Has anyone used a Solar pop can heater for their coop?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by terri1nd, Jan 2, 2011.

  1. terri1nd

    terri1nd Out Of The Brooder

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    May 4, 2008
    I live in North Dakota & in the spring I have to build a permanent chicken coop & I thought of trying the solar pop can heater since I have an area that gets lots of southern exposure. I like the idea of not depending on electricity because we can lose power for extended periods in the winter (I'm told). Thankfully I've not lived here long enough to have first hand experience in that, but I do think it is something that needs to be taken into account.

    I did a websearch & found lots of videos & sites that talk about solar pop can heaters for houses, but did not find anything about possibly using it in a chicken coop. I currently have 24 birds, so I will need a decent size coop, so I do not think it would become too warm for them until spring at which time I was thinking I could just disconnect the unit, until late fall.
    So I was wondering if anyone has tried this?
    thanks,
    Terri
     
  2. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    I have something sort of like that. It is kind of a very large walk-in sized popcan heater that doubles as a chicken run, LOL

    What it is, is that my front pen (the front of the building faces S) has a 4x7-footprint secondary run built as an 8' tall leanto against the building. It contains a window as well as the popdoor. In summer I cover it with shadecloth, which helps keep the building cool and reduces rain blow-in. In winter, I replace the shadecloth with 6-mil plastic sheeting, and seal all airgaps as well as possible and put a thick layer of fresh dry shavings on the ground. This allows me, on sunny days, to open both popdoor AND window and have it suck cool coop air into the run thru the popdoor, warm the air up and blow it back into the coop thru the open window. No fan is involved, it is totally passive (thermosiphoning), same as most popcan heater designs. (e.t.a. - this is not the pen's only run, they have a roofed 14x12 run that is their primary outdoor space, although on real windy cold days I tend to leave that door shut and only let them into the little lean-to front run)

    It works extremely well on sunny days. Depending on the time of year (daylength and sun angle) I can get as much as a 5 C or more boost in daytime coop air temperature by using it... that's, what, a boost of 12 F or more.... and this is in a 15x40 building. Because I can use it to keep daytime temps up and the building has very high thermal mass AND excellent insulation, it helps nighttime temps be higher as well.

    A couple caveats. First, I need to be THERE to open and shut it. With a regular popcan heater, that is not chicken-occupied [​IMG], you could make a grille-and-plastic-bag-flap "valve" to discourage backflow when there is no solar heating occurring, but I would suggest that's best regarded as a failsafe rather than an everyday automatic switch, because that sort of arrangement is just not that "tight". It IS important to close the thing off when the sun is not out, because otherwise the thermosiphon runs backwards and it actively COOLS your coop. (I sometimes get this, despite my best intentions, when I wait too long to close it in the afternoon or after clouds move in)

    Second, while a popcan heater in the strict sense can be used pretty much anywhere that space and sun are available (as long as it is at the same level as the coop -- if the upper opening is higher than the coop ceiling you *have* to use a motorized fan instead of relying on passive processes), the "also a small chicken run" version I use really needs to have the floor VERY DRY. Ideally it would be on a raised wood platform rather than on the ground, but this was not a good option in my site. I get away with having it on soil because I take a buncha precautions to minimize dampness in the ground there, and mainly because the plastic-covered run is quite small in comparison to the coop as a whole and the coop as a whole is (SEPARATELY!) pretty well-vented in comparison to its ventilation needs. It would be a big, big mistake to try using a plastic-covered run on soil in this way if you had any borderline humidity issues, because you would be continually sucking moisture out of the ground and jamming it into your coop.

    Third, it is not something you want to *depend* on. I have actually gotten very little heating use out of mine this season because it has been so weirdly consistantly cloudy this season since, I dunno, October [​IMG] On the other hand, cloudy weather is almost always *milder* weather -- it is the sunny days and crystal-clear nights that are the coldest -- so I figure it all sort of evens out (it has indeed been overall a warmish, as well as a cloudy, winter here so far)

    Note however that it is fairly pointless to use ANY popcan- or greenhouse-style heating for your coop unless you have very high thermal mass AND excellent insulation. There is no particular big benefit to increasing daytime coop temperatures greatly -- all it does is make day-night swings worse, which can be harder on birds and worsen humidity problems. What you are really after is to increase NIGHTTIME coop temperatures. So you need to be STORING much of your daytime heat collection into thermal mass that will release it after dark, and you should have excellent insulation (despite also having ventilation open) so that you are retaining as much as possible of that stored heat for as long as possible.

    Solar heating in a very heat-losing non-heat-storing coop would be just pointless, possibly even counterproductive in some circumstances (like if you overdo it)

    Good luck, have fun,

    Pat
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2011
    breege likes this.

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