Introduction: 4x8 Walk-in Chicken Coop
Last spring, my sister Susie got a quote from a local handyman to build a new
chicken coop and was told it would cost around $1,500 for the entire project. During one of our get-togethers, she asked if I’d be interested in doing the project for her. I jumped at it – with no chicken coop building experience, although I do have some basic construction skills. She had a couple of parameters for me to work with: 1) she wanted to be able to stand inside the coop to make it easier to clean out; 2) she wanted to house approximately 20 birds; and 3) she liked Quaker styling. With this info, I started searching my internet search for coop design ideas, helpful hints and sizing suggestions. My research turned up a recommended four square feet of coop space per chicken. I also learned about the free version of SketchUp software. I downloaded the software and started to play around to relearn some basic CAD (I hadn’t drawn anything electronically for maybe 20 years). I have to say the SketchUp software is a great tool and much more powerful than what I needed for this project. If I need to do much of this type of thing in the future, I’ll definitely spend the money on a license, it’s easy to use and quite intuitive. Given the 4 ft2 recommendation, I spent a couple of evenings designing and redesigning an 80 ft2 coop. If I say so, myself, the design was pretty impressive, given my novice status with the software and coops in general. I printed up the plans and headed to Susie’s house (about an hour away) to show the plans and get started. Shortly after arrival, I learned the plans I had created would be completely scrapped – the design was vastly larger than what they had envisioned. Argh! We chatted a bit more about what she wanted and I got started on the redesign with a pencil and ruler. An hour later, I had a basic redesign, reducing the overall footprint of the structure from 80 sq.ft. to 32 sq. ft. We got the thing down to a floor size of one 4x8 ft sheet of plywood! First off, I’m not a big ‘document my life with pictures’ kind of guy; my apologies for not having a lot of pictures from the early stages of construction.
Step 1: What Am I Doing?
This is my first Instructable, and I'm learning this as I go - I haven't yet figured out (read: have no idea) how to delete a Step that I created in the wrong spot and then moved to later in the file.
Step 2: The Foundation
We wanted to get the coop elevated a little to keep from having water issues in heavy rain and also help to keep the snow off the sides and floor as it melts – I’ve learned from experience how quickly plywood siding decays on a shed if I’m not diligent about clearing old leaves and debris from the bottom of my shed walls.
Build the base out of treated lumber only – I know, this should go without saying; but, I said it anyway. I built the 4’ x 8’ floor frame out of 2x4s and used 4x4s for the elevation supports. I notched the 4x4s so that the frame would rest on solid wood lag screws through both pieces to prevent things from sliding around. I tied the bottom of the 4x4s together on each side with 8ft 2x4s to add stability (this also made it easier to level) and if there is ever a need to move the entire coop, they will act as skids so the thing can be drug to a different location.
The floor is one solid sheet of 4’x’8’x ¾” treated plywood (maybe overkill but I didn’t want there to be peaks and valleys in the floor in two years or have to overbuild the foundation.
At this point, it’s a good idea to place the base where the building is going to live, while it can still be carried by a man and two boys or two men. Dig out or fill as needed to level.
Once I had it leveled I glued a cheap sheet of linoleum to the floor, to protect against moisture from chicken poop; but, mostly to make it easier to clean out. I suggest using a cheap disposable razor knife to trim the linoleum, unless you want to wait until the adhesive cures enough and not gum a non-disposable
Step 3: Framing and Roofing
I framed the entire coop using 2x4s, if I build another one, I’ll use 2x3 or 2x2 – it’s’ definitely overbuilt for a chicken house and could have saved a few dollars here.
The nest box needed to be included within the 4’x8’ footprint (to avoid having to add another sheet of plywood). I shorted the hens here a little, the nest boxes are only a foot deep; but, having the box run the entire 8’ length, each nest can be adjusted to be as wide as needed to optimize egg production.
framed at 16” OC to the extent possible to facilitate efficient use of the 4’x8’ siding panels. Total height from bottom of the floor to the roof peak is less than 8’ for the same reason – and there’s no reason for it to be taller than that. The side walls are bout 6’2” and the peak about 17” above the top plate.
The rafters (truss?) are built to provide a 12” eave to keep things dry and reduce erosion around the foundation. Unfortunately, I don’t recall what pitch we ended up with (I think it was around 3/12); that same pitch was used for the roof portion of the nest box to give better aesthetics. There are some pictures a little further down showing the framing from the inside.
Remember to miter the ends of the rafters to provide a vertical surface for the fascia boards later on.
I framed for a window on each long side of the coop, to provide light and ventilation. Buy your windows before framing to be certain your rough opening is sized correctly. I tend to not consider natural warp in boards when framing, so dry fitting the windows prior to raising the walls allowed me to make some adjustments before the walls were put up.
Here’s where it occurred to me that I should probably be taking some pictures…
I chose to go with plywood for the roof with shingles. Partly for cost and partly because that’s what I know. In hindsight, it might have made sense to use corrugated plastic or metal – depends on the look you’re after. You might consider a semi transparent roof to let more light in, especially if you’re in a climate that doesn’t require insulation. (The air temperature here in Minneapolis is -6°F at the moment, with a forecast for -28°/-15°F on Wednesday – that’s not windchill folks). (post script – we didn’t insulate this coop and the chickens all survived the cold snap)
Prior to putting on the sheathing, I put the siding on the gables, and trimmed to fit the roofline defined by the rafters. This added a little more stability for when I hefted the sheathing on top. Install the drip edge and shingles.
Step 4: Windows and Siding
I started with the end wall with the door, to allow me to move around more easily as I needed access to both sides. First, I tacked the sheet to the wall aligning with the side walls and squaring based on the floor. (Tip: I tacked some temporary blocks to stilts to help hold the siding in place, for nailing. This also helped to align the siding around the corners). With this panel tacked in place, I went inside to trace the outline of the door. Took the panel down, cut out the door and permanently installed the panel. Saved the cut out – that will serve as our door, later. Use a straight edge and circular saw to do most of the cutting and a sharp hand saw to control cuts into the corners.
Prior to siding the wall with the nest box, I put the nest box roof on and installed the flashing and shingles to keep the water out. I scratched my head for awhile trying to figure out how to waterproof the hinges of the nest box roof. Then, as serendipity would have it, one of my nephews was messing around with a can of flexible rubber spray – doing what boys will do with a new cool toy, at least he didn’t try to make his own rubberized chicken!
I didn’t think the flex seal would be the solution to this hinge issue; but, that got me thinking about that TV commercial where the guy tapes together two sides of a boat that was sawed in half. Off to the store I went to get a roll of 6” rubber tape. This was the perfect solution in this application, flexible and water proof. I applied this under where the siding would end (as flashing) and over the hinges and last row of shingles on the nest box.
Installed the windows and then the sidewall panels. I used all vinyl inexpensive single pane, single hung windows
Installed the trim boards, fascia and soffits, I used 1x4 (mostly) – given the scale of this building, 1x3 may have been a better choice.
Step 5: Doors
Using the door cutout (that I set aside earlier), trim the door with 1x4 for aesthetics, but more importantly, to help keep the plywood from warping over time. Hang the door and trim to fit well – it’s a good idea to install some door stops to reduce potential stress on the wood and hinges. Install the door latch and handle.
On the opposite end wall, I installed the chicken door and ramp. Cut the hole with a jigsaw and handsaw – I could have done this before the siding was installed. I also installed a closing mechanism to keep the chickens in/out. The slider door was put on the outside to allow it to be closed or opened without going inside. This is a simple lift door with the tracks made from 1-1/2” PVC tubing. I used a hook and eye system to keep the door open. The ramp is waste siding.
Step 6: Critters and Cold
I built wire panels to seal off three sides from predators, with about a foot of buried mesh to discourage burrowing into the enclosure, these were screwed to the 4x4 stilts.
As previously mentioned it gets cold here, there’s also several months with limited daylight (8 hours 35 minutes on the solstice), this coop needs electricity for lights and electric heater(s).
I installed an inlet (like and outlet only backwards) on the outside wall to “plug in” the female end of an extension cord to bring light and power to the birds.
For some reason, these pics are upside down here and not anywhere else. I'll try to fix that later).
I ran the inlet to a switch box controlling a single light fixture and two switched outlets placed on the rafters. And yes, I did turn this outlet right side up (after the photo was taken).
If you’re planning to do this yourself, make sure to consider the load you will be placing on this circuit and install the appropriate fixtures. If you’re not sure of what you’re doing with electricity get someone who can guide you or do it for you – you don’t want a fire in your yard.
Also, make sure your extension cord is adequate for the load and whatever source your tapping for power (an outlet on your house) is rated for this load. Don’t forget to have a GFCI somewhere in-line.
This one also shows the roof framing.
Step 7: Getting Eggs and Getting Out
Nest box access for egg collection is gained through the two 4' hinged roofs over the nest area. This is where the flexible tape came into play to waterproof the hinge side.
It occurred to me that with this man-door latch system, one could get trapped inside the coop if some rogue wind came up (or mischievous boy/irritated spouse). I drilled a small hole through the siding and threaded a cord through to the inside and secured it to the inside wall and to the latch – if you get trapped inside, simply pull the cord and release the latch. (I’ve heard since that this feature has already come in handy).
Step 8: Final Look
Here’s how it turned out – a fun project for sure. And Susie tells me the chickens absolutely love hanging out under the coop!
I have no idea what that red board is doing on top of the nest box - try to envision the shingles, only.
I don’t have any pictures of the internal perches. There are a couple perches permanently mounted toward the back of the coop. I put a number of brackets throughout the rest of the length and cut some the left over lumber to span the width of the coop. These can be lifted from the brackets to remove for cleaning and allow for reconfiguring to make things a little more interesting for the bird brains. This was a nice project with enough head-scratchers to make it a lot of fun to design and build. Maybe not traditional Quaker styling; but, Susie seems to like it. Overall, the cost came in around $1,000 for materials, plus whatever I had sitting around that I didn’t have to buy (PVC, wire, fixture boxes) Tool needs are fairly simple, hammer, cordless screwdrivers, chisels, hand saw, circular saw, square, tape measure, sawhorses and a couple of clamps. It also helps tremendously to have one or two teenage boys available for gofer-ing and to hold long boards and panels – who knows, maybe they learned something along the way. Thanks for your help Tom and Kolyo!
Happy chickens make tasty eggs!
Let me know if you have any questions or have suggestions for improvements.
Step 9: Lessons Learned and Other Stuff
A few changes that should be considered after use of the coop for a couple of years:
The nest box should have been lifted to just below the window. If seems the hens don't like to lay when they're on the floor level.
Physical barriers are a must for the eaves, the feathered devils will find their way up there and fill the space with droppings that will destroy the plywood there.
If the coop is not in a heavily shaded area, everything above the windows will be sweltering in summer sun, install a peak vent to let the hot air out - you may want one you can close off for winter.
I could have used OSB to keep costs down; but with the few sheets needed, I prefer the look of plywood - the chickens don't care.
If you build the walls using 2x3 studs, you will still want to use 2x4 minimum for the roof components, especially if you are in snow prone areas, if using 2x4, don't use 24" centers.