DIY Water Thawer.
Keep Your Chicken’s Water Thawed this Winter!


Last year was my first winter with backyard chickens.  Now, my chickens are illegal so I don’t know if it makes them any different than legal chickens or not, but these things just couldn’t get enough drinking in.

You’d think being illegal, and kind of on the down low, they’d want to abide by all the rules.  Fly under the radar and all that.  But no, all they wanted to do was drink and they were LOUD about their desires.

Every time I turned around one of them was screaming that they wanted a drink.  Straight up.  No ice.

Which in the middle of winter in Canada is a difficult thing to serve.  Ice kindda comes naturally to us.

Every morning I’d have to go outside and replace their frozen water.   Every morning I cursed about this to the chickens, the neighbours, the fella and some of my more sympathetic indoor plants.

Then someone, somewhere mentioned something that sparked an idea.  I can’t remember who it was or what they said, but I thank them because  now I have water for my chickens that never freezes and always stays in it’s original liquid form.

FOR FREE! There was absolutely NO cost at all to this homemade water thawer.

Just take a look at this snappy, 30 second video to see the breaking news about how you can do it too.



You can buy heated chicken waterers but they aren’t cheap. Plus it’s another thing to have to store. When you live in a house built in an era where closets weren’t actually invented yet, storage is a high priority.
Up until World War 2 the only thing the gays had to come out of was the root cellar. It was a difficult time.

The only precautions you have to take are making sure the lights and the extension cord you use, are specifically for outdoor use.
Also, don’t use a heated base like this with a plastic waterer. Only the galvanized steel type.

Now fly, be free of the shackles of ice this winter.

Your chickens, neighbours and indoor plants will thank you for it.


  1. Jason says:

    I’ve just learned (the hard way) that nearly all outdoor/Christmas lights are now LED, which offer a vast improvement in energy efficiency because they do not produce very much heat. Thus, they don’t work so well for these little projects where you actually want to produce heat!

    I’m just going to get the heated water bases for about $45. Lots of people have more creative ideas which are fun to read about, but they don’t seem to be worth the time to put together.

  2. Alex says:

    Keeping the Chickens Water from FREEZING in the winter.

    Our water supply is made out of PVC pipe that runs up the side of the coop and has an elbow with nipples for the chickens to get water. It makes it very convenient because we don’t have to go into the chicken run to add or change the water.

    On Monday I woke up to find the entire water supply frozen and knew I had to do something quick.

    I spent about 5 hours researching on what other people use to keep the chickens water from freezing in the winter time and the majority of the blogs suggest using heat tape or a submersible “pond” type heater.

    I didn’t like the idea of spending close to $50 and have to wrap the PVC pipe with the heat tape and the submersible heater was too big for a 3″ PVC pipe.

    I got to thinking about what else I could use and the light bulb came on. Lol I had a fish tank heater that I use to use when I had a tank set up. I took the heater and dropped it in the PVC pipe and for the last 3 days the water hasn’t frozen over. :-)

    My only CAUTION about using a fish tank heater is that the heater must stay below the waterline otherwise you’ll damage the heater. So each morning I’m making sure the water supply is full to the top and I haven’t had a problem with the water level falling below the heater.

    Hope this can help others and you enjoy the chickens!!!!

  3. ArtP says:

    I wonder if a string of lights could be used in place of heat tape on a pipe w water nipples Still would need to wrap w insulation.

  4. cheryl says:

    I couldn’t open the video so don’t know what you did. Let me know because I am one that has an expensive heated dog bowl (raised), and would love an option! Thanks

    • Karen says:

      Hi Cheryl – The video is working so I’m not sure why you couldn’t open it. Maybe try from a different browser? Basically what it shows is putting a small string of outdoor Christmas twinkle lights in a metal cookie tin and setting your waterer on top of it. The warmth from the lights in the tin are enough to keep the water thawed. Just raise it all up on a bucket. ~ karen

  5. Vivian says:

    Karen, I’m your ‘neighbour’ in Peterborough. I have the drip type waterer (up on stilts so the hens can peck to drink). Even with a bird bath heater the drips are freezing. Do you think the Christmas lights wrapped around the plastic barrel (from Home Depot) will work? I’ll try and let you know. Any other ideas for me?

  6. Colleen K Speroff says:

    I’ve spent the entire day searching for a cheap way to keep the bird bath warm. Right now I’m going out every hour or so to thaw and refill it with a gallon of hot water. Plus, I read that in these temps, if birds take a “dip” in the warm water, their feathers will become encrusted with ice. Laying sticks across the top of the warm water, leaving a hole for the birds to drink, was a suggestion. The suggestion of the chicken waterer with christmas lights would prevent them from bathing but allow them to drink. The only thing is I would have to buy a chicken waterer. Although I’m from Tennessee and the temps probably won’t stay this low for long, I don’t relish going out every hour to refill the bird bath.. Anybody out there have some good ideas about my predicament?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Colleen – I haven’t tried it but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with another type of bowl or bath on top of the tin with the lights. The only thing you have to make sure is that it conducts heat (like the metal). Mind you, you probably aren’t dealing with the -25 I’m dealing with here in Ontario, Canada, lol. Good luck! ~ karen

  7. Joni says:

    i like this idea..i was looking for a way to keep water thawed for my garage kittys..(my husband is a miser of electric-lol) and when my sons were little we came up with the idea of keeping the water dish near the area the heat lamp in the barn was hanging down to keep the chickens/duck warm in harsh temps. so they would huddle near it and the heat from the light and the chickens kept the water thawed. ducks are not as hardy if they do not have others to huddle with or fresh water to keep the oils clean in their feathers. and husband/dad was happy that we made do with one heat lamp instead of two or three like we

  8. Toni says:

    actually….string lights are not free unless you shoplift them? lol lol just sayin’ Merry Christmas everyone!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Toni – Yes. I get it, lol. But most people have a box of them in the basement. Also it’s a great use for those strings where only half of the string lights up! ~ karen

  9. Lynnette says:

    I have a quick question – what do you do with the cord that hangs out to the outlet? Do the chickens peck at it? This is the first winter for the chickens and I’m worried about how to keep them alive and watered! (We have 5 in the little coop house that TSC had on sale quite a few times this year.)

    • Karen says:

      Hi Lynette – Congratulations on your new(ish) chickens! I run the cord to the back of the waterer, down the ground and out the door. I keep the cord covered with some of the pine shavings. They seem to leave it alone, but definitely make sure not to make it terribly obvious to them. Hide it as best you can. ~ karen!

      • Lynnette says:

        Thanks Karen! That’ll be our weekend project, along with trying to “winterize” their little coop as best we can. Hopefully they survive this winter. The forecast is for a very cold winter…but then again environment canada hasn’t been very accurate this year, have they?! (We’re about an hour north of Toronto, by the way!)

  10. Luke says:

    Ahahaha. I had to read over this a few times.

    “You can buy heated chicken waterers but they aren’t cheap. Plus it’s another thing to have to store. When you live in a house built in an era where closets weren’t actually invented yet, storage is a high priority.
    Up until World War 2 the only thing the gays had to come out of was the root cellar. It was a difficult time.”

    That’s quality right there.

  11. Cindy says:

    Do the chickens not knock this over? I do keep our water in a plant pot to raise it and they tend to topple it over from time to time. Also, if the lights get wet is there any danger?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Cindy – Nope, the chickens have never knocked this over. And as long as you use Christmas (twinkle, mini) lights that are meant for outdoor use you’re fine if they get wet. That’s what they’re designed for. Although mine haven’t ever got wet that I know of. Good luck! ~ karen

  12. Kit says:

    Hey Karen: Got another question for you. What is the best way to clean my fresh eggs? Mine are piling up and I want to either sell or give them away. There is lots of adviice out there, but I wanted your suggestion!

    Thanks again, Kit

    • Karen says:

      Kit – The best thing is to *not* clean the eggs. The chickens lay them with a “bloom” on them, which is the clear, moist substance you see on the egg when it’s has *just* been laid. This creates a membrane that keeps bad stuff out of the egg. Like bacteria etc. Washing the eggs will take that membrane off and make the egg more susceptible to getting bad stuff in it. It’s because of this bloom that you can leave your eggs on the counter without refrigeration. If you wash it off, the eggs should be kept in the refrigerator. If there’s poop in the egg, you should not sell, give away or eat it. (I sometimes do, but I make sure to be very careful about cracking the egg on the side of the egg that does not have poop on it. ) That’s it. Those are my suggestions. ~ karen!

  13. Kit says:

    Karen: first time flock owner in the northeast US. Starting to get chilly wondering how to keep the water from freezing this winter in addition to myself as I go out and water early morning before going to work. Great idea. I am going to try it! I love the root cellar comment. Big chuckle from me. Lol. Do you have any tips for keeping the hen house insulated? I have 10 hens, 1 rooster and I don’t want them to freeze this winter.

    Thanks. Kit

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kit – Don’t worry. They won’t freeze. The only thing on them that *might* freeze is their combs and waddles if they’re big. I have Rhode Island Reds x Ameraucanas and they definitely prefer the middle of winter to the middle of summer. Depending on the size of your coop, the hens and rooster could keep it warm all on their own! For extra protection, I put up that board type of styrofoam insulation in the coop. It’s just enough to keep their combs and toes from freezing. Honestly, we as humans are more worried about the cold than they are. :) ~ karen!

      • kit says:

        Hey Karen: Thanks for the tip! I can get the board at the nearby HD. My breeds are Orpington, RI Red, Australorp and the rooster.. well your guess is as good as mine! The farmer where I bought the hens, threw him in as a bonus..LOL I think he is a Bantam??

        Thanks again!


  14. Sarah says:

    I used a very high tech device, the heating pad, underneath my plastic waterers. No freezing issue. And no DIY effort.

  15. Kimberly says:

    Thanks for the laugh! We do have a regular warmer for ours. And closets: I miss ’em. I also miss having an indoor dryer. And….well a lot of conveniences from my old suburban life! But I’d still rather be here in the middle of nowhere.

  16. melissa says:

    Hey Karen,

    Thought of you this morning! our chickens may not exactly be “by the book” in our city either.. I have never been too worried about it until now— we have to have city sewer and water hooked up and of course that means pulling a permit and the city coming to inspect when work is done. I am hoping they don’t notice the cute little red coop in tucked in the back of the property with 3 little black ladies hiding out inside of it being bribed by treats!!! HA!!!

  17. Annie Kip says:

    You certainly do have a LOT of uses for those little mini lights! Great idea – I will put it to use! Thanks!!!!

  18. Stephanie says:

    I bet you could use one of those big popcorn tins that populate the thrift stores, too, if you don’t have a metal bucket. I’ve been meaning to try something like this (but with a regular light bulb- it never occured to me to use christmas lights).

  19. Nikki Kelly says:

    Have you thought of using an aquarium heater? It’s roughly the size of a smaller curling iron.

    Nikki Kelly @ the ambitious procrastinator

  20. melissa says:

    Man, I read this one day too late! i was just out at the local farm store yesterday buying a heated waterer–although I opted for the cheaper dog version bowl. I hear ya about the squaking hens when they want a drink!!!

    Do yours spend much time outdoors? I tried to lure/reward mine today with yummy treats to go outside but they were not going for it one bit

    • Karen says:

      Melissa – I can’t get my chickens to stay indoors. They love it outside no matter how cold, but I have their area filled with straw, so they each make a deep nest and snuggle down. ~ karen!

  21. kate says:

    growing up in Idaho we had pasture creatures to keep watered including during the frozen winter. Our watering trough was a large old enameled cast-iron bathtub. In the fall we raked up leaves and pushed them under and around the tub and kept pushing them under and around the tub as long as they fell. possibly my dad pushed a bit of dried manure into the mix but some manure went with the leaves becuase it came from the orchard where the cows and horses liked to hang out. anyway – that pile would begin decomposing (breakdown of vegetative matter into compost)- a process that releases a lot of heat; that pile actually steamed on the cold fridgid days and nights and kept the water from freezing all winter long. Of course, we had to add water, but we didn’t have to break ice for our animals to get a drink.

  22. Suesan says:

    Great idea. My husband just made a heated, automatic refilling water bucket for the chickens. It’s plugged into a thermostatic outlet that turns on when it gets to 35 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat lamp in their coop is also plugged in there. We are just trying to figure out how to keep the hose to the bucket from freezing. It’s our first winter with chickens so we’ll see how it goes.

  23. Jake says:

    Can I ask a ????. what is a chickens waddle, I know I could ‘google’ it but your answer will be funnier I sure.

    • Karen says:

      Oop. It’s actually a wattle, not a waddle. It’s the wiggly thing that that grows under their beak. It’s what their Auntie Chickens grab and say “ohhhhh you’re such a cute chicken! Just look at that big fat wattle!”. ~ karen

  24. Amy in StL says:

    My parents always had an outdoor dog and my dad (tinkerer of all things) made a waterer for the dog. His was a similar idea but he used a regular incandescent lightbulb and put it under an old metal dishpan on on the ground with a galvanized pan (like the type that you caught the used oil in when you changed your oil) on top. Then he put mulch all around the lower pan. Then he had to make a second one for the songbirds. (He was an old softie.)

  25. Auntiepatch says:


  26. Nicola says:

    Genius! Thanks!

  27. Shana says:

    I need to see how I can do this for my rabbit hutches. We have to change their water 2 or more times a day here in Montana. In the summer I put frozen water bottles in their cages to help keep them cool.

  28. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    This is a great idea for anyone with outside animals!!

  29. Melissa says:

    oh, and I’ve also heard of people putting Christmas lights around their raised beds to prevent frost damage. Might not work in dead-of-Canada winter, but to perhaps extend the season a bit.

  30. Melissa says:

    the root cellar. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
    that just made me laugh so much!

    I’m always kinda impressed that people made do with so little clothes that they didn’t need closets. It makes me think of the “Little House” Books (do you have those in Canada?), how they had their “good dress” and their “chore dress”, which hung on a hook. How easy it must have been to get dressed in the morning!

    • Karen says:

      Melissa – LOL, you must be new around here! I kind of have an obsession with the Little House series, and in fact a relative of Laura Ingalls (whose name is Laura Ingalls Gunn) occasionally comments on my site. :) ~ karen!

    • Michelle says:

      I love Little House too, I’m actually kind of “lazy” in picking what to wear on my daughter on Sunday’s so I just went with a “sunday outfit” ;) easy. (Although, I watched the show). Karen, would an eves trough heating cable be more expensive to run, or possibly dangerous as well?

      • Karen says:

        The little twinkle lights hardly use any power at all I expect the trough heating cable would use more. Plus it’d be a lot bigger I suspect. But … use whatever you have! ~ karen

  31. Allison says:

    Brilliant idea.

    I know that there is often a little slip of paper in x-mas lights that warns of lead and recommends handling them with gloves. I’ve always wondered about that. But with your setup I assume there is no direct contact with lights and chickens. Although if there is a cord out of the back I’d probably cover it with something if chickens are the kind of animal to nibble or something on it. Because I’m that paranoid. No experience with chicken behavior but I’ve had a dog or three that would lick anything around food or water containers. Do chickens even have tongues? :)

  32. Leslie says:

    Thanks, Karen! You’re the best! It’s my first year with chickens, so of course I worry about all of this stuff and am always looking for (affordable) solutions.

  33. Ellen says:

    Wow!!! my dog & the wild creatures in my yard will bless you all winter. Monster Dog loves being outside, but I think eating snow (even white snow) won’t give her enough water. Thank you so much…

  34. ruth says:

    hmmmm. I may try a version of this to keep my palm tree warm this winter.

  35. Spokangela says:

    The root cellar!! HA!

  36. Lisa says:

    You must mean the regular lights, not the energy saving LED lights, right?

    Because my LED lights don’t even get warm to the touch. I’ve been checking because the lights are running through a flower bed mulched with dry leaves and I was afraid there would be a fire.

    • Karen says:

      Lisa – Yes. The old fashioned mini lights. They just get warm enough to keep the water thawed, especially when the waterer is metal because it conducts the heat well. ~ karen!

  37. AmieM says:

    When I read the title this morning, I thought you said “Keep Your Children’s Water Thawed This Winter!” And I didn’t think much of it.

  38. Brie says:

    This is exactly the post I needed! My husband and I were just discussing how to keep the chicken’s water from freezing! It has already begun here in Ohio! Thanks Karen! Oh, and did I miss the post naming the winners of the great Christmas giveaway?

  39. Nan Tee says:

    Wow, that is truly genius! Could the lights be rainbow-colored (as the daughter says) or could they be white? Almost like Christmas deco for the chicks. :)

    • Karen says:

      Nan – Last year I used white, this year I’m using “rainbow”. I believe they give off the same amount of heat. And if it doesn’t keep the water thawed, just change to a larger string of lights. From say 25 to 50 or 100. ~ karen!

  40. Sandy says:


    This is the best idea ever!! My winter problem solved. You saved me from spending money on an expensive waterer. Even my husband was impressed. Thank you.

  41. Cindy Marlow says:

    I had no idea those little lights put off so much heat! I hope people heed the warning, “making sure the lights and the extension cord you use, are specifically for outdoor use” and nobody (especially the chickens) gets a shock. Great idea. Makes me wish I hadn’t invested in my expensive heated bird waterer.

  42. christine says:

    If you were Martha there would be some hole drilling and light sparkles coming through.Just saying.You are still a genius and way funnier than that ex-con.

  43. Mary Werner says:

    Wonderful and it got me thinking, I could wrap our white Christmas lights on a fireplace screen that is wired around our porch rails to keep the few potted plants safe during the infrequent freezes we get here in Florida. Beats moving the plants into the garage or house and could also work for the tomato plants in the garden. YOU ARE A WEALTH OF IDEAS to make our life easier. The outside cats will love it also!

  44. Alixandra Key Bouchard says:

    The video isn’t working for me… It’s still a mystery

  45. arlene says:

    So Karen –I take it there is no heat in your hen house… no little heat lamp for sub-sub zero nights.. and if not.. how cold do you think it gets inside – while they are roosting at night? I realize that they generate some chicky heat just by being alive and trying to stay warm – What is the conventional wisdom on this question?

    • Karen says:

      Arlene – Both my run and roosting area have a heat lamp. But it definitely isn’t enough to keep their water from freezing. This particular breed of chicken, a Rhode Island Red Cross is much more comfortable in the cold than the heat of summer, so they’re fine all winter long. If it gets really cold you can put vaseline on their combs and waddles to prevent frostbite. A lot of people don’t even use heat lamps, but it makes me feel better. They do crowd together to sleep when it’s really cold. ~ karen!

    • Edith says:

      Feathers and down keep them warm. They are virtually immune to cold. Animals are not humans that need blankies…..LOL

    • Gayle says:

      Also, feed your chicks cracked corn along with their regular feed. The cracked corn makes them warmer.

  46. Brenda Watts says:

    This is great Karen, I am going to pass it on to the caretakers of the feral cat colonies here. It is always hard to keep water available for the cats..something made like this might work for them..funds are always hard to come by to buy heated waterers…free is good

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