In this Instructables, I will show you how to turn an old dog house and a second-hand cooler into an effective and affordable way to help keep your fuzzy buddies cool this summer.
I live in Idaho where temperatures over 100F are common in the summer, and while we keep the AC on in the house, it's important to have a cool place for the dogs to retreat to when we're all outside enjoying the sunshine. Especially when it comes to our puppy, Fat Panda (in the second photo she's the chubby black and white one on the left. The one on the right is named Lucifur (the Lord of Barkness) and she likes it warm).
We're not sure what kind of dog Fat Panda is. She's definitely got some Chihuahua in her, but there's something else mixed in there that was kind enough to pass along a dense, thick double coat. On top of that, she's got thyroid issues that make losing weight almost impossible for her, giving her an extra layer of blubber that no amount of exercise can get rid of. That means no matter what time of the year it is, she's hot...and in the summer, it can be dangerous for her to be outside too long.
Now, as I said, she's still a puppy and she has lots of puppy energy and a strong desire to play and be wherever we are. Locking her up inside to stay cool isn't fair to her but letting her run around outside when it's over 100F could potentially be deadly...which is why I figured the easiest way to keep everyone happy would be to figure out a way to bring the cool air inside to the outside.
Thus the Hot Dog House was born.
Making the Hot Dog House was surprisingly affordable and took less than 6 hours from start to finish. With a little footwork ahead of time and a good solid afternoon of DIY magic, you can make your own Hot Dog house for a little over $100 from start to finish in a single weekend!
To do so you're going to need some supplies:
Step 1: Source Your Key Pieces
- 1 dog house (Picked up used from Facebook Marketplace for $25)
- 1 cooler (38-quart version with wheels and a handle - picked up used from Craigslist for $15)
- 1 flexible silver dryer duct hose (I grabbed an 8" long one for $11)
- Waterproof foam insulation board (I went through about 1/2 of a 4" X 8" sheet for $9)
- 2 two-part dryer duct to wall connectors the same diameter as your dryer duct hose (2 @ $7.50 each for a total of $15)
- Duct joint tape (1 roll for $12)
- Vinyl dog door "curtain" (Amazon.com for $10)
- Small personal fan or ventilation fan ($21 on Amazon.com)
- Lamp cord with flip switch ($7 on Amazon.com)
- Caster wheels ($10 at local hardware store)
- Zip ties
You'll also need some stuff you can probably get from free/recycle:
- Large empty 2-liter plastic soda bottles/juice bottles/milk jugs - Free*
- Liquid bleach - Free*
- Water - Free*
You'll also need some tools.
- Dremel with cutting wheel, grinding/sanding barrel attachment and a drill bit equal to the screws for your fan
- Keyhole saw
- Measuring tape
- Exacto knife or sharp box cutter
- Ruler or straight edge
Total cost: $135!
While the basic costs of the supplies you pick up from the hardware store should remain pretty consistent, the biggest factors in how much this project will cost you will ultimately come down to how much you are willing to spend on your dog house and cooler. If you have them on hand already, well, then you're ahead of the game. If not, keep an eye out online for great deals. Good places to check are Craigslist, Facebook Marketplaces, and NextDoor as well as your local classified ads.
*can also substitute all these with block or cubed ice
Step 2: Raising the Roof
The first thing I did in this build was to remove the roof of the dog house. This served two purposes:
- I could give it a good cleaning before working on it
- I could get to the interior to insulate it much more easily than if I hadn't taken the roof off.
The house had been sitting outside for about a year before I got it and if you know even the tiniest bit about Idaho, it's that we have nasty spiders that love dark corners, and an abandoned dog house is like a magnet for these nasty little nibblers. I took the roof off and used a good stiff broom to sweep away all the cobwebs and spider eggs that had accumulated inside and gave it a thorough cleaning. I also flipped the house upside down and checked the bottom of it.
Next, I used my tape measure, ruler, Exacto knife and my straight edge to start cutting down the insulation board to size to fit inside the house. While you don't necessarily HAVE to insulate the house, it makes keeping it cool much easier and far more efficient for your AC unit. In fact, after insulating the house and putting the roof back on, I could feel a noticeable difference in temperatures between the interior of the dog house and outside of it.
As you can see from the 5th and 6th photos, Lucifur really enjoyed how much cooler the dog house already was and snagged a nap while I was working on the rest of the project.
I used the duct joint tape to tape down all my insulation. This stuff is sticky enough and strong enough that I felt comfortable sticking it directly to the wood of the dog house. In addition, I cut my foam pieces just slightly bigger than measured so I could really wedge them into place and use pressure to help keep them secured. If you're concerned about your foam pieces not staying secure, liquid nails works well to keep them glued down where you want them.
Step 3: Prepping the Inlet
To get the cool air from the cooler AC unit we're going to build into our Dog House, we're going to need to do a little renovating.
For this part of the build, we will be using the flanged piece of the dryer connectors (the wall side). The second piece, the straight tube piece, will be connected to the dryer hose later. The dryer hose side fits into the flanged side and holds tight.
Because the wall of my dog house is much thinner than the overall length of my duct connector, I cut off the bottom half using the cutting wheel of my Dremel (WEAR SAFETY GLASSES AND APPROPRIATE CLOTHING! THIS PROCESS WILL FLING HOT MELTED BITS OF PLASTIC EVERYWHERE AND TRUST ME, THEY HURT! DO NOT DO THIS PART IN SHORTS...TAKE MY WORD FOR IT).
Slicing off the bottom half of the flanged piece made it almost exactly the same depth as the dog house wall and insulation combined. To clean up the extra plastic burrs that occur as you slice through the plastic with your Dremel, swap out your cutting blade for a sanding barrel and grind those off. Again, safety first. Wear your safety glasses.
I then traced around the outer edge of the duct connector, marking out where I wanted the duct to enter the dog house. Because cool air falls and warm air rises, I wanted the duct to enter the top of the house where it would cool the hotter air trapped in the top before falling down to chill the bottom of the house.
Once my guide was traced onto the side of my house, it was time to cut it out. I pre-drilled some holes using my Dremel and drill bit (okay, I got carried away and drilled a LOT of holes, but it was so satisfying, I couldn't stop.)
Then, using my keyhole saw, I cut out a circle that was a hair smaller than the size of the dryer vent. At this point, using a tiny keyhole saw to cut through thick cedar wood under a hot sun in 90F weather, I started really questioning my life choices and decided for the remainder of the tutorial to use my Dremel.
Existential crisis aside and hole finally cut, it was time to fit the flanged wall duct into the Hot Dog House. Because the hole I cut was just a hair smaller than the actual duct, it made the fit snug and tight when I shoved it in.
Step 4: Hordor! Er...Vinyl Door!
I also added in a viny dog door "curtain" to the build, and while I'm putting this here in this step, I will be honest and tell you that the door actually arrived a few days after I did this Instructables and was originally a part of my "future upgrades" section...but now that it's here, let's install it and just pretend it was here all along.
If you get your dog door before you do this project, you can install it after insulating the interior and prior to replacing the roof. The curtain will help hold in the cold air while still being see-through so the pups can keep an eye on us. The curtain I ordered is held on with just three screws that I drove directly through the insulation and into the wood of the house. I also added 3 washers to keep the screws from eventually stripping through the vinyl with continuous K-9 use.
Step 5: Part of Every Major Project Is Proper Supervision and Quality Control
Luckily, I had Lucifur on hand to make sure I was staying on task.
But hang on...wasn't the point of this whole exercise to give Fat Panda a place to cool off and relax???
Step 6: Never Good Enough
That's right...this whole project was started because Fat Panda said she was hot and uncomfortable...so where is she while all this hard work is going on?
Oh, that's right. She's in the pool.
Step 7: The Whole Hole
Now that I'm being properly supervised by Lucifur and Fat Panda is lazing away in the pool staying cool, let's get back to the build.
The last big part of this project is the cooler. For this build, I snagged a 38-quart cooler with a handle and wheels. While I could have gotten a much larger one, I figured the smaller size would not only be just fine for our smaller dog house, but that the handle and wheels were an added bonus as I'd be able to move it easily, regardless of how much I filled it up.
Because we're going to be attaching the same dryer vent flanged wall connector we used on the side of the dog house, we'll just do the same series of steps we did for that part of the build, but this time repeating it on the lid of the cooler.
I used a Dremel to cut through the plastic of my cooler lid and because I was worried about it potentially cracking, I added a layer of tape to help protect it as I sliced through it.
Again, take the flanged wall side of the dryer connector, slice off the bottom half (just like before using your cutting wheel) and trace around the outer edge.
Using your traced line as a guide, carefully cut through your cooler lid. Again, like we experienced with the cutting of the flanged duct connectors, cutting through the plastic of the cooler lid will create tiny screaming hot bits of flying plastic. Be sensible about your safety and consider adding a face mask at this point as you'll also be generating a fair amount of plastic dust and nobody wants to breathe that in.
Make sure your flanged vent duct fits through the hole in the top of your cooler and snap it into place. If you're concerned it's a little loose or you just want to make sure it's extra tight, feel free to secure it in place with screws.
For added efficiency, I ran some caulk around the edge of the flange where it went through the cooler on both the top and the underside of the lid, just making sure it's fully adhered and airtight.
You should now have a cooler with a large hole in the top.
Let's cut another hole!
Step 8: I'm Your Biggest Fan!
To get the full AC effect, we'll need to circulate air through our cooler and then back out through the duct hose we'll be attaching later. To do this, we'll need a way to blow air into the cooler.
*For this build, I snagged a small cooling vent fan off of Amazon.com. Because this build is for my dogs and they're smaller, I knew I could get away with a smaller fan. For larger dogs or for a project where you plan on moving larger quantities of cool air, I would suggest either multiple fans like this one or a larger fan. I also wanted the air movement to be fairly low because my dogs really don't like having wind blown on them and I was afraid if the incoming air into the dog house was too strong, they'd end up avoiding it. Slow and low is the name of the game for us, but can easily be scaled up for whatever works for your needs.* UPDATE BELOW!
Speaking of whatever works for your needs, there are LOTS of options out there for fans and almost as many ways to power them. While looking for parts for this project, I seriously considered a solar powered fan. There were also options for fans that were USB compatible, could work in your cigarette lighter, ran off of batteries... Again, look for the solution that works best for your problem. For us, I went with a straight AC plug unit as there's an outlet right behind where the dog house sits.
I put the fan on the side of my cooler so that the air would be blowing across my frozen cooler contents before coming back up through the exhaust vent and into the dog house. You could absolutely put your fan on top of your cooler, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and the way the fan fit in the little dent where the handle folds down was just too damn perfect for me to avoid. It just felt...right. So that's where I put it.
Just like we did with the dryer pieces, you're going to want to trace a guide before you cut out your slot for the fan. For this one, I wanted to mount the fan to the outside of the cooler which meant all I needed to do was cut out a circle large enough for the fan blades while still leaving enough cooler around the fan for me to screw the fan to for support.
I pushed my pencil through the fan blades and rotated it around, creating a perfect blade sized circle which I then carefully cut out, using my trusty Dremel.
I then marked the four points on the corners with the fan where the screws go and drilled through the cooler all the way to the interior and attached the fan using long mounting screws and four locking bolts to keep it all in place.
To help keep the cord out of the way when not in use, I used a small Command hook and stuck it to the cooler next to the fan. I can wrap the cord around the fan casing and tuck the end of the plug cord under the hook and it holds it all.
*UPDATE* - The original fan I got was perfect for my dogs when the temperatures were cooler, but once we started to go above 95F, it couldn't keep up. I have since replaced the fan with a larger one and the full description of that addition is now on the last page of this Instructable. :)
Step 9: Bringing It All Together
Now that we have the major work done, we're in the home stretch of this build. Time to put the entire thing together and turn it on!
Take your silver duct venting and connect it to the two straight ends of your duct connector pieces. Use a zip tie (or two) to secure them tightly in place and use your snips to cut off any excess zip tie.
Now it's just a matter of connecting your vent hose to both your cooler and your dog house. Simply plug in the dryer vent hose to each of the dryer flanged wall connector and that's it! Your super chill Hot Dog House is now complete!
Well, at least the construction part is. Time to fire it up and see how it works!
Step 10: Chill Out!
All that's left to do at this point is to fill our cooler with ice, plug in our fan, and sit back and let the magic happen!
There are several ways to fill your cooler to power your Hot Dog House AC unit, starting with just simply dumping in bags of ice and turning it on. While this is perfectly fine and will actually result in the COLDEST air, be aware that it will melt faster than any of the other options and that as the ice melts, it will turn into water and you will have to make sure that water level never reaches the fan as it could potentially cause a bit of a shocking situation (which reminds me, while it's perfectly fine to leave your Hot Dog House outside regardless of weather, bring your cooler in when not in use or if it's raining.)
The same goes for block ice. Although it will melt much slower than cubed ice (it should last about twice as long but will admittedly not be quite as cold as it would be if you used cubed ice) you will still end up with a cooler full of water and as this cooler model doesn't have a drain, that means I have to make sure to remember to unplug it and dump it out.
The solution to all of this is to make your own completely sealed ice blocks. This can be easily done two ways:
- Frozen plastic jugs of water
- Polar Bear Tubes
Because my family drinks a lot of juice in jugs, I am ultimately going with option #1. You can also do this with milk jugs or soda bottles. Make sure whatever you end up using are thoroughly clean and then fill them up about 80% of the way with water. Add in a few drops of bleach to prevent anything nasty from growing in your bottles, screw down the cap tightly and pop them into the freezer for at least 24 hours.
My 38-gallon cooler can easily hold 4 fully frozen 64 oz cranberry juice bottles and still have room enough for a soda can or six (hey, nobody said we couldn't multi-task with this cooler! I am slowly working my way up to 8 cranberry bottles full of water (just have to keep the family drinking cranberry juice 24/7!) which will give me 4 at a time (which should last 2 days at least in the cooler, even with the fan running over 12 hours a day) and leave me with an additional 4 to freeze so they'll be ready when the first 4 melt, making it possible for me to keep the cooler continuously full of ice.
Another option is to make your own Polar Bear tubes, which is very similar to the plastic jug solution but uses PVC pipes instead. Because I'm using my juice jugs and skipping the Polar Bear Tubes, I thought I'd link you all to a great Polar Bear Tubes Instructables by RustonReds99 that explains exactly how to make them.
A WORD OF WARNING...DRY ICE SHOULD NEVER BE USED IN THIS PROJECT.
Dry Ice, while much cooler, is actually incredibly dangerous, especially as I've put a dog door into the house to keep the cool air in the space. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide and has a freezing point of minus 109 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 78 degrees Celsius). As dry ice melts, it undergoes a process called sublimation, in which the solid is converted directly into a gas. If dry ice is stored in an area without proper ventilation, it may cause whoever (or whatever) is in the space to inhale large amounts of the gas CO2, which displaces oxygen in the body. This, in turn, can lead to harmful effects, including headache, confusion, disorientation and potentially, death.
So how does the Hot Dog House stack up?! Well, as you can tell by the photos, it's already very popular! While I'm ultimately going to use the frozen juice bottles, I only had one half frozen one when I started this project and was too impatient to wait for more so I made a quick trip to the market and snagged two 10 lb bags of cubed ice and dropped them right inside. Once the fan was turned on the temperature within the house became noticeably cooler, by at least 15-20 degrees which means on our 90F day, the inside of the house was a crisp 75F...just right for a fuzzy pup.
Right Fat Panda?
And if you're wondering, those two bags of ice were dropped into the cooler yesterday and when I checked on them this evening at 7 pm, I still easily had half left. Depending on what kind of ice you use to cool your cooler, where you keep it (shade is the best!) and how long you run your fan, you should have cool air for at least 24 to 36 hours. That's pretty darn impressive!
Step 11: UPDATES AND MODIFICATIONS/IMPROVEMENTS
While the Hot Dog House is officially 'built,' there is always room for improvement, starting with the pad I put inside for the pups to lay on. A few years ago we picked up a cooling mat (the blue thing in the pictures Lucifur is laying on) that you fill with water. While it does provide some cooling via evaporation, it was also heavy and worked best if kept in the shade. While you don't need one of these for the Hot Dog House (a good foam pad or crate pillow is always a nice alternative), it's a nice added layer of cool for the pups and helps to keep the entire space soft and comfortable.
UPGRADES WE HAVE DONE SINCE THE ORIGINAL PUBLISHING OF THIS INSTRUCTABLE:
Another improvement I've made is to swap out the original PC fan for a much larger, more robust inline duct fan. While the smaller PC fan was perfect when the weather was cooler, it quickly became obvious once we started hitting 95F+ temps that we were going to need something with a little more "oompfh." I picked up the improved fan from Amazon.com and installed it exactly like I did the first one, simply tracing around it and expanding the original fan hole by about an inch.
The new upgraded fan I purchased was originally intended to be directly hardwired into an AC system, so I also had to pick up a cord with a plug and a switch and wire it to the new fan. Both of these items have now been included in the supplies list.
Another change I implemented was to put a raised grate into the bottom of the cooler to help lift the ice block bottles off the floor, making it easier for the air to circulate through the entire space before exiting the top through the vent. This will help make it more efficient and make the air exiting the cooler even, well...cooler!
Finally, to make the house as easy to move as the cooler, I added four caster wheels to the bottom of the dog house legs to make it mobile. I can now push the house around and give Fat Panda a variety of places where she can chill out in her house and still feel like she's a part of the fun while we're all out this summer!
But don't think the Hot Dog House is only good for half the year. Now that it's all insulated, the Hot Dog House is also warmer in the winter! Remove the AC tube and use the hole as an exit for a heating pad or warming pad cord and then plug up the rest of the space with more insulation foam and a cap (you can pick up caps that will fit at the hardware store). Swap out the thinner vinyl door for a thicker solid dog door, stuff it full of blankets, and you'll have a toasty place for your pup to snuggle down in come colder weather.
Oh, and before I forget, our AC unit is also multi-functional and can be used for a variety of cooling purposes as well including cooling tents when you're camping, as an additional way to keep cool yourself either inside or out, and even in the car (grab that fan with the cigarette lighter adaptor and you're set!). And of course, if you don't fill the whole cooler up with ice blocks, it's still a darn good way to keep drinks and sodas cool while you're chilling your Hot Dog House!
I hope this Instructable inspires you to do something as equally "cool" for your friend this summer!
First Prize in the