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    Best Ways to Insulate Your Chicken Coop

    Authored by Gail Damerow

    One of the most important things to consider when planning to insulate your chicken coop is how to prevent chickens from eating the insulation, thus diminishing its insulating value. With that in mind, let’s consider why you might want to insulate in the first place, and then look at the best ways to insulate your chicken coop.

    Do I need to insulate my coop

    The purpose of insulation in summer is to prevent heat from accumulating in the coop. The purpose in winter is to retain heat, while keeping out winter wind chill.

    A chicken’s optimum temperature range is between 70°F and 75°F. Some breeds better tolerate higher temperatures, while others better tolerate lower temperatures. Your first consideration, then, is to choose the best breed for your climate.

    Even when you have a climate appropriate breed, your chickens may need help in extreme temperatures. Most breeds feel cold stress around 45°F. A temperature of 25°F or below for an extended period, or in a drafty environment, can be fatal.

    Hot weather can be worse than cold weather. Chickens suffer heat stress at 95°F. A temperature of 115°F or above is usually fatal. 

    How much heat stress or cold stress a chicken suffers depends on how fast the temperature changes and how long the extreme temperature lasts. Chickens exposed gradually to high or low temperatures become acclimated. So, the temperature at which heat stress occurs moves upward in a warm climate and the temperature at which cold stress occurs moves downward in a cold climate.

    To keep your chickens, cool in summer or warm in winter, or both, coop insulation helps. That’s not the same as a completely tight coop. Chickens need healthy ventilation as much as they need a comfortable temperature.

    Ceiling insulation

    The most important place to insulate your chicken coop is the ceiling. In hot weather, insulation deflects heat from the sun.

    In cold weather, ceiling insulation helps keep body heat. Placing roosts as close to the coop’s ceiling as 2 feet traps warmth from the chicken’s bodies near the insulated ceiling, helping keep them warm overnight.

    For a flock to take advantage, all chickens must be able to roost off the floor. Provide at least 8 inches of roost space per chicken, 10 inches for the larger breeds.

    Luckily, the ceiling is often the easiest part of the coop to insulate. You might use either fiberglass sheets or foam board under the roof, covered with thin plywood paneling. The paneling protects the insulation from being pecked by chickens on the roost and makes the ceiling brighter and easier to clean. 

    Where regular insulation isn’t possible, just creating an air space between the ceiling and the roof is helpful. For that, inexpensive options include flattened out cardboard or empty feed sacks.

    Chickens that can reach them will peck cardboard or paper feed sacks. If you use woven plastic feed sacks, turn the edges under so chicken isn’t tempted to ingest fraying strips of plastic.

    Window insulation

    Properly oriented windows work together with insulation to keep the coop at a comfortable temperature. Orienting windows to face southward increases warmth through passive solar collection of the sun’s energy.

    For that reason, however, you want to avoid south facing windows in a hot climate. Instead, shade against the south wall will reduce summer heat. You might plant shrubs on the south side or put up an awning.

    Windows also can be a significant source of heat loss. Where windows are drafty, weather stripping may help.

    Double-pane windows keep out heat in summer and reduce heat loss in winter. When my husband and I built our coop, we had double-pane windows left over from remodeling our house. An inexpensive way to emulate double panes is to staple or tack clear plastic sheets, or even bubble wrap, over the windows. 

    You still need ventilation, which should be provided by vent holes in opposite walls up near the ceiling. Windows that drip with moisture inside the coop show the need to improve ventilation. Good ventilation minimizes winter moisture, which otherwise can lead to frostbite.

    Wall insulation

    Drafts cause winter chilling by removing warm air trapped by a chicken’s fluffed-up feathers. To figure out if your coop is drafty, hold up a strip of tissue paper in the roosting area. If the tissue moves, the coop is drafty. You might also check at night by turning on the coop light and looking for light seepage from outside.

    Small cracks may be filled with caulk or spray foam insulation. But use it only where chickens can’t readily peck it away.

    A temporary fix for extensive draftiness is to cover walls with tarps, plastic sheets, cardboard, empty feed sacks, or even old towels, blankets, or mattress pads. Such materials not only stop drafts, but also create an insulating layer of air. Be sure not to cover your vent openings.

    When you build a coop from scratch, pack insulation between the inside and outside walls. Options include conventional fiberglass or foam board, as well as less expensive items like shredded paper, multiple sheets of newspaper, layers of cardboard, and plastic packing peanuts. Just having air space between the interior and exterior walls provides some insulation. 

    Floor insulation

    Litter is good floor insulation. In summer, keep the litter clean by changing it often, since chickens burrow in to cool themselves. In winter, deep litter accumulates and compost, generating heat.

    Suitable litter materials include wood shavings or chips, straw, soft hay, ground up corn cobs, shredded paper, and well-dried leaves and grass clippings. Deep litter that’s often stirred and topped off absorbs moisture.

    Composting litter is not so good if you have a wooden floor, which will eventually rot. On our farm our coops have dirty floors covered with stall mats, which themselves provide a degree of insulation. Additionally, we spread litter on top of the mats. 

    In place of organic litter, deep sand makes fresh droppings easy to rake off daily. It also keeps daytime heat to keep the coop somewhat warmer on cold nights.

    Many small coops are elevated, creating a drafty situation from below. Depending on the type of construction, the same insulation used for walls might be added underneath. Where height allows, packing straw bales underneath can be helpful.

    Insulating a small coop

    Small, uninsulated coops don’t hold heat well, and the few chickens they house may not generate enough heat to keep each other warm. In that case, you might insulate the entire structure from the outside. For example, stack straw bales around the outside, or at least against the windy side.

    Where the small coop includes a fenced pen, wrapping the fence with a tarp or plastic sheet in winter impedes cold drafts from reaching the coop. If the pen is covered by a solid roof, leave a little open space between the tarp and the roof for ventilation.

    Another choice is to move a portable coop into a garage or other outbuilding during extreme weather. Or you might surround the small coop with a larger structure, such as a high tunnel or plastic greenhouse. Indeed, a concept gaining popularity these days is to combine a coop with a greenhouse, offering advantages for both.

    More poultry knowledge

    Raise more heat-resistant chickens and keep your flock healthy on hot days.
    Chickens can live in cold weather, but there are a few things they need to stay healthy. Learn about proper heating, airflow & nutrition for your flock this winter.