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Chicken Coop Wrap Up

Posted by joeabbott on August 29, 2010

Or, What I Learned While Building Our Coop … and might do differently!

The coop is done and it is what it is. We have found no problems with it and, aside from occasional comments about wishing it was bigger, are quite happy with things as they are. But, it was insanely expensive (by the standards of those who say they can build one from scrap they find and $40 out of pocket), took way too long from inception to completion, and for the time and effort, it did have some things I’d change.

Let’s talk about those things, shall we.

Stuff I Messed Up

Doors are warped

P1010278This is what I get from using whatever is laying around.

It’s probably the single biggest disappointment for me … just bad material.

The top of the door will close but the warp in the wood causes the bottom to flair out. The problem here is that I knew it was going to do that. The piece of plywood that I was using had been sitting around since I built my shed and had a bend in it. I used it anyhow. <sigh>

I have a couple options on how to fix this problem:

1) Rebuild the door using a new piece of wood. This is the most costly solution and one I’d like to avoid. If it was just a big, rectangular piece of wood I’d swap it out in a minute but that window still has me wondering how I’ll deal with that. Mostly because it was more involved: cut out the hole, router an inset, cut Plexiglas, glue it in. I could do it … but would rather not.

2) Take the door off and try to steam\bend it back. A big pain and not sure it would work or what that might throw out of whack.

3) Add a small wooden block that I can turn to lock in the bottom. Yeah, I think this is the route I’ll go.

Attaching the gutter was a dragon

I use the term “dragon” only because the word I’d like to use has no place in a civil blog. It was an annoying job.

I’d never hung gutters before so I probably did something wrong but, as you can see from the first picture, part of the problem was hitting the nail squarely! Which, I clearly didn’t. The next picture shows that the gutter is thin metal and can be torn by abuse … which is what I’d call my handling of that attachment point.

Needless to say, driving big, fat gutter spikes through 2x4s is not fun.

P1010280 P1010281P1010284P1010285

In the small picture you see how the gutter should be hung … and in the final bigger picture, how one sided ended up.

In the position that shows the elongated hole, I’d bent three spikes trying to drive it in. I finally pulled the gutter down and pre-drilled a hole for the spike to go into. Unfortunately, my drill wasn’t horizontal and I ended up drilling a hole at an angle … which the spike followed and, voila: the gutter ended up at an angle.

Tolerances are too tight

P1010279 By designing on the computer and working with aerospace engineering tolerances, you can really do yourself a disservice.

This will be the most easily fixed: remove the door, clamp it into a vise, and plane off the bottom 3/16”. It’s too bad that I have to do that, though.

In the garage during pre-build, everything was nice and snug and fit just fine. Too bad I didn’t account for weathering, final build imperfections, and paint thicknesses. Which, when they all added up, makes for a door that won’t close unless you kick the bottom.

Fortunately, of the 6 or 7 doors on the coop, this is the only one that’s bad. When I take it off to fix it, I’ll probably take off the one around the far side and trim that one a bit. It’s not as bad but still sticks a bit.

I blame designing on the computer but that’s a cop out … I could have just as easily left room for a reveal around the door.

I find myself saying:

Next time …

The chicken wire attachment is ugly

I never uttered the phrase “it’s just a chicken coop” more than when I was working on the wire mesh.

 P1010287 P1010288 P1010289 P1010286

Most places it’s fine but in some places I just did a sub-excellent job.

As you can see from the first picture, I tried to attach to a siding part and had a blow out. The next two pictures show just a mangle of wire as I tried to complete the attachment along the sides.

The final picture shows a notch a drop-down panel. It wasn’t designed that way but, when the wire was in place, I couldn’t open the door without removing some material or pushing the mesh out of the way.

Not sure how I would have fixed this. I never thought through the installation and attachment of the wire. I’m not even sure how I might have modeled that in SketchUp … maybe I couldn’t have but should have thought it through all the same.

Added wire to the outside in one place

P1010296 Another of the “minor sins” but mainly by luck.

In the back, beneath the nest boxes, I attached the hardware cloth to the outside of the coop, rather than the inside where I attached all the other parts.

I didn’t plan it this way and it could have been the fact that this was the first place that I attached the chicken wire.

I recall when I was deciding how to get it on I thought, “hey, if I put it on the outside, the chickens will have just that tiny bit more room on the inside.”

It’ really is a tiny bit (about 1.5”) but we were crazy about wanting to make sure the chickens had enough room.

So, it’s on the outside. I wouldn’t have thought it was a big deal but when I mentioned to Suzy that there was one place where it was on the outside, she said, “yeah, I saw that”.

Aargh! How does she see everything! That’s what I get for marrying someone who is smarter than I am. 🙂

I don’t think this is bad enough to entertain a fix. Clearly I could remove it and nail it in place on the inside but, I probably would never get to that job if it were on my “honey do” list. Never.

Useless door

P1010291 P1010290 This isn’t something I really messed up, but it’s not a great feature, either.

I built in a front flap that drops down for easy access to the shelter from higher up on the inside of the coop.

It’s a simple piano hinge that lowers the front 1/3 of the inside wall … just above the roosts.

Part of the thinking was cleaning access, part was to give a little venting if the weather ever got super hot, and part was because the design I was mostly following had something like this.

But, we’ve never really used it. Or at least I haven’t.

The one time it was really hot here in Seattle and we tried using it, the hens were freaked out and wouldn’t even go into the shelter. I think after being secure in the shelter, having a wall disappear was too much for them.

Oh, and you can kind of see in the picture to the right … the flap, when lowered, obscures part of the hen door.

My only hope is that Suzy uses it while cleaning the coop. Other than that … just a tedious feature that wasn’t needed. I can hear my brother-in-law laughing at me now saying, “engineers …”.

Attaching the roofing

This is more of a “wood butcher” issue than a design flaw.

As you can see in the pictures below, I have all these screws sticking out through the roof of the coop. They’re far enough away from our heads to not pose a safety problem but what a bit of ugliness.

P1010292 P1010293 P1010294

I’m not sure what I could do about this, actually. The screws are standard length so I would need to use 2×4 lumber on the roof rather than the ripped studs that I used. You can see a few places where I drilled right through the plastic roofing and missed the lumber … probably not in all places but a few this was intentional: the seam where the roofing parts lapped was flaring up and I drilled through to seal them up a bit. I should have just used some silicon to “glue” the parts together.

The fix for this would be to go through with a rotary tool and trim off the ends. Something I may do sometime.

The Ugly Attachment

P1010295While the screws sticking through the roof are ugly, the front door has an even uglier feature:

Three big screws with fender washers.

The original design had this door-stopper attached with pneumatic staples.

When I was attaching it, I noticed that the staples stuck in more deeply than I wanted but just tagged a few more down to hold it on. That oughta do it, I remember thinking.

Then, before I was even finished with the coop, I let the door slam and found one of these (I have two: an upper and a lower) was just hanging by the remains of a staple or two.

The force of the door hitting this tab nearly knocked it off.

So, to make sure it would stay on, I drilled three holes and used the biggest washers I could find. While it is bulletproof and won’t be coming off by normal wear and tear … it’s not really all that good looking.

The fix: smaller screws\bolts, slightly smaller washers, and a bit of paint to conceal them better.

Making it Cheaper

This is probably the area I’d say was my biggest concern.

While we built this over a number of months, if we had to buy all the materials and build it in a few weekends, we’d notice that it was just too expensive. Hundreds of dollars are locked up in this coop. How could we make it cheaper but still have this same design … let’s see:

Use thinner plywood

By using 3/4” plywood, I set myself up for continuing with that throughout. Sure, I could have just adjusted for it and been able to mix thinner plywood with the thicker, but I didn’t. And it made for heavy, expensive material when I didn’t have enough scrap to go around.

In the places were I did use scrap, you can see it has made my “mistakes” list (the warped door, above). If we’d just used the thinnest treated plywood (or a solid coat of primer), we could have gotten away more cheaply.

Use pressure treated lumber

I used cedar for most of the lumber in the coop. I rationalized it had rot-resistance qualities and would hold up better … but talk about expensive! And then we painted it. And used primer under the paint. Just look at the four posts: earlier this year I could have gotten treated 4”x4”x8’ posts for $6 each … for the cedar posts I paid about $11 (and could have paid up to about $30 per beam for a surfaced post). You can argue the price difference is “not much” but that would have been another $20 in my pocket. And by not arguing (as I didn’t) you’re on the slide to an expensive coop.

Use chicken wire

We have had a lot of rodents and critters running through the backyard in the past, so I argued that we needed to go with hardware fabric over chicken wire for the mesh around the coop. Wow … was that an expensive decision. It cost almost $100 just for the two rolls of mesh! Crazy.

For chicken wire, we would have paid under $40.

We made the right call for the security of the animals, but this added a lot of cost.

Rethink the roof

I used corrugated plastic roofing, a sheet metal ridge cap, and metal gutters. You can’t tell me that someone couldn’t use either a heavy plastic visqueen, a tarp, or even a lightweight treated plywood for the roof and not save a ton of money. And if you needed gutters, couldn’t you just get some sort of landscape plastic tubing, cut it to make a “c-section”, and nail that to the fascia for a fantastic financial (and time!) savings.

It wouldn’t have looked as good (I don’t think) but it would save you some money.

Lessons Learned

P1000199Plan everything up front

I’m a planner at heart, so it’s no surprise this is my top recommendation upon reflection. Go over all the details … all of them… and then prioritize what’s important. While I mention making it cheaper, the chicken wire would have been cheaper but we made the right call splurging here.

I guess a final recommendation is to care about what you’re doing. I got lazy and took a few shortcuts.

But, in the end, I have to admit that I’m pretty happy with the coop … and the chickens seem to like it, too.

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