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Heating the Chicken McMansion

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Chieftain, Dec 3, 2010.

  1. Chieftain

    Chieftain Songster

    Dec 21, 2009
    Here's a link to my coop construction thread(s) where I discuss building the Chicken McMansion.


    In the past month there have been 2 serious chicken coop fires in my area because of people using inappropriate heating in their backyard or garage coops. In both cases, infrared heating lamps were involved that set the bedding on fire. I've been looking at additional heating for my coop and decided I would put up a thread discussing how I am going about providing my girls additional heat without burning the coop down. In many cases, additional heating can make the difference between having a dry clean coop and a wet smelly mess. If the coop stays above freezing it gives the moisture that the chickens exhale and excrete a chance to evaporate. If the temperature stays warm enough, the ammonia chickens excrete will evaporate too, so there can be real benefits to keeping the coop warm, or at least, warmer than it would otherwise be.

    If you have reviewed my construction threads, you are aware that my coop is double walled and insulated with 1/1/2" of styrofoam. It has large windows that I can close tightly, or prop open as needed. I also have a number of 4" diameter soffit vents installed to ensure that even if the windows are closed for extremely inclement weather, there is still some air turnover. I do not close the door to the coop itself, because I secure the covered run instead. I do have a rag door over the opening to cut down on some of the drafts, but the door usually stays open. If really bad weather threatens, I have a door insert I can slide down to close the girls in.

    The coop is sufficient by itself without additional heating as long as the weather does not get too extreme. I have a remote thermometer in the coop that reads out in the living room. By themselves, our six hens usually keep the coop 6-7 degrees warmer than the outside temp with just their body heat. But before Thanksgiving, we had a cold snap here that dropped the temperatures down into the teens overnight, and although the girls stayed warm enough and dry, that thermal shock was enough that they all started holding their eggs. Production dropped off from 4.8 eggs a day to 1 egg on the 24th, and has barely averaged over 3 eggs a day since. Today is warmer and everyone laid today, but the lesson is that sometimes some additional heat is necessary.

    So my goal here is not to just try and keep the girls warmer, but to see if I can quantify this project by keeping their egg production up as well. If a chicken has to devote most of it's metabolism to keeping itself warm, it will devote less energy to making eggs and can stop laying all together. I should note here that I also have the coop wired, and I put the inside coop light on along with the run light around 4:00 in the afternoon until I close the girls in after 6:00. At 6:00 AM, I put the lights back on and turn them off after sunrise. (Yes, I have a timer for when I am not home, but I prefer doing it manually when I am).

    So! Here are some calculations and some definitions.

    A BTU (British Thermal Unit) is a measure of the heat required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water by 1 degree F. It is used to calculate how much energy is needed to heat a volume of air in an enclosed room. There are different criteria that can affect the calculation, such as insulation, and the BTU calculator at Heatershop.com adjusts for these things automatically. For the purposes of heating a chicken coop, it is more than adequate.

    My coop is 20 square feet (5x4) with a slanted roof that averages about 4.5'. Multiply that out and it shows that the coop contains 90 cubic feet of volume. It is insulated but not that well; so in the BTU calculator I selected "Poor" insulation.

    I Googled a number of sources and found that a 4.5 pound brown-egg laying hen with an average body temperature of between 102 and 103 degrees F. puts off approximately 45 BTUs per Hour. With six layers on the roost, that means we have 270 BTUs an hour of heat in the coop already. I do not want to overheat, and I only want the heat on if it gets particularly cold.

    After a bit of research I have decided to use a flat panel heater inside the coop. I found a selection of heaters at http://www.shopthecoop.com/ and based on the above calculations, I have ordered their 150 Watt flat panel radiant heater. http://www.shopthecoop.com/mm5/merc...Code=STC&Product_Code=AIndus&Category_Code=He This heater puts out a gentle 150 watts/hour of heat without concentrating it on one spot. It's not too hot for the hens to touch it either. It's very safe and if properly installed can never be a fire hazard.

    150 Watts is equal to approximately 512 BTUs per hour.

    The heater is controlled with a thermostatic plug that the same company sells: http://www.shopthecoop.com/mm5/merc...tore_Code=STC&Product_Code=E&Category_Code=He I like this because it turns on at 35 degrees and turns off at 45 degrees. The only time it will kick on is if the temperature in the coop heads toward freezing, and will kick back off at a reasonable temp without overheating.

    Using the calculations from above, and adding an additional 150 Watts or 512 BTU/Hr of heat, that would create a total of 783 BTUs/hour and per the BTU calculator would raise 90 cubic feet of air 6.53 degrees Farenheit.

    Now those calculations are based on my coop, and are approximate results under ideal conditions. In reality, the radiant heater will not heat the whole coop evenly, and the constant turnover of air that is always taking place will of course waste some of the heat. But to compensate, I plan to mount the heater on the inside of the coop cleanout door, which is directly below and behind the roost. It will be up away from the litter, and it mounts with velcro so you can remove it and clean it when needed. I think the girls will probably be fighting over who gets to sit in the middle....

    One important consideration will be shielding the wiring from curious pecking, and I'll find some proper conduit to take care of that, and to place the thermostat at the proper height. I'll see what the manufacturer's instructions are once everything arrives. I will update this thread with my usual string of construction pictures as well.

    I hope that this gives some of you home coop designers an idea about how to proceed when trying to figure out how to heat the coop without burning down the house. That "red light" or infrared heat lamp is way too much and is a serious fire hazard. Many more chickens die from too much heat than from not enough, so do some figuring and calculate how much heat your coop really needs.

    Cheers, and thanks for reading this!
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2010

  2. jjthink

    jjthink Crowing

    Jan 17, 2007
    New Jersey
    I use ceramic heat lamp(s) suspended from the ceiling of the coop and not able to physically come into contact with anything. I have connected to a timer so I can decide when the heat comes on and off, adjusting as needed to more or less severe outdoor conditons. My roo is not cold tolerant and some heat has been a saving grace for him.
  3. Falcon61

    Falcon61 Chirping

    May 5, 2010
    Chickens don't need heat. imo ...I'm in the sierra's.
  4. Wolfwoman

    Wolfwoman Songster

    May 5, 2010
    Chickaloon, Alaska
    My chickens don't have heat and they are laying as many eggs as they were before.
  5. Imp

    Imp All things share the same breath- Chief Seattle

    Nice coop Chieftain. I like the bright color. Sounds like you thought it out and did what's best for your chickens.

    Good job

  6. Bat Cave Silkies

    Bat Cave Silkies Songster

    Feb 11, 2010
    Bat Cave, NC
    My gosh~~you've got it all scientifically figured out~~~very impressive.

    Me~~~I just keep the barn at 50 degrees, so the birds stay warm, and "I" stay warm when I sit out there with them
  7. Chieftain

    Chieftain Songster

    Dec 21, 2009
    Quote:Thanks! One of the things that I found frustrating when I was designing my coop was the lack of practical design information in one spot, and that's why I put a thread like this one up in the design and construction forum. I think it helps to design a project like this if you have some concrete examples to go by, and nothing speaks louder than success. For example, I was told last Spring here, and you can find that conversation in one of my threads, that my roof design was the worst one possible and would never survive a light breeze much less a wind storm; yet here I am a year later, the coop has produced 647 eggs weighing 81.525 Lbs. since the end of June, and son of my gun! That roof is still attached just as firmly as it ever was....

    As for being "scientific", it's not a big deal, and it's more of an interesting facet of raising chickens to keep an eye on how they are doing. None of it is necessary of course, and not everyone is retired like I am and they don't usually have the time to do a lot of stats. I started keeping a simple egg log as soon as the girls started to lay. I record the approximate time, weight in grams, and who laid it as best I can figure. I got into the habit of keeping that log, and it became a neat and easy tool that I now use to track how healthy the hens are by how often they lay and how big the eggs are. This has been really useful in tracking the maturity of my 2 Black Jersey Giants (Tyra and Oprah if you must know...) as they grow much more slowly than the other birds and their eggs have shown slow but steady progress in size.

    And since I still keep the egg log current, once the heater goes into the coop I should be able to tell if it was worth the effort or not by how the hens laying responds. If the coop never gets below 35 degrees, I hope that the average egg size and the egg count will go back up. I should be able to prove or disprove all of this in the next couple of months when the really cold weather gets here. I was prepared to just put a brooder hood in the coop if the weather got too cold but it just isn't the best solution; I think the radiant panel is.

    We shall see.


  8. Judy

    Judy Crowing Premium Member

    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    Two questions:

    Where are you?

    Are the windows and door(s) the only ventilation, or is there also ventilation at the top of the coop?
  9. Greenskeeper

    Greenskeeper Songster

    Nov 14, 2010
    Bethel, NC
    I live in the Mountains of Western North Carolina, already showing signs of being cold. I am in the same boat, Built coop and now i needed a heater of sorts. I did build my coop facing Southwest with the windows on the front to collect the solar heat during the day. The back of the coop has the Service door, but the wall and door are sealed with caulk and rubber from bike tubes. On the floor of my coop,I in-laid a piece of Pink foam board and covered it with linoleum, and a thick layer of pine shavings. My roof is tin and there is a 3/4 inch gap front and rear for ventilation, the sides are sealed also top to bottom, including the Egg door. So for the heat i am using a heat lamp. It is attached to the roof truss Securely. Plugged into a "Easy Heat eh38 thermostat" for 13.00 at Lowes!!!! Turns light on at 38F and off at 50F. Wow my chickens got it good. I put a temp sensor in last night, we shall see how it works out. I do plan on putting a Full Hardware Cloth Cage, just as a precaution. [​IMG]
  10. Chieftain

    Chieftain Songster

    Dec 21, 2009
    Quote:I'm in Southwest Washington, just across the Columbia river from Portland, OR.

    There are two 4" diameter soffit vents on each end of the highest part of the end coop walls, and two more on the back coop wall just above the level of the litter. Each one provides about 12 square inches of screened permanent opening to the outside.



    I depend on the windows and the pop door for primary ventilation and it works very well. During the day I always prop the windows open; there is a chain and hook above each window to hold it all the way open, and I also have a 12" long wooden prop that I use if it is raining, to prop the windows part-way open to make sure they drain. The coop has an excellent air turnover but isn't drafty. The windows are plenty big and easy to adjust, and along with the door provide more than enough air turnover. The coop smells like chickens and pine chips, not chicken sewage. I have popped out to the coop at night to see how the girls were doing, and believe me, the aroma coming off the roost when all six girls are in there at once is eye watering, but with the air turnover it does not last long and during the day there is no smell.

    We have not had weather bad enough yet that has required me to shut all the windows. At a minimum, the window inside the run is always open since it is the most secure window of the three.


    I also have a wide slanted poop board under the roost that keeps the litter inside extremely clean. They fill the board overnight and it evaporates off and dries out pretty well overnight. Whats left in the morning is pretty firm and easy to scrape off into the compost pile.

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