DIY Chicken Water Heater


The ladies have NO interest in getting their feet in the snow

We’ve been flying by the seat of our pants pretty much from the get-go with our chickens.  We’d been trying to get chickens for a couple years, but things just kept falling through.  We finally decided that we’d just order them even though we had to move again, and they were going to show up a few days after we moved.  We were tired of waiting for the perfect timing; we’d just pull the trigger and make the timing work.  Still neck deep in boxes, we picked up our day old chicks.  Fortunately, that meant we had plenty of boxes to make our brooder out of.  We’d read far enough into our chicken books to know what we needed to do.

We did plan ahead for some things; others caught us a bit off guard.  One of those was a water heater.  We live in Minnesota, so we knew that we were eventually going to need something to keep the water from freezing in the winter, but we’d purchased the chicks in the spring so it wasn’t at the top of our priority list.  We started talking about it again as the weather got cool, but fall lasted surprisingly long for Minnesota.  All of a sudden we were hit with a cold snap, and their water started freezing.  It wasn’t freezing solid, but freezing enough around the edges that we had to go out once or twice a day to make sure that they still had liquid water.  The heated version of our water font ran about $50, and of course money was tight when the cold snap hit, so we were figuring out who got paid next so we could purchase it.  In the meantime I started trying to think up my own system for keeping the water from freezing.  I came up with an idea, but I wanted to make sure that it was a viable option before I did it so I went online to check it out.  Why I didn’t immediately look online for “DIY chicken water heaters” is beyond me.  I guess I’m still of the mindset that I need to figure it out for myself.  I ended up finding a water heater idea that I liked better than mine and changing it a bit to fit the materials I had on hand, and to make it a bit safer.  I had all of the materials on hand, but it probably would have run $5 if I had to purchase the items.

Here’s what you’ll need to make one:

  • 1 lamp holder
  • Scrap of wood (about 10×10”)
  • extension cord
  • 8x8x8 concrete block
  • 2 wood screws
  • Light bulb (about 60w)

Center your concrete block on your scrap of wood and trace the opening onto the wood. (My concrete block isn’t an 8x8x8″ block. It was actually a leftover piece from building this shelf: /building-a-custom-cinder-block-shelf/)


Cut the receptacle end off your extension cord leaving the plug and about 6 feet of cord.  Separate the cord sides of the last 2 – 3inches of cord. You can use a sharp knife if you need to, but make sure not to expose the wire inside.  Strip the covering from the last half inch of wire.


Cut a groove in the bottom of your lamp holder for the cord to pass through.  I cut 2 slits with a saw and then broke the piece out using pliers.


Attach the wire to your lamp holder.  This is as simple as loosening the screws on the bottom, wrapping the wire around them, and then retightening them.


Once your cord is securely attached, you can attach your lamp holder to the wooden base with your wood screws.


Your concrete block should already have a little grove, but you’ll need to make it a little bigger so the wire can pass through it.  My daughter did this part with a hammer and chisel in about a minute.


All there is left is to set the block over the lamp holder, making sure the wire passes through the groove.  Insert a light bulb, and plug it in.

(EDIT! We had some trouble with water condensing and dripping onto the bulb which would then break.  This problem was easily solved by placing a large mouth pint mason jar over the bulb.  We haven’t had a bulb break since and a 78watt bulb has always kept the water from completely freezing)


The water font sits on top of the brick, and although we have yet to get any of our really brutal 30 below zero days, so far this has always kept the water from freezing.

When I originally made this I ran a drop cord under the door to plug it in.  Since then I’ve used added an outlet to the chicken coop, and used wire clips to attach the cord to the base of the heater as well as the wall.  I didn’t want loose wires dangling around in there.

Make Cheap Clamps from PVC Pipe

I really don’t like PVC.  I’ve gone over the reasons for this in How and Why: A Do-it-yourself Guide, but suffice it to say that it’s anything but environmentally friendly.  However, when we moved into our new house there was a bunch of PVC in the garage.  Yesterday we were going to do some truck camping, but our truck doesn’t have a window on the topper so I wanted a way to cover the opening in case in rained.  (Or as it happened, in case it was windy and cold)  I grabbed a tarp, but I needed a way to hold it on so I made up these PVC clips in about 2 minutes.

How to Make a PVC Clip

1. Cut a section of PVC pipe about 2 inches wide

2. Cut the PVC so that the circle opens

These work great for holding tarps on cars, or tablecloths on picnic tables, holding things while glue dries, or any number of things.  They’re really handy to have in your trunk or in your camping box.

I hate to encourage anybody to buy new PVC but if you’ve got some sitting around or pull some out of a dumpster, this is a really handy thing to make out of it.

IMG_1253IMG_1249 IMG_1250 IMG_1251

Seating A Tubeless (cart) Tire

Here’s a quick little trick for you. (If you don’t want to read the whole story, skip to the step by step below)

I found this 2 wheel cart in the garbage at one point.  The only thing that seemed to be wrong with it was that it was missing a wheel.  I figured it was about a $70 or $80 cart that probably needed a $5 or 10 wheel and tire, so I brought it home.  It sat for years.  I brought it with when I moved.  It sat for another year until I was about to move again and I thought, “This would come in handy when we move.”  So I went to Home Depot to buy a wheel & tire.  I didn’t think they would have it, but they did!  What they did NOT have was the compression nut that holds the wheel on.  The guy I asked about it (who inconsequentially was me 20 years ago, except he had a bit more swagger) actually KNEW something! I HATE going to Home Depot, but for a year it was about a mile from my house and the only ‘hardware’ store in NE Minneapolis. I go to hardware stores a LOT, so I ended up at Home Depot quite a bit.  Anyway, unlike most of the employees whose method of helping is to blindly search with you, this guy actually knew where the item was SUPPOSED to be, but informed me that they’d removed a whole drawer from the hardware section.  Yet another reason to hate Home Despot.  They carry the wheel to fix a cart, but not the nut to the hold the wheel on! Awesome! Later in the week I went to Menards and found the wheel/tire assembly AND the nut.

I got home and it took longer to remove the packaging than to actually install the wheel.  The only thing left to do was pump up the other tire, which I decided to do this morning when I got out the pump for my bicycle.  I started to pump and realized there was no tube and the tire was completely unseated from the rim.  I’ve had this happen before with wheelbarrow and other tires, and it can be nearly impossible to get the tire to reseat.  When I was trying to reseat the wheelbarrow tire, I tried something I’d seen on a video.  You spray starter fluid inside the tire and then light it.  When it lights it quickly expands seating the tire.  I could never get that to work, and I’ve tried it on a few different tire/rim combos.

When I was a kid my dad taught me how to seat my own car tires.  I had a 77 Dodge van that was perpetually getting flats for a while.  We thought someone in our townhouse complex didn’t like my eyesore of a van and kept letting the air out.  After spending $10 a half a dozen times or so to have a shop reseat the tire, my dad told me that I could reseat it myself with dish soap and an air compressor.  You just squirt dish soap along the bead of the tire and then with a good quick compressor, inflate the tire.  If the compressor is strong enough (like a gas station compressor), the tire will balloon out against the rim and seal.  Later I ended up having to bring my wheel in again and the new guy who worked on it told me, “Your rim was so rusty I’m surprised it held air at all!  I cleaned it up for you and it should be fine now.”  Yeah, so thanks to the guy who fixed my flat tire half a dozen times or more but never fixed the actual problem!

This might work with a wheelbarrow or cart wheel, but they also usually unseat on both sides of the wheel rather than just one like my van tires.  Today I took the advice from my dad and combined it with something I saw my ex-father-in-law do once.  He was trying it on a motorcycle tire and I’m not sure if it worked for him, but it worked for me.

Okay, I’m done with story-time, here’s the

Step by Step

  1. Clean the outside of the bead (the bead is the raised section at the center of the tire)
    Unseated Tire
  2. Squirt a decent amount of dish soap along the top of the bead. (make sure that it’s coated all the way around)
    Put dishsoap on bead
  3. Do the other side if necessary
  4. Wrap a ratcheting strap around the tire (I wrapped it 3 times)
    Wrap ratcheting strap around tire
  5. Attach the hooks together and start to tighten the strap with the ratchet until the center of the tire starts to depress. At that point, both of the beads should be in contact with rim.  If not, tighten it a bit more.
    Wrap ratcheting strap around tire
  6. Once the tire is contacting the rim on both sides, pump it up.
    Pump it up
  7. Remove the strap and you’re ready to go
    Ready to roll

It seems really simple, but it worked and it saved me from having to buy anything else.  And I didn’t need to go find a compressor either.

Charcoal (Grill) or Bon-Fire Starters

So I’ve seen these firestarters around that are half a toilet paper tube stuffed with shredded paper and wax.  I’ve never actually used one, but I’ve seen them at military surplus stores and the like.  I came up with one that I feel is even better, mostly because it uses things that you probably already have and throw away.  I mean you could make the traditional ones by shredding junk mail and melting old candles, but wax is messy to work with and these ones practically make themselves.

We don’t eat a ton of bacon at our house, but we do have some every week or two.  We also don’t use a lot of paper towels, but this is one thing we use them for.  We put down a couple squares on a plate to soak up the grease.  I got the idea for these from using those paper towels as fire starters.  Then I got the idea to make something you could easily store and transport.  The thing that really pushed me to try this was a friend who hates using lighter fluid when cooking with charcoal because it flavors the food.

These are pretty much one of the simplest things ever to make.  When you’re done making bacon:

  1. Stuff the grease soaked paper towels in a toilet paper tube (or a section of paper towel tube). 2 towels is a pretty perfect fit.
  2. Pour liquid grease in both ends of the tube until the paper towel is soaked. (In my experience ½ pound of cooked bacon yields enough grease for 2-3 tubes
  3. Set somewhere and allow to cool.

There’s not much more to it than the normal clean-up after making bacon.

The thing I really like about these is that you can use them to start charcoal without using lighter fluid.  The first time I tried one of these was when we barbecued with my friend who hates lighter fluid.  Just pull a bit of paper towel out the end of the tube so you have something to light.  Set it on a piece of charcoal (so when the grease starts to run out, it doesn’t just drip into the bottom of the grill) and then just build up a pyramid of coal around it and light it.  This doesn’t light quite as fast as lighter fluid, but it doesn’t impart any chemical taste to your food.

If you’re using it to light a bon fire, it works pretty much the same.  Put it on top of a larger piece of wood then put smaller pieces of wood around it.  It’ll get your fire going pretty darn quick.

Installing an Exterior Spigot

(From Resist Zine #47)

I’m more of a story-teller than a straight up DIY guy.  When I wrote How & Why that kind of came back to bite me in the ass.  I was asked to write it in ‘my style’ which pretty obviously is storytelling, but when I got done and sent it in, they cut 100 pages trying to turn it into a step-by-step guide.  Articles came back split up into steps and had to be re-reedited in order to make any sense at all.  I’ve had people claim that my projects are just ‘contraptions’ and that I admit as much.  I don’t know about that.  What I do admit is that I make mistakes and that sometimes in the middle of something I think of a better way of doing it.  And I am admitting right now that I am a story-teller.  I COULD sit down and write step-by-step do it yourself instructions but that’s not what I like to do.  I like to tell stories.  I think it’s more interesting when you get to read about how I completely screwed something up and then had to go back and fix it, or the thought process I had to go through to get it right.  On top of that, I think stories tend to seal things in our memory and keep us from making those same mistakes.

So that said, here is how installing that exterior spigot worked out for me.  First off, the perfect place I found, with the valves already installed and ready for me to add a spigot…  Well, after moving our garden to the front of the house, having a spigot on the back of the house didn’t seem like the best idea. So I started looking for options along the front of the house.  The fact that all the windows in the basement had been boarded shut made running a spigot to the outside of the house a bit easier since I didn’t have to bust/drill through the masonry block, I could just drill through a half-inch piece of plywood.  Then it was just a matter of finding a place to tie into the existing plumbing.  A laundry sink near the front of the house made that easy too.

I picked up all the pieces I thought I would need: a T fitting for connecting to the existing line, an exterior spigot, 10 feet of copper tubing, a valve and a few 45 and 90 degree elbows.  I don’t think plumbing is as complicated as most people make it out to be, especially if you’re dealing with copper tubing.  (The old iron pipe on the other hand can be a huge pain in the ass) It seems like you always end up having to make one extra run to the store, or running into one thing you didn’t really expect, but I’ve always been able to finish what I’ve started.

The first thing I did was solder about a foot of copper tubing to the spigot.  Then I got worried because that particular spigot had a rubber seal and I was worried that I had melted it by not taking it out when I soldered the two together.  But I took it apart and it was just fine. Then I drilled a hole in the plywood, slipped the tube in and screwed the spigot to the wood. I had planned to squirt some caulking behind it, to seal it, but I couldn’t find my caulking gun. Plus if you had seen our basement you would realize that it probably wasn’t going to make one bit of difference anyway.

Then I went to work inside, and this is where the trouble started.  Now when you’re soldering pipe, you can’t solder wet pipe so you have to get it and keep it dry.  So I turned off the water and turned on all the faucets so that the lines could drain.  One thing I didn’t realize is that the upstairs and downstairs were on the same meter, so I was turning off the water to the whole house (including the upstairs neighbor) and draining his lines too.  Fortunately I had run into him in the front yard with my supplies and told him I was about to do some plumbing, so he wasn’t shocked to find the water temporarily shut off.  I cut the supply line to the cold water on the sink and used my plumbers brush (same as a battery terminal cleaner) to remove the paint from the outside of the tubing.  Then I dry fit parts as far as the valve, which basically means that you cut your pieces and put them all together to see if they’re going to fit.  Then I soldered the valve, elbow and couple pieces of tubing together before slipping the assembly into the T fitting and screwing it to the ceiling with a pipe strap. This would hold the T fitting at exactly the right angle while I soldered it.  If I had soldered it first and gotten the angle wrong, it could have been a lot of work to get it right.


Soldering (or ‘sweating’) copper tubing is pretty easy.  You’ll want to rough up both surfaces that will be in contact.  The easiest way to do this is with a plumbing brush. Just twist it around the outside of the tubing, and then inside of the fitting.  Wipe off any grit with a rag. Brush plumbing flux on both surfaces and assemble the pieces.  Next you want to heat up the joint evenly.  I like MAPP gas because it burns hotter than propane, so it heats up the joint quicker.  Move the flame around the joint until the flux starts to sizzle.  At this point, the solder should melt when you touch it to the joint.  Move the flame away, and start applying solder at the bottom of the joint, working all the way around it.  I usually wipe it off with a rag while it’s still warm.

Now because there was still some water dripping through the tube, I had to do something to keep it from running up to the joint where I was working.  I had done this before, but it had been well over 10 years so I forgot exactly how it worked.  I knew you had to put something in the tube to absorb the moisture, but I forgot was it was.  Actually it wasn’t so much that I forgot, as that I remembered incorrectly.  I remembered it as being plugs of paper towel.  I didn’t stop to think about it, I just slipped some into the tubing on either side of the joint, soldered it, and then turned the water back on.  This is why I always add valves when I’m doing plumbing.  If you have a valve, you can cut off water to just the spot you’re working without turning off the water to the whole house.  Now I could turn on the water and finish the job.  So I turned on the water and all my joints held fine, but the cold water in the kitchen was no longer working.  That paper towel had clogged it up.

I ran to the computer to figure out what the heck I had done wrong.  I typed “how to solder wet tubing” in the search engine, and watched a video of a guy putting BREAD in the tube.  BREAD! That’s what it was.  Not paper towels, BREAD! To be fair, paper towels do work if the other end of the pipe is open.  Toilet paper would probably work even better because it deteriorates.  Either probably would have come out of the laundry faucet, but it certainly wasn’t coming out of the kitchen faucet!

I’m ashamed to say I actually got the outside spigot going before I got the cold water in the kitchen working again.  We went months without it.  I tried disconnecting the faucet and opening up the valve, but that didn’t work.  The bathroom sink was 2 steps away so it was easy to just step over there if you needed cold water.  We got used to only having hot in the kitchen.  (Better than only having cold)  In the end I had to add a valve to that cold water supply so I could turn it off, cut it after that point, and then connect the hot water supply to the cold water supply (under the sink) and run the hot water backwards through the cold water pipe to flush the paper towel back out where I had cut it.  Then of course I had to reconnect the pipe I’d cut to turn the cold water back on.  This time I used bread instead of paper towels when soldering the wet pipes!

Finishing up the exterior spigot was easy.  All I had to do was finish running the copper tubing from the valve to the tube I had left sticking out of the wall.  I dry fit the whole thing, and soldered it up.  Because none of this pipe had ever had water in it, it was a super easy job.

We got to use it for one whole summer of watering the garden and slip-n-slide before we were run out of the house by the new management company’s incompetence and money grubbing

Rewiring the Garage with Drop Cords & Power Strips

Before we went to the store yesterday and found out that we were looking at getting 16 inches of snow today, I was out in the garage actually getting some stuff done. My garage is set up kind of strange, it’s semi-finished with plasterboard or paneling on the walls.  It even has insulation in all the walls.  However, there are only 2 outlets in the whole garage, and they’re on the same wall about 5 feet from each other.  Oh wait, there’s one in the rafters for the garage door opener too.  There’s nothing by the garage door, so if you’re working in the driveway you have to run a drop cord all the way from the back wall of the garage.  I’ve got a workbench along one of the side walls, but there’s no outlet there for plugging in tools.  I had this same problem in my old garage, but my old garage was a tiny little thing and was completely unfinished.  It had one two receptacle outlet on the wall and the garage door opener plugged into one of those with an extension cord. So I’m kind of used to it and I know how to deal with it.  When it was my own garage, I planned to eventually put in some permanent wiring, but since I’m renting this will probably be as far as I get.

The obvious solution is drop cords and power strips.  The thing is I hate having a cords running all over the floor, running under things and draped over other things.  They’re always in the way.  I hate having power strips sitting on the floor because then you have to squat down every time you plug something in and I hate having them sitting on the bench because they’re always in the way.  Plus it takes two hands (or a hand and a foot) to quickly unplug things.  So what I started doing is attaching power strips to the wall.  I remove a light fixture and replace it with one that has an outlet.  I attach a power strip to the wall and then run a drop cord up the wall and through the rafters to the outlet, using wire clips to hold it in place so it’s never in the way.  I’m basically rewiring the garage with drop cords and power strips.  The thing that’s nice about this is it’s pretty darn easy to move the wiring around later if you decide to rearrange your garage. The only trick is, who keeps the screw template that comes with a power strip?

I know of two quick ways to make a new template.  The easiest most accurate way is to just put the power strip on a copier and make a copy of the bottom.  If you don’t have quick access to a copier though, the next best thing is to do a ‘rubbing.’  I think just about every kid did these in school.  You took a piece of paper, a pencil (or a crayon) and found something textured to make rubbings of: plaques, tombstones, raised symbols, etc.  Just do that with the bottom of the power strip.  Hold (or tape) a piece of paper and rub your pencil back and forth over the mounting holes until they show up on the paper.  Then all you have to do is tape it up where you want it and run some screws through it.

The wall above my workbench is plasterboard, which I hate for garages. Sure if you finish it, it looks nice… but nobody ever finishes it.  It MIGHT get plastered, but it almost never gets painted.  Then there’s the problem that it’s in the garage and it’s not very durable, so when you accidentally hit it with a 2×4 or a pipe falls against it, you end up with dents or holes.  Also, it’s terrible for hanging things on.  My last garage I had finally gotten around to putting up plywood walls.  They look better than unfinished plasterboard, are more durable, AND you can hang stuff wherever you want.  I wasn’t about to plywood the whole wall, but I did throw up a scrap strip of chipboard above the workbench.  Now I can hang up tools or supplies without the nails working their way out of the wall, and it gave me a good spot to screw up my power strip so the constant plugging and unplugging wouldn’t pull it out of the wall.

Building a Custom Cinder Block Shelf

I’m not going to go into great detail on this because a cinder block shelf is a pretty darn easy project.  It’s so self-explanatory that when I was walking out of the store with my cart of boards and cinder blocks, a friend that I ran into took one look at my supplies and said “Building a shelf?”  There’s really very little to it.  You put down some blocks, then a board, then some more blocks, and another board until it’s as high as you want it.  The only problem is that cinder blocks only come in so many sizes, so you basically get 16 or 8 inches between shelves if you get the cheap blocks, or 12 inches if you get the decorative blocks.  My problem was that I wanted shelves the correct height for my books, most of which were about 10 inches tall.  So I decided to cut the masonry blocks to the correct height.

I marked a few bricks at 10 inches and then used a carpenters square to mark a line across the brick.  I bought a couple masonry blades for my circular saw, donned eye and ear protection and wore a handkerchief over my mouth so I wouldn’t breath in the dust and started cutting.  The dust covered up my pencil lines pretty quickly so the first thing I did is score the whole line and then go back and cut all the way through the block.  Each block I cut left me with a U shaped piece that was 6 inches tall.  However, if I turned them on their side, they were 8 inches tall, just the right height for mass market paperbacks.





One thing you’ll probably notice about my shelf is that I have small bricks under a board that the shelf is then built on top of.  This is because our room is in the basement and we’ve at times had the carpet get a bit wet from water coming in, so I wanted the first course of books off the floor.  I wish I had done wider blocks or more bricks under there, but by the time I noticed the shelf was basically built and I didn’t want to move those heavy blocks around again.  I think they’ll work out fine, I just wish I’d done it differently, for looks if for no other reason.


This is one thing I like about masonry block shelves.  The openings in the block lend themselves to small items like little books or decorations. The U shaped pieces are suited really well for that!







UPDATE: (3/25/15)

When I built my masonry block shelf, I was NOT planning on moving in less than a year.  My friends weren’t expecting it either.  One of them showed up when we were starting to unload the blocks and said, “So what? Now you’re just moving bricks for fun?” And it did look ridiculous.  They’re heavy, awkward, and no fun to move  .Why on earth were we bringing concrete blocks with us? To make matters worse, we originally thought that we were going to build the new shelf in the basement, so we carried them all down to the basement.  When we realized there was a better place for a large shelf upstairs, Jodi and I ended up carrying them all back upstairs.  (The books too)  Mason blocks shelves are not meant to be moved!

That said, the new shelf was still quite easy to build and it was easy to customize for the space we had.  Before we decided to put the shelf against the wall, we had set a couple chairs and a table there.  When our friend Tonya gave us the idea of putting the shelf there, we still wanted to leave the chairs and table.  The chairs would be easy to move to get at the books, but the table not so much.  So we decided to build the shelf around the table and lamp.  It ended up working out pert’near perfect.

We cut a few of our 6 foot boards in half which gave us a shelf on either side of our table and fit perfectly against the 8 foot wall.  I started out with 16” blocks because that’s what we had. Then switched to the 10” blocks I cut last time.  Because the ceiling slants on the right, we could continue with the 6 foot boards we already had.  This saved us having to run out and get 8 foot boards while we were putting the shelf together.  We decided to put a wooden crate in the open area which worked out great.

I ended up buying 2 more 6 foot planks after I had already started putting books on the shelf so I could make it a little bit taller than the last one.  Other than that it was pretty much built with the same materials as last time.  I had to borrow 4 bricks from the pile in the yard to turn a couple 8” blocks into 10” blocks, but I also have two 8” blocks left over.  One thing I added to this shelf was 3 corner brackets to attach one shelf to the wall about 2/3rds of the way up.  It probably would have been fine without, but it makes me feel more comfortable.