Should you insulate a chicken coop? (And if so, when, why, and how should you do so?) To answer this question, we need to delve a little deeper into what chickens need, the conditions where you live, and the materials you use to build a coop in the first place.
Generally speaking, you should create a chicken coop suited to your chickens and the environment where you live rather than adding extra insulation during the winter. You should usually insulate a coop to prevent drafts more than to increase temperatures.
You need to take into account the environmental conditions where you live. And can often avoid the need for additional insulation by creating the ideal coop, to begin with. Over insulating can do more harm than good. In areas with extremely cold winters, adding extra insulation can be useful when temperatures drop dramatically. But adding thermal mass and thinking about good design can be more beneficial.
In this article, we’ll explore how to avoid the need for additional insulation. But explain how, when, and why to add it if you find yourself in a position where you need to do so. Read on to learn more.
What Chickens Need
The first and most important thing to understand is that most chickens can cope relatively well with cold temperatures. They need some protection from the cold in very cold winter areas, where temperatures drop far below zero. But the purpose of insulation is usually to prevent excessive drafts rather than to increase temperatures in the coop. As long as the coop is relatively dry, chickens can cope with cold far better than many people imagine.
A lack of ventilation can be far more damaging to your chickens than chilly temperatures. It is important to make sure there is good airflow in a coop. If there is not, ammonia fumes can become an issue and cause respiratory problems in your flock. And high humidity levels can also be worse if ventilation is impeded.
It is also important to recognize that different chickens have different needs. Certain breeds are better suited to winter cold – Wyandottes, rose-combed Rhode Island Reds, and Chanteclers, for example. Pea combs are best, rose combs next best, for coping with very cold winters. For example, birds with large combs, such as Leghorns, may require more insulated coops, since their combs are more susceptible to frostbite in winter. Birds with fluffy feathers and larger bodies are better for cold-weather areas.
In areas that have a deep freeze, the coop should allow water to remain unfrozen. A lack of access to clean drinking water is a big problem. In extreme conditions, a heated waterer may be necessary.
The diet you feed your chickens is also crucial, especially in winter. It may be a good idea to provide additional protein during the coldest months.
But as long as the chickens are dry and get the water and food they need, they should be able to cope with winter weather.
Understanding Your Environment
Understanding the environmental conditions where you live is crucial to determining which chickens you should choose to keep, what their coop should be like, and whether or not additional insulation is required in the winter months.
Whether you are setting up to keep chickens for the first time or improving conditions for an existing flock, always make decisions based on your own specific site. Temperatures are not the only factor to look at – humidity levels are also key. Dry cold can often be much less problematic for your flock. And there is a huge range of different environmental factors to take into account.
Creating the Ideal Chicken Coop
Chickens are a great option if you are keeping livestock for the first time. But housing your chickens is definitely something to think about upfront. It is crucial to make sure that you create a chicken coop that will keep your flock safe, secure, and comfortable year-round. In a cooler climate, winter is a crucial time.
It is important not to make your coop too large to keep chickens warm in winter. Allow at least 2-3 square feet of indoor space per bird. But do not be tempted to create a palace. Birds will tend to roost close to one another and share body heat. A space that is too large may not be effectively heated by the body heat of your flock and may be too chilly for them in winter.
The materials you choose to use to build your coop will also have a bearing on how it will perform over the winter. Many chicken coops are wooden, and this can work well in many climates. However, it is worthwhile, especially in more extreme winter environments, to consider materials that will naturally provide a greater level of insulation for space.
One interesting example is using straw bales and clay renders to create a chicken coop, or to create an earth-sheltered chicken coop using earthbags or cob. But whatever materials you use, make sure there is adequate ventilation for your flock.
Building in insulation at the construction stage is usually a better policy than adding insulation later. Remember, insulation can help keep chickens cool in summer as well as keeping them draft-free and secure over the winter months.
When To Insulate a Chicken Coop
If you have an existing coop that you fear will not provide sufficient protection for your chickens over the winter months, then you may feel the need to retrofit the space with greater insulation.
You may also want to add additional insulation if you find that your hens are overheating in the summer in warmer climes. While many people winterize their chicken coops – it is often more sustainable and sensible to create structures that are suitable for housing chickens year-round in the first place. But if you are past that point, there are ways to improve your existing coop.
How To Add Insulation to an Existing Coop
The first thing to mention is that you should never insulate with polystyrene that is not completely covered. The chickens will peck at and eat it!
When choosing an insulating material – think about natural, sustainable materials that will not harm you or your birds. Straw bales, sheep’s wool, cardboard, etc. are all options to consider. Remember, as you are insulating that a lot of heat is lost through the coop floor, so implementing a deep litter system can be a good idea.
Think about the roof of the coop too. Adding insulation in the roof space of an existing coop can allow you to insulate without reducing space inside too much.
If your coop has a window, this could be a spot that lets in drafts. Consider adding secondary glazing to improve things.
But wherever you insulate a chicken coop, make sure you keep ventilation in mind at all times.
Alternatives To Adding Insulation To A Chicken Coop
One way to make sure that a coop does not become too cold in winter is to implement the idea of passive solar design. Passive solar design involves thinking about the movement of the sun throughout each day and throughout each year. It often involves adding glazing that maximizes winter sun, while limiting the hot sun of summer.
The passive solar design also involves making good use of thermal mass. Materials with high thermal mass (stone, brick, ceramics or clay, stored water, etc.) catch and store solar energy during the day. And will release it slowly when the temperature falls during the night. Adding thermal mass is one other way to keep temperatures from falling below freezing at night.
One other fascinating thing to consider is connecting a chicken coop to a greenhouse or polytunnel. 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.
As discussed above, the chickens’ body heat (and the heat given off by their manure) can add up. And can actually raise the temperatures inside the greenhouse at night by a surprising amount. The chickens also benefit because the greenhouse will collect heat from the sun during the day, which will help keep chickens’ housing warm too.
When thinking about insulation for a coop – begin by thinking about the chickens and their needs and the conditions where you live. If possible, consider insulation from the outset in cold winter areas. And make sure you create a coop suited to the needs of your flock throughout the year. Think twice before adding insulation, and always make sure good airflow is maintained if you do. Consider other ways to protect your chickens and keep them safe and comfortable year-round.