If you are thinking about effective ways to insulate a chicken coop, the chances are that you find yourself in one of two potential situations. Either you will be thinking about the design for your coop before building one from scratch. Or you will be thinking about ways to insulate a chicken coop you already have.
Ways to Insulate an Already Existing Chicken Coop
If you already have a chicken coop, the chances are that you will not want to begin again from scratch. Fortunately, if you are concerned that the existing structure is not warm enough for your chickens over the winter months or have had issues due to low temperatures inside your coop, there are still options to consider.
Add Straw/Straw Bales
Even if you did not originally use straw bales in your coop’s construction, you could still consider using them to insulate an existing coop. One idea is to add straw bales around the exterior of an existing simple wooden coop to create thick and insulating walls around the outside. If you want to make this a temporary solution, you could simply stack up the bales around the edges. But as mentioned above, you could also render the bales with a lime render to make this a more long-lasting addition.
Even where there is no space for the addition of complete bales, you could still consider stuffing straw into the roof space of a coop or below the floor to take advantage of its insulating properties. A piece of hessian or other material stretched across inside the roof and held in place with, for example, wooden battens will hold this (or other insulations mentioned below) in place.
Deep Litter System To Insulate a Chicken Coop Floor
Of course, straw and other similar carbon-rich materials are also great for creating a deep litter system in your coop. Whether you are improving an old coop or have to build a new one, using a deep layer of bedding on the floor of the coop not only helps keep things dry and hygienic. The decomposing material will also add some heat. And the carbon-rich material will also help in reducing heat loss through the floor.
In addition to using a straw, you could also use suitable wood shavings/wood chips for this purpose. Or perhaps even some dried autumn leaves from your garden if you do not have other suitable materials to use.
Add Sheep’s Wool Insulation
Sheep’s wool is also an excellent insulation material for a chicken coop or for other structures or homes. Loose sheep’s wool (or other animal fibers or fleeces) could be added in exactly the same way as the loose straw mentioned above.
Sheep’s wool could also potentially be felted to make inset panels of insulation that could be added to inside the walls of your existing coop. (perhaps behind an extra layer of reclaimed wood paneling).
It is also worth noting that you can buy wool insulation on rolls for home construction and that this could also, though rather expensive, be a time and effort saving option to consider.
Add Cardboard Layers
If you are short on time and have a limited budget, you can somewhat improve the insulation of an existing coop by simply adding layers of cardboard underneath the flooring, in the walls, or in the roof space. This will likely only ever be a temporary solution but could be a quick fix if a particularly cold snap threatens and you do not have the time or money for anything more.
This can be a very affordable solution, as you can simply use waste material that you might have lying around.
Add Shredded Newspaper Insulation
Another cheap material that could potentially be used to fill in walls or added to a roof space of a coop or chicken housing is shredded newspaper insulation. Of course, as with the loose straw and loose wool, you will need to find something to hold this material in place. Hessian or other natural material help in place with wood battens is, again, one option to consider for roof space. While adding additional reclaimed wood paneling to the walls to create a double-skinned structure could be a good idea.
Add Old Sweaters Or Other Reclaimed Natural Fabrics
If you only have a small coop, you may have a range of items within your home that you could use to add some additional insulation in the roof space or in other gaps. For example, you might be able to look out some old sweaters or other natural fabric clothing, towels, blankets, or bedding that is beyond use. I even heard of one chicken keeper who decided to use a bunch of rolled-up odd wool socks to insulate the tops of the nesting boxes on their coop.
Often, if you only have a small coop, you can get inventive and use natural materials that you might already have lying around inside your home.
Add Moss To Fill Gaps
If you have made a chicken coop from timber or logs, for example, you may find that you can improve things by filling gaps between the planks or the logs by filling these with moss. As long as you are careful to maintain a good level of ventilation, plugging up some gaps can help keep the structure frost free during the winter and keep your chickens happy and healthy.
Moss won’t just fill in the gaps. It may also live on the structure to clean the air, which could be beneficial for the chickens with their sensitive respiratory systems. To encourage moss to grow, for example, on a shaded chicken coop roof, you could chop up some moss and add this to some natural yogurt and spread this on the tiles or other material on which you would like the moss to grow. This moss could also help in a small way to reduce heat loss through the roof structure.
Add a Turf Roof or Living Roof to a Sturdy Coop Structure
Another very interesting option to consider, both for sturdy existing structures and new coops you are building, is a turf roof or a living roof.
A turf roof or a living roof planted up with climate-appropriate plants could also help in a small way to reduce heat loss from the structure. But before considering this idea, it is very important to make sure that the structure below is strong enough to support the weight of this sort of roof, as these can be very heavy, especially in wet or snowy conditions.
Plant Evergreen Climbers to Shield the Structure
Living plants could also help in a small way to reduce heat loss from the structure if they are planted outside. Hardy evergreen climbers and/or wall shrubs positioned to climb the side of a coop could provide vegetative cover that can potentially protect the coop from winds and will also potentially keep it very slightly warmer inside.
Ivy, for example, might be one option to consider for the shaded side of the structure. Climbing cotoneasters are another that might work. Of course, whenever you are choosing plants for any part of your property, it is important to bear the climate, microclimate, and soil conditions in mind. Ivy and other vigorous climbers should be chosen carefully, and you will usually have to keep them pruned back before they reach the roof of the coop, so they do not do any damage to the structure.
Build a Greenhouse or High Tunnel Around the Outside
You could potentially build a greenhouse or high tunnel around the outside of the existing structure or adjoining it.
Adapting the area around an existing coop, either by adding extra insulation in the form of a larger structure of glass or plastic or through planting schemes, etc., could be more effective than making any alterations to the structure itself.
Add Secondary Glazing To Improve the Insulation on Any Windows
Finally, when thinking about insulation for an existing coop, don’t forget the windows. Chicken coop windows may often be the location where a lot of heat is lost during the winter months. To improve the insulation of the coop, you could consider adding secondary glazing since it is unlikely that your chicken coop window will be double glazed.
This does not necessarily have to be an expensive prospect, either. For example, you could simply add some clear plastic panels over the existing windows or even add a layer of bubble wrap. Again, it is often possible to upcycle materials from your home that might otherwise have been thrown away.
Things to Consider When Designing Well-Insulated Chicken Coop
When designing a well-insulated chicken coop, it is important to think about the environmental conditions, to think about your site and the conditions to be found there. It is vital to think about how your chickens and chicken coop will integrate with the rest of your farm or garden design and to design in such a way that you are making the most of the sun and other resources locally available to you for your build.
Chicken Coop Design For Optimal Temperatures
The first and most important thing to remember when designing a new chicken coop is that while insulation can be important for keeping chickens cool in summer and warm in winter, avoiding damp and ensuring adequate ventilation is also very, very important. Creating a structure that is too well insulated can actually cause more problems than it solves. You should aim for a relatively dry and, above all, breathable structure. Good airflow is essential.
Of course, you need to think about the climate and conditions where you live. In some areas, only minimal insulation will be required. But in areas where greater extremes of temperature are experienced, a far better-insulated structure will be required.
It is also essential to think about the immediate environmental conditions in the area where your coop is located. Of course, you need to think about micro-climate conditions created by surrounding buildings, vegetation, and terrain.
Site Analysis and Sectors
It is important to analyze the site. In order to make sure that the coop interior maintains the right temperatures throughout the year, you should think about:
- Sunlight and shade (the patterns of the movement of the sun throughout each day and throughout the year)
- Wind (how exposed or sheltered the position for a permanent coop will be. If exposed, think about reducing wind chill by planting shelterbelts or wind-break hedges to reduce wind chill.)
- Making sure that the coop is not in a frost pocket or an area that is colder than the rest of the immediate environment. And that it is not in a damp or particularly humid spot.
Ways to Insulate a Coop You Are Building From Scratch
Thinking about sunlight, wind, and water (the ‘sectors’ on the site) is an important part of permaculture design. In permaculture (permanent culture) design, you will consider your homestead or farm holistically, designing from patterns to details as you care for the planet, care for humanity, and think about fair share and returning surplus to the system.
Passive Solar Design
In terms of sustainable building (whether it is a human home or a chicken coop), thinking about sunlight and the sun’s energy is called passive solar design. Passive solar design means building structures that passively catch, store, and utilize the energy that the sun provides. Thinking about passive solar design can be equally, if not more important, than creating a well-insulated structure.
Thinking about passive solar design can also help to ensure that the insulation within or added to the structure works as effectively as possible.
Passive solar design often involves adding glazing to the structure that maximizes winter sun while limiting the hot sun during the summer to prevent overheating.
Another crucial element of the passive solar design is incorporating thermal mass. Materials with high thermal mass (stone, brick, ceramics or clay, stored water, etc.) catch and store heat energy during the day and release it slowly at night when temperatures fall. They can therefore help to keep the structure’s internal temperatures more even over the course of the year and keep the inside of a coop frost-free on cold winter nights.
Rendered Straw Bales
Straw bale construction is a sustainable building method that is used for human habitations. And it could also be an interesting and useful sustainable construction method for a chicken coop. Straw bales are an agricultural byproduct that can be picked up cheaply or even free of charge in some areas.
Straw bales can be used as infill in a wooden structure to provide thick walls with great insulation built-in. They can also be used to create the structure itself and are staked together with wooden poles. The strawbales are often coated with an exterior lime render, and clay renders are often used inside.
The things that make straw bales great for home construction also make them fantastic for a chicken coop. Their insulating properties are just one of the reasons why this method could be a good choice. They are great for temperature and sound insulation, breathable construction, and stand up well in a range of conditions.
Another interesting way to build strong and insulating walls for a chicken coop is by building a simple version of an ‘Earthship’ for your flock. Earthship construction involves building walls from tires and other items that would usually be thrown away, such as glass bottles, for example.
The thick walls in this method of construction will also be good at reducing heat loss from your coop and will add thermal mass too.
The phrase that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure really rings true in this case. This can be a very affordable way to create a chicken coop. And it will also be a way to deal with waste into the bargain. And you will be doing your part to tackle our global waste problem by keeping these materials from incineration or landfill.
Another cool sustainable building idea that could also work very well for a well-insulated chicken coop with plenty of thermal mass is earthbag construction. In this building method, which is something that can be undertaken by complete building novices, you simply fill bags with earth and tamp them down to create the walls (and perhaps even the domed roof) of your structure.
Earthbag construction could also be used to create retaining walls for a chicken coop build into a south-facing slope or bank on your property. The ground absorbs heat and should keep the structure at a more constant temperature throughout each day and throughout the year.
Cob or Adobe
Cob construction is another cheap and easy way to build/insulate your structure with natural materials. Cob is a mix of clay-based soil, water and straw, sometimes amended with sand or crushed flint. The process of construction is simple yet labor-intensive – mostly done by hand. You may use cob for load-bearing walls instead of some other materials, which production pollutes the environment. Cob will also insulate your coop. Using it, you can create walls of any shape, so construction in cob can be incredibly creative. You can get creative and create a chicken coop that is ideally suited to your flock and to your site, and which looks truly beautiful.
A similar construction method is adobe, which involves using clay blocks to build the walls of the structure. In certain locations, you may even be able to source the clay for the cob or adobe blocks from your very own property.
Log Chicken Coop
If you live on a property with a forest or woodland, creating a log construction could be another sustainable choice. Of course, the timber used for any projects around your property should always be taken from a forest or woodland that is managed in a sustainable way.
Log constructions can be sturdier and more suitable for harsh and extreme winter climates than other forms of timber construction, improving the mass of the structure and making sure that, when well constructed, less heat is able to escape.
Chicken Coop Inside/Adjoining a Greenhouse
One final thing to consider if you are building a chicken coop from scratch is that you could incorporate chicken housing into the inside of, or adjoining, a greenhouse or high tunnel. This is a permaculture idea that can be especially beneficial in areas with very cold winters. The need for insulation in winter can be diminished by creating a greenhouse structure adjoining a chicken coop.
The heat that chickens produce with their bodies and given off by their manure can add up. This can raise the temperature inside the greenhouse or high tunnel significantly. It can also be beneficial for the chickens as the greenhouse will collect heat during the day from the sun. This will help chickens to stay warm during the day.
In particularly cold regions, you could also increase insulation by creating a double-skinned polytunnel structure, with an air gap between two layers of plastic that will help reduce energy lost from the system.
But whichever method of construction you choose, remember that good ventilation and the avoidance of damp are crucial for chicken welfare.
Insulation Options to Avoid
One thing to mention before we conclude this article is that, in my option, SIP’s (structurally insulated panels), styrofoam, or polystyrene are all things that should be avoided when insulating a chicken coop. All of these contain materials that could harm your chickens if they do get to them.
While you could keep such insulation high up and out of the reach of the hens, I would still be concerned about off-gassing from plastic products.
And in any case, it is best to avoid these types of materials if you are trying to live in a more sustainable way. Plastics are derived from the fossil fuels that we should be keeping in the ground. They are incredibly energy-intensive to produce and cause high emissions and pollution. And then, of course, these materials also stick around. They will not naturally biodegrade and leave a waste problem around for future generations to solve.
These are, of course, just some ideas to help you out and get you started. But whether you are building a new well-insulated chicken coop from scratch or adding insulation to an existing one, be sure to avoid reducing ventilation or causing damp. It bears repeating that these things can be far more damaging to your flock than cold temperatures.
And remember, you can also keep your chickens warm by giving them some nice warm porridge with seeds and grains before bed. And by making sure that they are always well fed.