x 8' weatherseal board; $3.57 (1x): purchased from Home Depot
1.25" decking screws; $9.97 (1x): purchased from Home Depot
5 quart buckets; $4.95 (4x): purchased from Amazon
Tub of Petroleum Jelly; $5.48 (1x): purchased from Amazon

1. Create Bucket holders (this step is not totally necessary, but will allow you to have a level location to add your insulated bucket into and ensure the ducks/wind do not blow the water bucket over).
a. Cut 2" x 4" in half so you have two four foot boards
b. Place both boards next to each other and lay two 5 gallon buckets on top of the boards. Buckets should be 6" - 12" apart from each other
c. Screw 5 gallon buckets to both 2" x 4" boards
d. Drill several holes in the bottom of the buckets so that if water gets in them it will drain
e. Dig out a 5' x 2' hole. Make the hole deep enough so that the top of the bucket is at a comfortable height for the ducks to bob their heads into. Make sure the hole is level.
f. Drop in the bucket holder assembly and put dirt back into hole around the bucket holders.
g. You should now have two buckets that are partially buried that are level and cannot be pulled out of the ground

2. Create insulated 5 gallon bucket
A. Create lid
i Trace outer rim of 5 quart bucket on the top of the easy off lid using a sharpie
ii. Make a line across the middle of the traced circle
iii. Trace a smaller semi circle on the lid (about 1" shorter on each side)
iv. Cut along the smaller semi circle to make an opening on the lid allowing access for the ducks to stick their heads into drink/dunk but limiting the access space to limit the amount of water loss from the bucket b/c of the ducks splashing their heads around

B. Add Foam to bottom of bucket and level it off
i. Empty one complete can of spray foam into the bucket and let dry overnight
ii. Remove the metal handle from one of the 5 quart buckets
iii. Stack two 5 quart buckets on top of each other (the bucket without the handle should be on the bottom)
iv. Using a knife, level the cured foam in the bucket. The level of the foam needs to be high enough so that when both 5 quart stacked buckets and sit in the 5 gallon and the top 5 quart bucket is slightly lower than the top of the 5 gallon bucket with the foam in it


C. Add foam around sides of 5 quart buckets
i. Add a small amount of spray foam to the leveled out portion of the foam bed within the 5 gallon bucket (this is so when you put in the bottom 5 quart bucket it is glued to the foam at its bottom edge
ii. Fill in the outside gaps between the 5 gallon bucket and the 5 quart bucket until the foam is half way up the sides
iii. Put on carved out lid onto the 5 gallon bucket so that as the foam rises, the level of the 5 quart buckets will remain in place
iv. Let dry overnight

D. Add final layer of foam
i. Remove lid and the top stacked 5 quart bucket (i.e. remove the 5 quart bucket with the handle)
ii. You should now have the bottom 5 quart bucket pretty well glued within the 5 gallon bucket
iii. Add foam to the appropriate level (when dried it should rise to about a 1/2 from the top of the bucket)
iv. Let dry overnight
v. Level off foam with a knife if necessary and ensure that the two 5 quart bucket can still sit in the 5 gallon bucket and the 5 gallon lid can shut easily

E. Protect 5 quart buckets from freezing together
i. Smear a light coating of petroleum jelly around the interior of the first glued in 5 quart bucket

With this system, you should have the ability to provide your ducks with 10 quarts of water each day to dunk their heads into and drink from. The sides and bottom of the 5 quart buckets are very well insulated. This system is working to provide six ducks with water during the winter months. You will need to scale up/down depending upon the quantity of ducks you have. Using a stacked bucket system allows you to easily remove the top 5 quart bucket, fill with water and place it back into the insulated bucket. I fill my 5 quart buckets by filling up a 5 gallon bucket with warm water inside my house, transporting the water to the duck yard and then physically filling each 5 quart bucket up with water using a small tupperware bowl.

This system works great when the night time temps stay above freezing as well. If you can change out your insulated bucket with a regular 5 gallon bucket you can provide your ducks with 10 gallons of water to dunk/drink from during the warmer seasons.

Improvements: Purchase a black 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot (link). The black bucket will allow the buckets to warm up more from solar radiation during the day.

Video links:
a. Bucket system overview
b. Ducks using buckets
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5 Years
Jun 29, 2015
Maryland; Carroll County
Experiences using this DIY insulated pail with cold nights.

I've been filling up a 5 gallon bucket with warm/hot water and hand carrying it out to the coop at night. I use a small tupperware container to transfer water from the bucket to the insulated water pail.

When filling up the primary water pails with warm/hot water at night (after the ducks are in the coop) I notice:
1. No freezing @ night time temps 18F or higher
2. Thin top freezing of water @ temps 18F to 10F. Frozen layer is very thin and can easily be broken

Possible Improvement:

Seal secondary water bucket to insulation layer using a waterproof sealant like this. The ducks make a mess of the water in the primary water pail causing water to splash out of the pail and get underneath the secondary pail where it meets the insulation layer. This can freeze and reduce the insulation properties of the pail

So far I've been pretty happy with this system. It has allowed me to set up my water pails at night (when I have time) and have very little issues in the morning when I let out the ducks (when I don't have time). I still have to hump water out to the coop at night, but I'd have to do this regardless of the type of pail/bucket system I choose to use.

This is a relatively cheap long lasting unpowered solution to providing my ducks with water each day in the winter with little to no effort in the morning hours for me (which helps me a lot as I have a thousand things to do in the morning getting my kids to school and getting to work myself).



5 Years
Jun 29, 2015
Maryland; Carroll County
I've made four of these insulated water pails so far and each time I do something slightly different to improve the design.

Here's my latest procedure with included pics.

Step 1. Understanding your dimensions

The primary measurement when making these insulated pails is to know how thick you should make your foam base which is what the two inner buckets sit on. To do this make sure that you know:

A. Your total inner height of your pail (in my case for the HD 5 gallon it's 14")
B. Your total height of your two stacked inner buckets (in my case it was 7"). Add 1" to this so that you have some wiggle room in case the foam expands due to water crystal freezing (so it would be 8")

Subtract your pail inner height by your stacked buckets height (14" - 8" = 6"). So in my case, the foam base should be 6" high

Step 2. Create your foam base

The simplest way is to spray a whole can of spray foam into your pail and let it cure for 24 hours, remove the base from the bucket and then trim it do your desired height. I found when doing this because the spray foam is an adhesive, it's not easy to separate it from the bucket once it cures and is also a bit messy. Make sure when your handling uncured spay foam that you use gloves as it is quite sticky and messy.

Below are pics of what a whole can of spray foam looks like after curing 24 hours (again, make sure you spray when the foam can is room temp and let it cure at room temp otherwise you will not get good foam expansion and curing), and after the base is removed from the bucket and trimmed to size.

Removing the foam base from the pail is a real pain. I used a 6 3/4" Hori Hori gardening knife to remove mine. After doing so I thought it would be much easier if you take a plastic sheet (or garbage bag) and line the bottom and sides of the pail with it. Then shoot in your spray foam and allow it to cure. Finally remove the cured foam base by pulling on the plastic sheet or bag. If I had to do it over again, I think this would make loads more sense.

Step 3. Confirm Foam base height is correct using the stacked inner buckets

Once you've trimmed your foam base, put it back into the pail and then add your two stacked buckets to make sure the rim of your inner buckets are not higher then the rim of your pail. At this point the top rim of the inner stacked buckets should be 1/2" - 1" shorter than the rim of the pail. If the rim of the stacked buckets is too tall, then remove the foam base and trim it as appropriate. If the rim of the stacked bucket is too short, then you could add some more spray foam to the base to increase its height. Note, the orientation of the inner buckets is wrong. The bucket with the handle should be on top.

Step 4. Fill in the sides around the inner bucket with spray foam

Remove the top inner bucket (the one with handle) and leave in the inner bucket (the one with the handle removed). Make sure the inner bucket is centered and then spray in enough spray foam to cover about a third of the height of the inner bucket. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then make sure the inner bucket is still centered. If it's not, you can put in some spacers between the pail and the inner bucket to keep it centered (I used some balled up paper towels to do this). Let it sit for 2 hours. Now spray in more foam so that it is almost to the top of the bucket. Wait another 2 hours. Finally spray in foam to top it off to the rim of the pail. The reason for adding the foam in multiple steps is (1) to ensure your inner pail stays centered (2) allowing your foam to have enough exposure to air to properly expand.

Step 5. Trim the foam and add stacked bucket and pail lid

Using a knife trim your foam so that you can add your stacked bucket (the one with handle). The foam height needs to be about 1/2" shorter than the top of the rim of the pail to allow the pail lid to be pressed on easily. Once you have your foam trimmed add your stacked bucket and make sure that it is at the same height of the pail rim and/or 1/2" - 1" shorter. Now it's time to cut out the drinking hole out of the pail lid. Using the stacked bucket, trace its circumference onto the pail lid with a sharpie. Draw a line on the circle at the half way point and then cut out the semi-circle using a small blade. Add your lid to your pail with the two stacked buckets inside and your done! Why have a lid? The lid is necessary so the ducks have enough access to the inner bucket to drink the water and dunk their heads, but not enough to really splash the water around causing a lot of the water to be pushed out limiting their drinking water volume.

Hopefully the pics help communicate how this insulated pail is created. These pails have worked out great for me all winter keeping the water in the pail from freezing during the day. Like I mentioned above, I fill these pails at night with hot water so I don't have too much to do the next morning. To do this, I simply remove the lid, pull out the top stacked inner bucket, rinse it out, fill it with hot/warm water, place it back in the pail and add the lid. Provided that the night time temps stay +15F, when I arrive at the duck yard in the morning, the water is not frozen. Occasionally when the night time temps really plummet I'll get a very thin top later of water frozen in the stacked bucket which is easy enough to break apart. The water in the pails have always stayed unfrozen during the day and I notice that all of the water is drunken by the ducks when I arrive later that night. Hopefully this gives you guys some ideas as to how to keep your duck's drinking water from freezing in the winter for cheap and without using electricity.
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