I’ve probably got the best solar chicken coop heater set up going! I kept tweaking it and upgrading and ive now got the best, cheapest system that gives me the best bang for my buck. I’m now ready to share my set-up, here’s how I did it.
(All of this stuff is available on Amazon by the way and really easy to install!)
Slow up though before that I need to talk coop insulation because it’s really important and everyone misses the point.
Chicken Coop Insulation
In an attempt to make their chicken coop warmer, people block up the ventilation holes – DO NOT DO THIS.
Chickens require ventilation all year round – regardless of the ambient temperature. I know this sounds counter initiative, to have vents (holes) in your chicken coop when you try to keep it warm but resist that urge.
The reason is simple and people tend to just think of it as just cold air getting into the coop and miss the ‘other side’.
You see the vents work in two ways, yes they let cool air into the coop but they ALSO remove excessive moisture from the coop. Remember high school physics, heat moves from hot to cold, well moisture like pressure travels from high to low.
Moisture will build up in any chicken coop and even worse is ammonia build up. Ammonia is found in high levels in chicken poop, unvented this will cause chickens to have respiratory issues, which they are actually very prone to.
Chickens are designed to withstand cooler temperatures anyway, if you overheat them they will become sick.
Takeaway Point: Chicken coops must have adequate ventilation all year round. (even if it’s cold out!)
Ok that’s enough about that – on with the show.
Solar Panel for Chicken Coop Heat Lamp
Fairly important, as without them we have no solar power, so I thought it prudent to start with the solar panels.
Ok, firstly a little bit of background as when I first made this set up in 2016 I just wanted to see if it would work, doing it as an evening project for fun. So I used some dirt cheap solar panels off Amazon. I think they were like 40 bucks.
Success! It worked perfectly… for abit.
What happened was the plastic outer casing of the solar panels in the winter cold and summer heat – just became really brittle and broke off slowly. Also I had screwed the panels through that outer casing, to the roof. So when it broke the panel slipped off. Darn.
Now the really big solar panels that you see on houses are encased better but I don’t need all that power let alone afford a panel that big!
It worked – I was really happy, it was also really simple to rig up and we had instant power. Instant, renewable, green power!! There is no feeling like it actually; seeing the heater work being powered by the sun. (since then I have installed solar panels on the roof of our house and barn).
But, and it’s a big but, it didn’t work for long enough in my eyes. I bought cheap panels and as the saying goes ‘‘buy cheap – buy twice’’.
So I knew what I needed – simply better solar panels.
Also when I tested the power being generated when the set up was in full swing, with a reader I found that I should have been getting much much more power (not that I needed more power, yet, but I did have another potential ‘add-on’ up my sleeve if this worked well, which i’ll come onto later). I realized quite quickly I needed better panel efficiency.
Takeaway Point: Better made solar panels that, crucially, were more efficient.
Researching The Solar Panels for Chicken Coops
Usual story, I jumped on to all the ‘off grid’, ‘vanlife’ sites and forums and began researching. I didn’t want someone to say ‘yes these work fine’. I want the nerdy stuff like the power they can generate when they are ‘under load’ as I need the best bang for my buck. Squeezing out all the power I can get from them, because where our farm is we have limited daylight in the winter months. So I needed super efficiency.
Truth be told, I then cheated and phoned my brother, who is an electrical engineer! He’s also ex-military and a serious wild camper!
I ran my potential purchase by him and he agreed they would be ace. Infact he liked them so much, that he also wanted to buy them to upgrade his camping set up so he can charge his kit etc.
The Best Solar Panels For Chicken Coops
This is what I bought and it has worked perfectly since day one. But I’m not trying to spend your hard earned cash, you buy what’s within your budget and will work well for your chicken coop.
A couple of universal pointers though:
- I knew that during the winter I wanted to power a chicken coop heater. BUT during the summer I wanted it to power a chicken coop fan. Now the fan has less ‘draw’ (requires less power) than the heater so I knew that wouldn’t be an issue.
- Seriously consider getting ‘flexible’ solar panels rather than a fixed or rigid panel because you can then flop it over the apex of your chicken roof (if possible off the floor is best to stop chickens walking and pooping on it) and it will catch the morning sun and afternoon sun. This setup is much more efficient than a panel on one side of the roof which will only get the morning or afternoon but not both. You have just then halved your potential power – avoid. It’s called ‘Tilt Angle’ apparently.
- Sizing – what Watt is required?! This will depend on the ‘heater type’ you buy, I come onto this shortly.
There Is A Problem
When I first thought this out I assumed I would need just solar panels and a coop heater. Somehow figuring out how to plug the panels into the heater. Wrong.
You cannot just plug the heater into the panels, it doesn’t work for these reasons.
If the pure power from the panels went straight into the heater it would blow up. It could supply it with much more power than it needed and fry everything.
You need something in the middle of the panels and the heater to regulate how much power goes through from the panels to the heater. This bit of kit is called a charge controller.
There Is Another Problem
Solar panels will work during daylight hours. So what about at night? Nope. Meaning you couldn’t run the chicken coop heater during the night when there is no sun. And the night will be the coldest time for your chickens when they aren’t moving and keeping warm.
You therefore need a battery to store the power generated from the solar panels during the day that will be used by the heater during the evening and night.
So I needed solar panels, a charge controller, an inverter (to convert from DC to AC) and a battery and obviously the chicken coop heater/light.
The list was growing and so was the cost. I had begun to get worried that this experiment was not going to be financially feasible. Let alone all the wiring and then the worry that it was all safe.
I was beginning to lose faith and starting looking into a new better insulated winter coop. I also looked into running a power cable from the house, dug a few inches into the ground all the way out to the coop to power anything I wanted directly from the mains. That would be expensive too.
I wasn’t sure what to do and I nearly canned the project.
I saw that listed next to the solar panels I bought was a ‘power station’. This was the God sent that I needed as this would act as both the battery, the charge controller AND inverter all-in-one and to make matters even better I could plug the coop heater/light straight into it. Meaning no crimping, no wiring, no connectors, no funny business!
The good news is there are tons of these power stations on Amazon ranging from $150 up to $500 based on the power output.
I only went with the one to match my solar panels and because there was a combo deal on buying the pair.
Let’s say you bought any decent one for between $200 and $250. Now compare that price wise to say buying the leisure battery, inverter, controller, all the connectors and all the wiring to go with it. You’re saving a small fortune and you don’t have the headache.
BUT with the power station you have a bonus. You have the ability on really really cold days with no sunlight to take it inside and fully top it up. Just plug it into any socket in your house and – job done.
What Size Power Station Should You Buy?
Size wise I’m talking Watts (W) here, so we are clear. The average 300W Power Station will power a 50-60W device for about 4-6 hours. According to most manufacturers.
Now let’s take that with a pinch of salt as I only get 4.5 hours use from a fully maxed out, topped up battery. But let’s assume you’ll get 4 hours then, airing on the conservative side.
That’s only half the night…
Now that could be fine, just a few hours a night to keep the coop at a decent temperature and take the edge off any chill works great for most people. Remember that once you heat the chickens up they too will start to radiate heat, helping keep the coop warm.
If 4-6 hours doesn’t cut it for you the answer is simple.
You need a larger Power Station and they sell them at 400W, 500W. I’ve even seen 1000W portable power stations so don’t worry.
OK so you’ve now got your Solar Panels and your Power Station picked out. It’s now time to look into how best to heat the coop.
Best Chicken Heater for Solar Panels
The average space heater is 1500-2500W! This is far too power hungry and so totally not suitable.
So you really only have two options:
Option 1: A heat lamp (with guard), fixed to the ceiling
Option 2: A heater placed on the floor
But I want to just throw a curveball out there as Option 3.
What about having a heated chicken waterer or heated roost bar instead of options 1&2? This will act like a radiator keeping the water from freezing and the water will keep the coop warm enough too. The heated roost bars will heat the chickens directly and quickly.
Let’s run through the pros and cons of ALL 3 options.
Option 1 ‘A Solar Powered Heat Lamp for Chicken Coops’
The one I wanted was made by Stromberg Chickens, it comes as 600w or 1200W and costs around $100.
It hangs off the ceiling and has a built-in guard around the outside so nothing can hurt themselves on it and a special super reflective dish above it to radiate the heat downwards for maximum efficiency.
Aside from all that, the point that sold me was that it comes with a built in kill switch so if it gets too hot it will switch off.
A light is also a good idea from fall to spring to extend the laying hours for chickens. Simply put this means more eggs. But I don’t like the idea of leaving a light on all night as surely this will disrupt their sleep..?! I know people do it, even in brooders but I think more common now are the heaters?
The Drawbacks of Options 1:
- 600w is a high power requirement and that will gobble up alot of my solar power.
- Hanging from the roof whilst it saves floor space and allows the heat to spread out evenly it has a flaw. Heat rises – so if you start the heat source on the ceiling then most will disappear out the roof; or that was my worry.
- On closer inspection it has a cut off which most of the other heat lamps for coops don’t have but that cut off is 30C. My chickens would literally be sweating before it cut off!
Option 1 is ok and im aware of the potential flaws but lets see if Option 2 is any better.
Option 2 ‘The Chicken Coop Heater’
The best rated one on Amazon is this one made by CozyProducts. It’s $60 and has safety at the core of its design. Meaning it can be placed down on hay, straw and chicken bedding really without worry.
Its 200W so would require less power to run meaning I could go for longer with no sunlight.
Option 2 Conclusion
The 200W, thermostatically controlled heater, will require ⅓ of the power that the Heat Lamp requires, meaning we can run ‘off grid’ for longer. It’s also 40 bucks cheaper. Plus I like that it sits on the floor so the heat can rise, maximizing the heat efficiency around the coop.
I also like that the heat is ‘localized’ in one area rather than shining around the whole coop like a lamp hanging from the ceiling would be. This means I can’t overheat any of my chickens as they can move towards it if they are cold and further away if they are too hot. Perfect for young chickens too.
The selling point is that this can run during the day and only use power from the solar panels there and then. All whilst charging and saving the Power Station battery for use during the night. This means that when the chickens go in at night the coop is already up to temperature and this is a massive benefit. It is far far easier to maintain a temperature than bring the coop up to temperature in power usage terms.
Option 3 ‘Heated Chicken Drinker or Heated Roost Bars’
Heated Chicken Drinker
I’ve already reviewed the best heated chicken drinker so I didn’t need to do any further research. I know its 40W costs about $50 and will plug straight into the Power Station in the coop.
This option uses very little power, but will take up floor space and risks getting poop’d in. But it is best for smaller coops as it does not generate huge amounts of heat. Now this could be fine depending on your breeds. Certain breeds are more cold tolerant than others.
Heated Roost Bars
If you didn’t know, yes, these are a thing. K&H make the best heated roosting bars which in my opinion are the better option compared to the heated chicken waterer.
They are $50-$60 each and are 55W. I absolutely love these, they are not power hungry and heat the chicken directly from underneath, wasting literally no heat.
The ‘issue’ is they are 36’’ long meaning you’ll get 4-5 average sized laying hens to roost on 1 bar or 7-8 bantams. So if you have a flock of 12 chickens you could need a few bars…
The other issue is that if you already have roost bars these ‘could’ be a pain to retro fit in replacement. I have heard stories where people have simply just laid them on top of the existing roost bars though securing them with zip ties at either end though. Sounds simple enough.
Maybe you go out each morning to the coop, if you do, this is less of a problem as you can turn the heater off but if you don’t, then maybe purchase a cheap timer.
Set it to kick it whenever it gets really cold and turn off before the chickens come out in the morning.
This thermostat will plug straight into any ‘Power Station’ and costs about $20.
How I Powered A Chicken Heater With Solar Panels
The method I use is ‘Solar Panels’ connected into the ‘Portable Power Station’ and then plugged into that is 1 ‘Heated Roost Bar’.
It’s cheaper and easier to buy a ‘Generator/Power Station’ and Solar Panels that comes ready to go. Than purchasing solar panels, an inverter, batteries, controller all the wiring etc separately. Then have to wire it all up and fit it together!
Now I know what you’re thinking, that’s fine if you only have a few chickens who can share 1 ‘Heated Roost Bar’.
Wrong, because I tweaked it so actually none of my 10 chickens perch on the heated roost bar BUT all of them are warm enough. Allow me to explain.
Instead of placing 1 heated roost bar into the coop and hoping that they would all share it or form a rota for usage during the night; I placed it under all of the coop roost bars at a diagonal. This way it allowed the heat to rise up (first big tick in the box as this is more efficient than a light already on the top of the coop) heating all of the roost bars at the same time.
But I left some sticking out to heat the air aswell because air is an extremely good thermal insulator, this hotter air will then circulate around the coop too. It’s why things are dual walled, even a thermos works on this principle.
I do this and it keeps my chicken coop between 40-65F, chickens don’t need to be any warmer than this! That’s on the lowest setting too using a K&H Heated Roost Bar and it uses minimal power. If you need more heat – crank it up!
So there you have it, I hope this has helped you. Free solar power harnessed during the day to heat your chickens on freezing cold nights.
If this has left you running for the hills, then maybe it is time to invest in a better chicken coop instead…
Is It Cheaper To Just Buy A Better Insulated Chicken Coop?
What Not To Do!
We talked about insulation above. But I’ve just googled ‘insulation for chicken coops’ and my jaw hit the floor.
The first result was to use ‘styrofoam’ which is a building product they use in new homes between walls.
Very insulative BUT toxic to chickens!
I can’t believe the nonsense that’s written on the internet. Now small print – if this is between two bits of wood in a coop where chickens can’t ‘get to it’ then fine. But if this can be pecked at by your chickens then don’t use it. Because they will peck at anything.
If your coop is old or even ‘oldish’ then it could be time to upgrade to a better coop specially built to handle cold winters. The dual walled, super warm coop from Omlet is tried and tested on our farm down to 14F, with no frozen eggs and happy chickens all year round.
We like that it’s seriously well made, comes with a 2 year warranty (no other coop manufacturer offers this), requires no heating but the best bit is the cleaning!
Seriously, it takes seconds to clean these coops, just slide out the droppings tray and empty it, wipe it down and replace it all in seconds.
The runs are really predator proof too, as we have foxes in the area, using a galvanised steel mesh that’s welded (not tied like ordinary chicken wire) together and coated in PPE. They also have an anti dig skirt around the outside that’s really cool, meaning nothing can dig under to get into the coop.