Everyone has seen the 250-watt red heat bulbs. Every feed and hardware store stocks them and many poultry keepers have a chicken heat lamp in their coop. Running an extension cord to the coop and slapping a heat lamp in there is a quick and relatively painless fix for the cold temperatures; however, using a chicken heat lamp introduces combustibles and electrical hazards into the coop, which in turn can cause fires and destroy your flocks (and your home).
Here are four ways to avoid fire hazards in a chicken coop and safely use red heat bulbs.
1. Stay Away From Combustible Fuels
Combustible fuels are everywhere in a coop. The bedding for chickens (when dry) can be a quick igniting and fast burning fuel with an auto-ignition point of only 212ºF. The plywood your coop will also combust when heated beyond 400ºF. Seeing as a heat lamp bulb’s temperature can reach over 480ºF, both of these are a concern. A 24-inch minimum distance is a desirable rule of thumb for bedding, walls and ceilings. Distance your chicken heat lamp as far away as practical from anything that may melt or catch fire such as chicken nest boxes and chicken feeders.
Electrical hazards are easily avoided but commonly overlooked. Electrical fires are caused by resistance heat or arcing, and I’ll explain what that means to us.
Extension cords are how many of us get power out to our coop since few of us have the luxury of hard-wired power in our barns. If you use an extension cord you should:
2. Check Your Extension Cord For Damage
Check the cord for cuts, abrasions or pinch marks. Don’t use a damaged cord for anything, period. If buying new, spring for the thicker gauge cable, usually labeled as 12/3 wire. Your typical cheap 16/3 gauge cord tends to be more prone to damage.
3. Seal Extension Cord Connections
If you must connect multiple cables, be sure to shelter or seal connections. I suggest using 3M brand electrical tape liberally if you need to seal junctures exposed to the weather. Leaving your connections exposed to the weather introduces water to the connection, which will short the circuit and corrode the connectors. If the connection becomes corroded, resistance will cause the connection to create heat and may cause a fire.
4. Use The Right Fixture
Fixtures are not created equal. I’ve unfortunately seen people use lamps known as “painter’s lamps” to install their 250-watt red heat bulb. Painter’s lamps look like a chicken heat lamp, but they’re not. The difference is the fixture (where the bulb screws in). Painter’s lamps are rated to a maximum capacity of 100 watts and are built with a plastic housing. Brooder lamps use a porcelain fixture so that the fixture does not melt under the heat of a 250-watt bulb. Using a 250-watt bulb in a 100W rated fixture is a recipe for disaster that may cause the fixture to melt. Fire will shortly ensue.
Brooder lamps are an easy and popular way to heat your coop, but be sure to understand the inherent risks. Be sure your lamp is rated for 250 watts or higher. When used properly and maintained correctly, a brooder lamp will keep your chickens warm and safe through the cold winter nights.
How do you keep your flock warm when Old Man Winter arrives?
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.