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Eight Great Water Heater Ideas for Chickens

Tired of hauling water to your chickens twice a day because it's frozen yet? Here are some cost saving ideas!

This is kind of a memory dump for me. Everything I have tried and/or seen - gathered up in one spot. Please look closely into the safety and costs involved in whatever heater you decided to use. Remember just because a group of people think that a certain heater is fantastic on the internet doesn't mean it will work OR be safe for your situation.

The Cookie Tin Water Heater

I have seen the Christmas cookie tin heater idea, but something about it just doesn't seem safe to me.  I haven't tried it so I can't say for sure and alot of people have tried it with no issues so who knows? Just my opinion and you know that they say about opinions. These have been floating around the internet since 2006 and there are many posts on them. The nice thing about this approach is that it is priced out fairly inexpensively at $10 (although those materials, drill bit included, would run me just under $20 new at the hardware store, less if I bought a lamp at a yard sale).  Not all lamp assembly kits are equal though so if you try this, make sure what you have will work with your drill bit size and cookie tin. Also if I were to try this, I would use the lowest wattage bulb I could get away with using to increase safety and save money on power.

Photo Credit and Instructions: Mike's Backyard Nursery.

Click here to see the visit "Hens in the Yard" to see their set-up, she has some good ideas to increase safety and insulate.

Click here for the most complete instructions and the best blog post I have found to date on these. I know there is another chicken lady out there pushing these but this is by far the best instructional post I have seen. 

The Cinder Block Water Heater

I have also seen the cinder block idea and I just don't think that would be real effective as cinder blocks don't conduct heat real well, again my opinion....

Click Here to see this post on Backyard Chickens

The Clay Pot Water Heater 

I have neighbor that uses a clay pot with a light bulb (like the one videoed below), and swears by it. I think this is a tad safer (but can't tell you for sure because I have not made one). But if something were to happen and a fire were to start inside the clay pot it would be very short lived and contained.

Thermostatically Controlled Outlet

While this isn't a heater - for any of these DYI ideas to be economical you would want them to be on a thermostat. This is easily done by using a thermostatically controlled outlet (pictured below).There are several models on the market you can find them at farm supply stores, hardware stores, and on Amazon. This would cause the light/heater to come on when the temperature drops to the point where water freezes and then kicks itself back off when the temperature outside warms up above freezing. This would prevent the light/heater from just running and running and running your electric bill up. What's a couple bucks to your bill each month? Well a lot for us.


Metal Base Water Heaters

That being said - for some of these alternative DYI heater ideas by the time you add everything up (and purchase a thermostatically controlled outlet plug) they are coming in just under $30. I can find the regular metal base heaters for chickens at my farm supply store, or feed store at least once or twice a year on sale for $30 (I find that price quite affordable, but you have to watch for the sale). They are UL listed (for safety). This is what we rely on the most, the oldest one I have came from my folks, we used it when I was a kid, it still works, it must be 30 years old.

Metal base heaters work with a built in thermostat so they only heat when they need to and you don't have to buy an additional thermostatically controlled outlet. They work well and are low maintenance, the temperature dropped down to -8 degrees this weekend and my 5 gallon waterer was completely thawed the whole time, this is because they can ramp up to 150 watts to keep your waterer thawed if need be. No running outside to change out the light bulb in a cookie tin to a 60 or 100 watts light bulb. When you work full time and live a self-reliant lifestyle time is a big deal - I use a heating solution that is designed for it's purpose, that works without me tinkering with it or constantly checking on it.
Aquarium Heaters

Another alternative is using an aquarium heater - this usually works best when you are using bucket nipple waterers or down inside a waterer that you can submerse this heater in. They all have built in thermostats so you don't have to buy an additional one. In subzero temps I have had the watering nipples freeze up even with an aquarium heater, so you have keep an eye on it - but it's a $10 solution in the right climates. This aquarium heater pulls 50W when in use (cheap!) and should be good for containers up to 13 gallons. Again this is another nice low maintenance option.

Plug-in Chicken Waterer

There is the old stand by of the plug-in chicken waterer. I am not a huge fan of these because my parents tried them when I was kid and they quit working on us. I thought it was a rather expensive piece of equipment to just up and stop working on you (of course in the middle of a deep freeze) plus the biggest ones I have seen are 3 gallons, we need a 5 gallon waterer as we don't have room for two separate heated waterers. So it's just something I choose not to spend my money on. I am sure there are people out there who use them and have had no problems with them. Again you can find these and Farm Supply Stores, Feed Stores and on Amazon.

Heat Tape Around a Poultry Waterer

You can also take a short piece of heat tape (a common plumbing aid, used to keep water pipes thawed) and wrap it around a chicken waterer. Again, one may want to opt  for the thermostatically  controlled (or temperature controlled) heat tape, which costs a little extra initially but saves money in the long run. If you choose this method, be sure to secure it real well so the chickens don't mess with it.

Click Here to read the How-To post on Info Barrel

Click here to see an article from Mother Earth News on how to make heat tape work with a plastic bucket and watering nipples!

Heated Pet Water Bowl

Lastly, if you want you can always use a heated pet water bowl. The draw back to doing this is the need to rinse it out constantly, because as you know - chickens get water filthy pretty fast and dumping water in the coop or pen may become a problem if temperatures are staying below freezing. You can find these at pet stores everywhere, at feed stores and at farm supply stores. They are also on a built in thermostat so you don't need to go out and buy one.

Speaking from experience - if you live in a place where it drops below freezing and stays that way for a good part of the winter you would be wise to invest in some type of a water heater. I will be easier on you, and your chickens.

UPDATE (11/21/15): I found a number nine! 
Chicken Water Heater Stone

Yep, I found it on pinterest! This looks like one of the best ideas I've seen yet. It using half the wattage of the Cookie Tin Water Heater idea, is safer, cheaper AND it will last forever - no changing light bulbs. This is an idea I would actually try - say goodbye to cookie tins. Check out this wonder link below! 

Click Here for a link to a great set of instructions, photo credit, and just a great overall article by Laura Blodgett at D&B Supply!

Please Note: How cold it is at your place is NOT a contest. There is no "gold star" if you have the coldest winters or if during a few days last winter your place was colder than somewhere in Alaska. Comments to such an effect are immature, annoying and will be deleted.


  1. Anonymous11/01/2014

    Great article. Lots of helpful information. I was really close to buying the aquarium heater that you mention when I noticed a picture at the bottom of the Amazon product description with the caption "Must be fully submerged." I did some research, and it seems that with the fully-submersible aquarium heaters will burn out (potentially dangerously) if not fully submerged. Given the nature of a chicken waterer--with a dropping water level through the day/week--this may not be a good option. Thanks for the article! You've really got me thinking about more ways to keep my 5 gallon waterer from freezing this winter!

  2. I use a heated dog water bowl. I agree the the DIY electrical ideas really don't seem safe to me and I've had a few people tell me that the cookie tin heaters catch on fire, electrocute their chickens or the waterer slides right off.

    I suppose the best solution is what old time farmers used to do and carry heated water to the coop several times a day. Safe, a good workout, and reliable!

    Fresh Eggs Daily

    1. Not true. I use the cookie tin heater and it's great. Researched it and no fires.
      But many from heat lamps.

    2. Not true. I researched it and there were no fires reported form cookie tin heaters. I use it and love it. I also secured mine to the cinder block.
      I doubt very many farmers these days carry water out to their animals.
      But there are MANY fires reported due to heat lamps.

  3. I bought an infrared heat bulb (for reptiles), put it in my heat lamp, and it is shining on the side of my dripper pail, which I also moved inside the coop. It was 24 degrees this morning, and the water is liquid. So far, so good.

  4. I have used two cookie tin heaters for 3 years and they work great. I use a different size bulb for different temps. I also have it plugged into a thermocube. If you have them level, the water can't fall off unless you are using a tiny chick-sized waterer. A chicken can't get electrocuted any more than a heated dog dish. I do not use the heated dog dishes for water because the girls walk in it and then have wet feet and can get frostbite. I do use the heated dog dishes to serve my fermented feed in though. Great article showing lots of options for people to choose from.

  5. I don't like the idea of the pet waterers because then my roosters are dipping their longer wattles into the bowl when they drink. That causes more frostbite. I'm in NY where we're now regularly getting polar vortexes. I've been carrying water out to the chickens a couple times a day -- I'm ready to try something to heat their water. I have a nipple waterer, and the submersible fishtank heater looks like a great option for that. Then I just have to figure out what to do for the other waterer/s. Keeping the waterer in the coop/garage helps some, too.

    1. What's the problem with frostbite? That harsh winter 3 years ago, my roosters all had totally black frost-bitten combs. Dummies insist on roosting in a bare sugar maple at night, in -25 weather, despite a cozy sheltered area they could go. Combs grew back next summer. Feet never froze.

  6. Miss Dayle, THANK YOU! This page was exactly what I needed to find in my quest to provide my newly acquired hens always fresh and clean drinking water. I never thought of an aquarium heater, actually did not know there was such a thing. Aerators, yes, but never knew about heaters for fish tanks. Certainly makes sense though.

    Thank you very much again. I ordered the very one you linked to. :)

  7. I used a cookie tin heater with a 40 watt bulb last year. Worked beautifully. Only had to replace the bulb once. No electrocuted chickens or any other issues.

  8. Your article has wonderful information, thank you for mentioning our site. This is our third year using the same cookie tin water heater. We have had no problems with water spilling or electrical issues. We have needed to change the bulbs once or twice each winter, but during the horrible polar vortex winter it kept our girls' water liquid with no problems.
    Jen @hensintheyard

  9. Thank you so much! we live in Oregon not to far from Mt. Hood very cold lately. Had to thaw out water many times every day. Just finished cookie tin heater yesterday,this morning it was 24 and the water was wet first time in weeks used 40 watt bulb !
    Thank you for the very informative article.

  10. Cookie tin works great! 40 watt bulb five gallons of water, 22 degrees enough said!
    Thanks for the great article.

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. I'm in Alaska, and my real tip is to pay attention to the types of plastic that is used in pre-made waterers. When it dips even to -10, I've had them just shatter.

  13. I bought an infrared heat bulb (for reptiles), put it in my heat lamp, and it is shining on the side of my dripper pail, which I also moved inside the coop. It was 24 degrees this morning, and the water is liquid. So far, so good.


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