There are hundreds of chicken housing designs available today, so choosing a new chicken coop model to build or buy can be a challenging task. However, by carefully considering each of the design elements that go into great chicken housing, it’s possible to select a chicken coop design that’s perfect for both you and your chickens.
The important housing elements to evaluate include size, storage, ventilation, predator protection, human access, cleaning, egg boxes, and roosting bars. In addition to the chicken coop design itself, chicken-keeping factors like coop location, and access to electricity and water should be considered.
Chicken Coop Design Features to Consider
The best coop size for your chickens depends on how many birds you intend to keep, what breeds you’ll be housing, and whether they have outside access.
It’s generally recommended that each bird have two to four square feet of space inside the coop if there is access to an outside run. Bantam breeds need at least two square feet of space, heavy breeds need at least four, and chickens between those sizes need at least three (see this CHART for chicken breed sizing). If there isn’t outside access then the size requirements increase to five to ten square feet of space per bird (with five applying to smaller breeds and ten to larger breeds accordingly). 
Although the minimum sizes identified above are normally adequate, it’s a good idea to plan for a more spacious coop if possible. It always seems that there are more chickens that are arriving; plus, having a larger coop means less frequent cleaning and fewer issues with things like ventilation and moisture removal.
LOCATION IS IMPORTANT
A coop located near the house is preferable especially if you’re going to be collecting eggs daily. However, check local ordinances because some require a minimum distance between animal housing and habitable structures.
It’s also convenient to have water and electricity available at the chicken house. Chickens drink lots of water and lugging it a long-distance gets old fast. Electricity is a nice option since it can power things like heated waterers, an automatic door-opener, and winter “lights-on” for better egg production.
It’s best to locate chicken housing where there is room for an outside run. For the run size, give at least ten square feet per chicken, but more is always better.
Also, it’s a good idea to make the coop a separate structure. We made the mistake of keeping chickens in a barn stall and they made the entire barn incredibly dusty (plus put their droppings everywhere). We quickly learned that it’s better to house chickens separately (ever notice that every farm has a separate chicken coop?).
The location should also take advantage of available light, breezes, and shade to help stabilize temperatures. Consider the sun and how much you want or don’t want the sun to heat your coop. In hot weather regions, this typically means placing the chicken housing in a shaded location. Facing the coop south with protection from northerly winds is often ideal in cold weather areas. Finally, it’s a good idea to locate the structure downwind from any prevailing winds that pass by the house to minimize any odors.
HUMAN ACCESS & STORAGE
In order to clean, water, feed, and care for your chickens, it’s generally necessary to get inside the coop. Having easy access and room to work is essential. That means that a human-sized door and room to stand up inside the chicken house are important features to include. For smaller coops, it’s a good idea to incorporate a hinged roof that can be lifted to allow access to the interior for cleaning and chicken care.
Many chicken coop design plans do not include room for storage; however, having a separate storage area within the structure can be a smart addition. This is especially true if you don’t have other barns or outbuildings. Supplies such as pine chip bales, chicken feed bags, oyster shell, grit, cleaning supplies, and medicinal items are all things that need to be stored somewhere. Having a storage area for them within the coop makes chicken-keeping convenient.
Chicken housing needs to be well ventilated year-round to remove the large amounts of moisture, ammonia, dust, and heat that chickens generate. Good ventilation also supplies chickens with the oxygen-rich air that they need to stay healthy.
The amount and location of vents needed change as weather conditions change, so it’s important to have many ventilation options that can be closed or opened as required. It’s also necessary to have more vents when the coop is crowded with more birds. Consider your coop ventilation requirements carefully, and plan for more, not less. Poor ventilation can cause overheating, frostbite, blindness, respiratory problems, and even death.
In areas where hot weather is not a problem, one square foot of vent opening per ten square feet of floor space is generally advised. In hot weather areas, it’s often recommended that entire sides of the coop be constructed so that they can be removed to maintain sufficient ventilation. Always consider your climate when planning coop ventilation.
Any ventilation openings that will be used during cold weather should be high up (above roosts) and protected from rain and snow by roof overhangs. You don’t want a cold draft wafting across the chickens’ roosts at night. Warmer weather vents can be lower in the coop so they provide a cooling breeze. See “Ventilate Your Coop” for more on why and how to ventilate chicken coops.
There are many predators that consider chickens an excellent meal and will do anything to get to them. Therefore, a chicken coop design that protects against predators is an absolute must. It’s amazing how small a hole a weasel can fit through or how strong and dexterous raccoons are. If these common predators get inside a chicken coop, they can quickly decimate a flock. So, there should be no coop openings that anything can get through at night and all windows or vents should be covered with ½” hardware cloth (even when open). The small pop-hatch door that the chickens use to enter and exit the coop should also close securely at night.
Additionally, consider an elevated design so you can eliminate unwanted entries from below. An elevated coop will keep predators from digging and burrowing into the structure and provide your chickens shelter from the sun in summer and snow in the winter.
The common choices in flooring material are dirt, concrete, or wood. Dirt floors are very cost-effective but are hard to clean and it’s difficult to keep predators or rodents out. Conversely, concrete floors are the easiest to clean and prevent unwanted access, but are also the most expensive option.
Wooden floors are inexpensive and are a good approach if the coop is elevated at least a foot to prevent rot and keep rodents or predators out. However, wooden floors are often difficult to clean because droppings get packed between the boards. Covering wooden floors with linoleum or coating the wood with a protective finish (see “Chicken Coop Paint Protection“) are two options commonly used to make wood flooring cleanup easier.
At night, chickens instinctively like to roost on something off the ground for predator protection. They prefer to roost on something flat, and wide roosts are beneficial in winter because they allow chickens to keep their feet tucked under their feathers all night to stay warm. 2” x 4” boards placed so that the 4” width is what their feet sit on are ideal because the boards are wide enough that the chickens’ toes don’t hang over the edges. Plastic or metal piping is not suitable for roosts because it’s too slippery for the chickens to grip.
There should be at least 8” of roosting space in the coop for each standard size bird and at least 10” for heavy breeds. Waterers, feeders, and nest boxes should not be located below roosts because chickens do most of their dropping at night while sleeping. However, the roosts should be placed higher in the coop than the nest boxes so the chickens are not tempted to sleep in them (this usually results in dirty eggs). Roosts can be located at heights from about a foot off the coop floor to a couple of feet from the ceiling, but they should be staggered in height so that the chickens can easily hop from lower to higher roosts.
Another consideration is how easy the design will be to clean and whether there is some accommodation for cleaning under the roosting area. The majority of droppings accumulate there, particularly if the chickens have access to pasture. Removable trays or dropping boards (made of sturdy wire that allow the dropping to fall to the ground) are two features that are sometimes incorporated to make cleaning easier.
Many chicken-keepers use the “deep litter method” and allow the bedding to build up over several months’ time and then clean the entire coop out at regular intervals (see “The Deep Litter Method“). If you’re planning to use this approach, it’s important to have equipment access to conveniently remove and replace all the litter.
Chickens prefer to lay their eggs in a dark, protected location, so appropriately sized nesting boxes need to be included in chicken housing designed for laying birds. Nesting boxes 12” square for standard size birds or 14” square for heavy breeds are generally recommended. Unlike coops and runs, they should not be made too spacious or multiple birds will try to crowd into the same box and cause broken eggs. One nesting box for every four hens in the coop is usually sufficient.
A front lip about two inches high on the nesting boxes will hold in bedding material and a sloped roof will prevent the birds from roosting on them. Some coop designs incorporate nesting boxes that can be accessed from outside the coop by lifting a hinged lid. These designs make collecting eggs and keeping the nest boxes clean quite convenient.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
There are many aspects to consider when building or buying housing for your chickens and it’s extremely important to consider the options outlined above. By carefully evaluating your chicken-keeping plans and goals against those options, it’s possible to select a chicken coop design that will make you happy and keep your birds healthy for many years.
Planning a few key features like these can save a lot of work and effort. Chicken keeping should be fun and easy, what features have you found that are critical?
 The Chicken Health Handbook, by Gail Damerow (Storey Publishing, 1994)
, 3, 4 Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow (Storey Publishing, 1995)