As Egg Prices Continue to Soar, Ensure DIY Chicken Coop Projects Are Done Safely
If chickens don’t fly, then how can egg prices continue to soar? Poor attempts at dad jokes aside, record-high egg prices are something we are all facing at the moment and, frankly, don’t find all that funny.
According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average price of eggs more than doubled between January 2022 and December 2022, from $1.93 per dozen to $4.25 per dozen. Since January 2021, when egg prices were on average $1.47 per dozen, the price has nearly tripled. While many individuals had previously chosen to raise chickens at their residence for access to fresh eggs, elevated egg prices now have many contemplating doing the same to save money.
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One of the most critical components in raising chickens is having a structure to provide nesting areas for egg laying and safe shelter from predators such hawks, coyotes, and foxes. Creating structures, such as chicken coops, can often become do-it-yourself (DIY) projects for homeowners.
Communication between the local jurisdiction and homeowners about the safe building, and upkeep, of residential DIY chicken coops is key. Below you will find some information on some potential dangers and guidelines to help mitigate the associated risk, as well as a simple tip sheet to that can be shared with others in your community.
The danger of DIY
While it is always recommended that people reach out to the local building department to determine whether or not a chicken coop would need any permits or inspections, the reality is that in many cases these structures are not inspected. In some areas, jurisdictions have excluded permitting and inspections for structures used in private agricultural applications like chicken coops. In other cases, the homeowner may simply not be aware of the potential risks they are exposing themselves to by doing the work themselves and not having adequate inspections performed.
Bad information can also increase risk. An internet search for “raising chickens” led me to a popular DIY site that many homeowners are familiar with. In reviewing the step-by-step process that was provided for raising chickens, it did not take very long before I became astounded at some of the recommendations.
As part of the step for setting up a brooder, which is a heated nesting place for chicks, it was recommended to get a cardboard or plastic box, place it in your house, put pine shavings in the bottom of the box, and place a heat lamp on the side of the box. So, a homeowner is being advised to take a flammable box, add additional flammable material (pine shavings), attach a heat source to the flammable box, and place that box within their home. The immense risk associated with this advice may be caught easily by a cautious homeowner, but there are likely many individuals who would just follow the step-by-step instructions, putting themselves in unnecessary danger.
A homeowner is being advised to take a flammable box, add additional flammable material, attach a heat source to the flammable box, and place that box within their home.
Other risks and what the codes say
From a codes and standards perspective, it is difficult to find requirements that are specific to residential chicken coops. Paragraph 188.8.131.52 of the 2022 edition of NFPA 150, Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities Code, defines facilities where agricultural animals are housed in private, residential-type animal housing as Category 7 Class B. Yet when we look at 184.108.40.206, it states that Category 7 Class B facilities are exempt from the requirements of NFPA 150. Considering this information, we cannot look to NFPA 150 for requirements when building a residential chicken coop.
When we begin to analyze the genuine danger that can be present within chicken coops, two of the most prevalent arise when dealing with sources of electricity and heat. Let’s focus on electricity for the moment. To start, electrical work should always be performed by a qualified electrician who is versed in the requirements of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®).
Electrical receptacle needs for the chicken coops should be well thought out to avoid the need to use extension cords. Because of the outdoor location and moisture associated with that environment, which can even become an issue inside of the chicken coop, all receptacles should be provided with ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection.
Poultry dust buildup is a concern for the electrical system as well. To help avoid contact with ignition sources such as the internal components of receptacles and switches, dust-resistant boxes and covers should be utilized as well as implementing light fixtures with fully enclosed lamps. Any dust buildup on electrical components should be cleaned regularly. All electrical equipment that is used in chicken coops, such as heat lamps and electrically heated poultry waterers, should be listed by a qualified testing laboratory. For safety reasons, listed electrical equipment should only be used based on its listing instructions, and non-listed and makeshift equipment should be avoided.
Heated waterers, heat lamps, and space heaters might be utilized in chicken coops to keep water from freezing during the winter months, as well as within brooders to keep chicks warm. Because chicks cannot regulate their body temperature for the first few weeks of life, supplemental heat is necessary. Temperatures as high as 95 degrees Fahrenheit are needed during their first week of life, then the temperature gradually descends to about 65 degrees over the next several weeks until chicks can regulate their own body temperature. Hay, bedding, and other combustible materials close to heat sources can become a significant fire hazard within chicken coops and brooders.
NFPA® offers a helpful “Backyard Chicken Coop Safety” tip sheet for the general public that touches on many of these topics and more. Please feel free to share with your community through social media and outreach events.
Chicken coop fires are very real, as evidenced by a recent fire at Hillandale Farms in Bozrah, Connecticut, which killed over 100,000 chickens. While a backyard residential chicken coop may not be anywhere near the scale of this facility, the same potential for electrical and fire hazards still exists. Ensuring that all involved are aware of those risks, and know how to mitigate them, is a critical component to maintaining the safety of people, the flock, the chicken coop, and any surrounding buildings on the property. Don’t put any, let alone all, of the eggs in an unsafe basket.