My Inexpensive, Low-Energy, Automatic Chicken Water Heater

My Inexpensive, Low-Energy,  Automatic Chicken Water Heater

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Steven Lee 

With winter looming, I needed an inexpensive, worry-free way to keep my chickens’ water from freezing. Inspiration was hatched at the thrift store by a used curling iron that consumes only 13 watts of power — not enough power to make ramen noodles but enough to keep water from freezing when temperatures drop to zero! 

The chickens’ water dispenser is a five-gallon plastic bucket with four chicken nipples from the feed store, installed in the bottom of the bucket. 

A curling iron I bought at a thrift store for $2.00.

In addition to the curling iron, my project would use seven pieces of pipe (Figure A): a 3/4″ galvanized cap; a ¾”x6¾ galvanized pipe nipple threaded into a ¾” 90° galvanized elbow; a ¾”x ½” PVC male adapter threaded into the opposite side of the galvanized elbow; a ½”x18″ PVC nipple that protrudes 3″ above the bucket lid through a 7/8″ diameter hole and is glued into the slip end of the ¾”x ½” PVC male adapter; a ½” 90° PVC slip elbow on top of the 18″ PVC nipple; a 5″ PVC nipple inserted into the other end of the PVC elbow; and lastly, a ½” 90° PVC slip elbow attached to the 5″ nipple. 

FIG. A: The separate pipe pieces I used for the project: three ¾” galvanized pipe fittings and four ½” PVC fittings.

To dissipate the heat, the curling iron heating element would nest in the galvanized pipe (Figure B), which would roost on a 10″ terracotta saucer, which would brood on the bottom of the bucket in the water (Figure C), while the switch perched on top of the bucket lid to stay dry. 

FIG. B: I spliced high-temperature wire to the curling iron heating element with porcelain wire nuts. The metallic rectangle is placed between the two sides of the heating element. The heating element then is inserted into the metallic tube to dissipate heat. Everything nests inside the galvanized pipe.
FIG. C: The three galvanized pipe fittings roost on a 10″ terracotta saucer that broods on the bottom of the bucket in the water to dissipate heat at the level of the chicken nipples.

I fed two lengths of 18-gauge high-temperature wire through the pipe and spliced the wires to the curling iron heating element with high-temperature porcelain wire nuts (see figure B). After trimming the wires to length, I spliced the wires to the curling iron switch with two more porcelain wire nuts (Figure D). 

FIG. D: I removed the curling iron switch and connected the thermal wire directly to the curling iron power cord. The Thermocube became the switch, turning on automatically when temperatures fall to 35 degrees F (2 Celsius) and off when temperatures rise to 45 degrees F (7 Celsius).

After testing the electrical, I reassembled the curling iron handle and affixed the galvanized cap. I used electrical tape to seal where the wires exit the PVC fitting and to secure the curling iron handle to the 5″ PVC nipple. 

FIG. E: The curling iron plugged into the Thermocube, which is plugged into the porcelain fixture. The porcelain fixture light has a pull string that is independent of the outlet so the outlet stays powered even when the light is off.

Next, in my coop rafters, I installed a 110/120 volt pull-chain, porcelain lamp holder with an outlet that I connected to a GFI circuit. The outlet is powered even when the light is off. Into this outlet, I plugged a 110/120 Volt Thermocube Thermostatically Controlled Outlet (Figure E). I plugged the curling iron into the Thermocube. The Thermocube automatically turns the curling iron on when temperatures fall to 35 degrees F (2 Celsius) and off when temperatures rise to 45 degrees F (7 Celsius). Now, I don’t have to be a mother hen watching weather reports or thermometers. My finished product is safe and worry-free (Figure F)! 

FIG. F: The finished chicken waterer. The switch is perched on top of the bucket lid to stay dry. I used yellow electric tape to seal where the wires exit the PVC fitting and to secure the curling iron handle to the horizontal 5″ PVC nipple. The chicken wire on the bucket lid keeps the hens away from the curling iron so I don’t have any rotisserie chicken surprises.

Who would imagine I’d have chicken nipples and curling iron in my chicken coop!  But they keep my flock hydrated, healthy, and happy.  And healthy and happy hens are laying hens! 

Parts List Cost 
Curling iron from a thrift store $2.00 
5-gallon food-grade plastic bucket with a sealing lid $5.00 
4 chicken drinking nipples (from the feed store) $5.00 
10″ terracotta saucer $3.00 
6′ of 18-gauge High-Temperature Lead Wire (online 100′ for $129 but I bought 6′ for $9 at an electronic and appliance repair store) $9.00 
4 thermal wire nuts (from same electronic and appliance repair store) $3.00 
¾” galvanized 90° FPT x FPT elbow $2.54 
¾” galvanized cap $2.54 
¾”x6″ galvanized nipple $2.37 
¾”x½” PVC male adapter MPTXS (male end threaded, female slip) $1.28 
2 ½” PVC 90° slip elbows ($.78 ea.) $1.56 
½”x18″ PVC nipple (bought 24″ and cut to length) $1.28 
½”x5″ PVC nipple (cut from 24″ pipe above and cut to length) $0.00 
PVC pipe glue $3.99 
Teflon tape (to prevent leaking pipes) $1.99 
Pipe silicon (to seal the chicken nipples in the bucket) $2.00 
Porcelain Lamp Holder with Pull Chain and Outlet $4.29 
120-Volt Thermocube Thermostatically Controlled Outlet $12.99 
Electric tape $0.99 
Total $64.82 

Optional items: 

  • Chain to suspend bucket 
  • 2’x2′ chicken wire formed into a cone to place on top of the bucket lid 

Tools needed: 

  • Felt tip marker 
  • Phillips screw driver 
  • Drill 
  • 11/32″ drill bit (unless your chicken nipples require a different size pilot hole) 
  • 1″ drill bit for hole in bucket lid 
  • 2 wrenches (pipe or adjustable) to tighten pipe fittings 
  • Either a PVC pipe cutter or a hack saw to cut the PVC pipe nipples 

Originally published in the October/November 2019 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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