The other day, I saw some nifty directions for making a chicken water heater out of a cookie tin and a light kit .   Since my husband, Greg, is an electrical engineer, he likes me to ask him before I begin projects like that.  So, I asked.  He said, “Let me think about it.”

A short while later, he was teaching me about resistors, Ohm’s Law, and how to calculate how much power a 60 watt light bulb uses.  He showed me a website, mouser.com, that sells electronic parts, this is where we ordered our resistors.  Then, we made a trip to Radioshack for heat shrink tubing.  A flexible bucket was found to use as a cement form.  He dug some old electrical cords and pieces of aluminum out of his treasure stash.  The goal was to make a more durable water heater that didn’t require bulb changes.  According to my math-story problem, the 470 Ohm resistor would only need half the power to produce not quite twice the heat.


When the resistors arrived, the old electrical cord was cut, peeled, and split into two ends.  Each end was wrapped into one of the two metal pieces on opposite sides of a resistor.  With the resistor on a tile trivet, the new circuit was plugged in for testing.  Greg used his handy laser thermometer (he has SO many fun toys!) to compare its temperature to that of a 60 watt light bulb burning in the bathroom.  The outside glass of the light bulb measured close to 140 degrees Fahrenheit; the resistor was a winning 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  (You may see more than one color of electrical cord, because more than one heater is being made.)



With that verified, he proceeded to solder the wires into place.  Then, the heat shrink tubing was cut and placed over the soldered joints.  My heat gun (which was originally intended to emboss stationery…) blew hot air on the tubing to make it tighten up and add stability to those points.  Next, he bolted the resistor set-up to an aluminum plate which should help radiate heat to the water.

Now, he wanted me to do more than operate the camera.  I was guided to collect about 2 inches of road mix (conveniently laying around in the side yard), measure out cement that was approximately one-fourth the volume of the road mix (whatever left-overs he had around) and dye (not necessary, but available), and cut two round pieces of fiberglass mesh (he likes to play with fiberglass, too).  The mesh would make the concrete stronger and less likely to crack.  Greg handed me his usual rebar stirring rod to use as I added the dry cement mixture, a portion at a time, to a bucket with water in it.  I quickly decided that he needs a better cement stirring spoon for Christmas!  (He has a small cement mixer, but this was too small of a project for that.)  Along the way, he tossed in some hair-like fiberglass fibers, for even more thorough concrete bonding; and we added more dye; he added a little more water, keeping the consistency to a thick sludge.  It was officially concrete now.

He finished mixing, because my arm was giving out, but I was able to do a lot of the layering of concrete with the circuit in the form bucket.  After an initial layer of concrete, we positioned one of the mesh circles.  A bit more concrete was put on this.  Greg showed me how to give it all a gentle wiggle now and then to help things settle.  The resistor combo was put in, with the cord held in a block of foam by a small slit.  Hopefully this would keep the cord to the edge during the hardening time, and make it easier to do repairs later, if needed.  Finally, it was all covered with one last layer of concrete and tamped carefully with a wooden block.


A few days of sitting in the semi-warm greenhouse, and the heating stone was ready to come out.  I cautiously bent the sides of the bucket to free the stone, but it was heavy enough that I accepted Greg’s offer let it slide out onto his hands.  We plugged it in again and measured the outside temperature of the concrete to be 88 degrees Fahrenheit!  Perfect.



The side that was on top in the bucket was a little knobby, but was placed toward the ground.  Since I just put it on dirt, it was easily leveled.  The other side of the stone was smooth, with one little concavity where the plastic bucket was warped.  The chicken water dispenser sits on there nicely.

This morning, with an early morning low of 23 degrees Fahrenheit, the chicken water heating stone was just warm to the touch.  Most importantly, the water was liquid and the chickens are drinking it.  This set-up stays much cleaner than the open, heated bowl I was using previously.  The stone not only heats the water, but keeps it up above ground level.  I’m sure it is much more stable than the cookie tin heater would have been.  It was a fun guided experiment, well worth the extra time and studying!


  1. TheChickenChick says:

    Heavy duty is right! Gotta love an engineer’s will to build a better mouse trap. lol I’m curious: how much did it actually cost you to make it and can you estimate the amount it would cost for the Average Joe to make it?
    Thanks for the shout-out and congratulations on winning the Winter Water War!
    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

    • lauraimprovises says:

      The resistor was $6.

      The heat shrink tubing was about$1.50 for a huge variety pack.

      A bucket for a cement form could probably be picked up at the dollar store, $1

      If you don’t have old electrical cords, possibly an old lamp at a thrift store could supply one for about $2?

      The aluminum is optional, but can be found at places like Home Depot or http://www.amazon.com/Aluminum-Sheet-Plate-125-5052/dp/B0055OO2GE. The piece in the amazon link would be enough to make about 8 heaters, so the cost is approximately $3 per/heater. Greg also suggests that an old aluminum pan could be found at the thrift store.

      Post mix has everything in it needed for the cement part. For about $10 a bag, which would make 10-20 stones, depending on thickness. So $1 each.

      The foam piece was just from packing material.

      So, it really only cost us about $7.50. because of Greg’s stash of scraps. It would cost closer to $15 per heating stone if everything had to be purchased to get started.

      • John T. Kuhrke says:

        Why go to a thrift store and buy a cord? They seII extension cords at every hardware store, Home Depot and WaIMart in the country for about 2 bucks.

    • lauraimprovises says:

      The stone has not felt hot enough to melt plastic. I can’t promise it won’t, but I don’t expect it to. I might depend on the plastic, too.

  2. Mark Pemburn says:

    What a great idea! We have now gone through three or four of the rather expensive thermostatic water heaters in the half dozen years we’ve kept chickens and I didn’t like either the cookie tin or the cinder block and bulb DIY methods. Looks like the only thing I’ll need to buy is the resistor. I wonder, though: the cord (which will come from the old heater) is a 3-prong—should I just stub it off or connect it to the aluminum plate? It’s going to be plugged into a GFCI outlet so I suppose it doesn’t matter much.

    • lauraimprovises says:

      Sorry, I didn’t see this before. My husband says he thinks tying it to the aluminum plate is a good idea, because it could prevent charge build up on the cement if it gets damp (this did happen to me with one we made). On the other hand, in that case it might trip the GFCI regularly. In either case, you just want to try to keep it dry.He recommends painting it to get a good rubber coating on it.

      • Mark Pemburn says:

        I made one of these a couple of years ago and it’s worked beautifully through the last two winters—and last winter was particularly harsh. What may contribute to its success is that I cast the cement _inside_ the galvanized steel shell of the busted commercial water heater. Other than that, it’s pretty much as described in the article.

  3. Steven Spartz says:

    I know this is over 2 years old, but I just came across it and was wondering if there was a way that I could see the photos that came with this article.

    Thank you

  4. Seth says:

    I made one out of a metal 5 gallon bucket with a metal lid ; First of all I cut a 10 inch slit in the bucket around the 2 1/2 gallon mark. Then I cut the sides down to the slit then I took crimpers and worked over the rough sides. Next I took the metal lid drilled a small hole in the top of it enough to allow a cord to fit threw the top. I took a cord with a light bulb connector put a 75 watt bulb in it . Slide the top on it and turned the eclectic on with this slightly enclosed keeps the water warm and the dirt and dust out of the water. Very easy to clean lift the lid off the bucket then take and wash out the base bucket and refill and put the top back on . P.S. My bucket has dog ears around the lid making it easy to bend a few over to keep everything secure and safe. I left the handle on for easy carrying .

  5. Jay Meyer says:

    Sorry I didn’t read down to this section to see the link to the right resister. I ended up getting a couple 470 ohm 25w resisters. Ask your husband if he thinks they will work or should i use both of them in one heater? Thanks much looks like a great idea. Jay

    • lauraimprovises says:

      He says 120V AC outlet across a 475 ohm resistor will provide about 30 watts of heat, so the 25 watt resistor is a little undersized. If you put the 2 resistors in series (not parallel)), you will only generate 15 watts of heat because you increase resistance. It just depends on how cold it gets whether or not that is sufficient. Here is the math he reviewed with me: V=IR to determine current through resistor, so 120V=I (current)475 ohms. That gives us .25 amps. Next equation is W(power in amps) = VI, so 120 x .25 = 30 watts. Hope that helps.

      • lauraimprovises says:

        The risk is that if you try to dissipate more than 25 watts through a 25 watt resistor, it could melt or catch fire. Embedded in cement the way we did, melting is the real problem. It depends on how well the metal plate next to the resistor works as a heat sink.

  6. John T. Kuhrke says:

    I Iove your stone idea. No spiders, dust dirt, anything. CIean, neat, heavy enough the chickens can’t move it. Etc.

    Thing I”m curious about is .. how Iong have you operated one of these?? I am curious how Iong the resistor hoIds up Iike this. I know one thing, if you hadn’t screwed the resistor to that aIuminum pIate, the resistor wouId not have Iasted 60 seconds.

    Another question is, what is the coIdest morning you had where it kept the water from freezing. You mentioned 28 degrees the first morning. Most of us are interested in hearing something Iike 0 degrees.

    You have to provide more data, and Iong term data in an articIe! LOL (I am teasing you, but serious) The whoIe thing sounds good, but I’d be more impressed if you said, “We buiIt this 8 years ago. It keeps the water from freezing at -5 degrees, and it’s stiII going strong!

    I am using the cinder bIock, Iamp socket and a 40w APPLIANCE BULB method, and I just repIaced the buIb yesterday, for the first time, after 3 years of usage. Cost was 4 doIIars initiaIIy, and it took me 10 minutes to buiId. Thing is, it gets dusty, spiders buiId in there, etc. So, I’d Iike to try your idea.

  7. gary 1 says:

    Sounds like a great deal but I went to the electronic site and it was Greek to. me. If you give an exact part, manufacturer or something more specific.

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