DIY Water Heater for Chickens (and Other Pets)

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How to Make a Chicken Hot Water Heater

Have chickens, rabbits, dogs or other outdoor animals, and looking for a way to keep their water from freezing? Here’s how to build a simple hot water heater out of an old lamp and a cookie tin.

Our First Chicken Hot Water Heater

The first winter we had our chickens, we had to come up with a way to keep their water from freezing. I wasn’t keen on spending $40 for a store-bought hot water heater, so I did some digging and came across The Chicken Chick’s instructions for making a hot water heater out of a cookie tin. To make one, you basically drill a hole in the side of a cookie tin; drop a lamp assembly inside; screw it in place; and add a 60 watt incandescent bulb. The heat generated by the bulb is enough to keep the water from freezing. It’s an easy project, and it does the job. We’re on our third winter with ours.

When we got our angora rabbit, we knew we’d need to make another hot water heater, but we quickly realized that design wouldn’t work. Since rabbits are prone to chewing, having a cord hanging out of the side of the tin just wasn’t an option. So, we brainstormed a bit and came up with a new and improved design. This one leaves no wires accessible to pets, and it’s just as easy to make. It can be used with chicken waterers or water bowls. Here’s how to make one.

How to Make a Chicken Hot Water Heater

Chicken Hot Water Heater Supplies

What You’ll Need:
An old lamp (or a lamp kit that includes a harp)
A cookie tin (with a larger circumference than your pet’s waterer or bowl)
A drill
A screw driver
An awl
An adjustable wrench
Electrical tape
Sheet metal screws

What You Do:

Remove the Socket and Disconnect the Wires

Remove the lightbulb. and pull/pry the socket out of its cap. Then, use a screw driver to loosen the terminal screws, and remove the wires.

Pull the Lamp Cord Out

Pull the lamp cord out thru the bottom of the lamp, and set it aside.

Remove the Cap

Loosen the set screw on the cap, and remove it.

Remove the Harp

Then, remove the nut from the rod, and remove the harp. That’s the big light bulb-shaped bracket at the top of the lamp.

Drill a Hole in the Bottom of the Tin

Drill a hole in the bottom of the tin an inch or two from the outer edge. The hole needs to be big enough for the lamp cord to pass through easily.

Insulate the Cord Hole

Insulate the cord hole with electrical tape (or a rubber grommet). Then, thread the cord through, so that the plug extends out of the bottom of the tin. Secure the cord with a knot to prevent it from being pulled out.

Inner Workings of Hot Water Heater

Lay the lamp assembly inside the bottom of the tin, and secure it in place by punching a hole in the side of the tin, and pushing the lamp finial stud through.

Screw on the Lamp Finial
Screw the lamp finial back in place. This will put the finial on the outside of the tin.

Secure the Lid

Put the lid back on the tin, and secure it with a few sheet metal screws, so your pets won’t be able to open the tin. This probably isn’t necessary, if you’re making a hot water heater for chickens.

Use a U-Bracket to Bolt the Water Heater Down

To prevent our rabbit from moving the hot water heater around, we drilled a couple holes in the bottom of the tin, and inserted a U-bracket through the holes.

Bolted Down Pet Hot Water Heater

This gave us a way to bolt the hot water heater down to the hardware cloth floor in her hutch.

Cord Running Under the Cage

The cord feeds through her floor, and plugs in underneath, so there are absolutely no exposed wires for her to chew on.

Pet Bowl on Hot Water Heater

And it works just as well as those $40 store-bought hot water heaters. We made this one using materials that we already had on hand, so it didn’t cost us anything out of pocket.

To Use:

Be sure to plug your hot water heater into a GFCI outlet. If your hot water heat will be exposed to the elements, use an outdoor-rated cord, instead of the lamp cord. You must use an incandescent bulb for your heater to function properly. CFL and LED bulbs do not generate enough heat to keep the water from freezing. Incandescent bulbs are available for purchase once again. If you have trouble tracking them down, yard sales and thrift stores are a good source. Because you are exposing the bulb to extreme temperatures, they will blow from time to time. Expect to have to replace your bulb a few times each season.

If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of plugging your water heater in every time it gets cold and unplugging it when it warms back up, invest in a Thermocube. It’s a thermostat-controlled outlet that will turn the hot water heater on when the temperature drops to 35 degrees, and turn it back off when the temperature rises to 45 degrees. Pretty smart. Even with the cost of a Thermocube, you’ll come in way under the cost of a store-bought hot water heater.

We aren’t electricians, and we don’t know your specific situation, so only you can determine what is right for you and your pets.

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  1. this is our first year with chickens and ducks, what do you need to keep them warm during the winter. I want my chickens to be free range but my dogs and my neighbors dogs wot leave them alone. any suggestions for a cheap chicken coop?

    1. Hi Lenore,

      I have several suggestions, actually 🙂 First, here’s an article on how we keep our chickens warm in the winter: https://www.myfrugalhome.com/how-to-care-for-chickens-in-the-winter/

      We converted a dog house into a coop for our five hens, and that’s worked really well for us. Being on the smaller side, their body heat, combined with our deep litter system keeps them plenty warm during the winter months, without any need for heat lamps. It’s also proven to be quite predator-proof. We wrapped their whole run in hardware cloth, floor included, so predators can’t dig under and get them. We also keep a lock on their door and nesting boxes. We don’t actually lock it, but just having a lock threaded through the hasp is enough to thwart raccoons, who are more than capable of turning knobs or sliding pins. Hopefully I’m not jinxing myself by saying this … but we’ve never lost one of our hens to a predator.

      Here’s a link to the post about our coop: https://www.myfrugalhome.com/turn-a-dog-house-into-a-chicken-coop/

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