What kinds of roofing can I use on my backyard chicken coop?

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Corrugated roofing on a chicken coop

All of our chicken coop plans call for corrugated polycarbonate roof panels. But whether you’re building one of our designs or something else, you have plenty of options. Many backyard coopers use corrugated metal, corrugated asphalt, or shingles over plywood instead. Read on to decide what’s the best type of roofing for your chicken coop. . . .

Corrugated polycarbonate panels

There are a lot of reasons to like corrugated polycarbonate panels. They come in various lengths and widths and several tints from clear to fully opaque. They block nearly 100% of UV rays. They’re relatively easy to find, trim, and install. They aren’t sharp like metal (good for shorter coops). And they’re durable — they can last decades.

Don’t confuse polycarbonate panels with cheaper PVC or fiberglass panels, which are similarly transparent, but can become brittle in a matter of just a few years. (More on these below.)

There are a few different brands of polycarbonate panels out there. Choosing one pretty much comes down to what’s available near you and/or at the stores where you like to shop. I use Suntuf by Palram, which you can find at Home Depot, smaller hardware stores, and internationally as well. Lowe’s carries a line called Tuftex, and Menards carries Amerilux.

You can read reviews for those on the stores’ websites to learn more. But keep in mind, it’s hard to know from any one review whether the customer installed the panels correctly. Often people fail to drill the necessary expansion holes, which can cause the panels to crack under stress (heat, hail, wind, etc.). I’ve also seen negative reviews left for the polycarbonate panels when what the customer actually purchased (as shown in their photos) were the cheaper PVC panels.

A couple things to note:

  • The installation instructions in our coop plans are based on guidance from Suntuf for that particular panel. No matter what type of roofing you go with, you’ll want to read and follow your specific manufacturer’s instructions. Those are often more comprehensive and cover special cases like high-wind areas (extra or larger fasteners), very rainy or snowy areas (caulk and additional overlapping), and vertical installation (different closure strips, attaching in the valleys, etc.).
  • All of the corrugated polycarbonate lines require you to use horizontal closure strips that match their corrugation profile, to drill expansion holes (allows the material to expand and contract without cracking), and use screws with neoprene washers that seal over the expansion holes. The horizontal closure strips and screws are usually sold near the roofing. Our coop plans include more details on all of this.

Which tint or color of polycarbonate roof panel is best for my situation?

The tint or color of your panel will affect a few things, so take these into consideration:

  • Light – According to the Suntuf product brochure, their Clear tint transmits 90% of light, White transmits 45%, and Solar Gray (the darker tint) transmits 35%. They all block 100% of UV. 
  • Solar heat – Suntuf’s Clear tint transmits the most, then Solar Gray, then White Opal. It’s worth noting that because of the “open” design of the roof on our coops, warm air is never trapped beneath the roofing panels, so you don’t get a buildup of moisture or heat as in a greenhouse. We sometimes see condensation on the underside of the roof — usually in the morning as air temperature shifts — but not much at all. You can also lay shade cloth over the ceiling in the summer for added shade.
  • Looks – I’m a big fan of the Solar Gray tint. We have it on our two coops and on our patio cover. The White is nice too if your coop is in full sun all day. It casts a nice, soothing glow. I would recommend Clear only if your coop is otherwise situated in shade. If that shade is from a deciduous tree, consider too that as leaves collect on the roof, you can see them from below.
  • Color – As for solid color options, one of those might work great with the overall look you’re going for. Solid-color panels will also be more opaque and block more light and heat than the transparent options.

Corrugated metal panels

The next most popular roofing type I’ve seen people use on our coop designs is corrugated metal. These panels can attach over a plywood underlayment or directly to the purlins. There are several different types and brands, and they each attach differently, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, if it’s a shallower corrugation, plan on overlapping the panels at two crests to prevent leaks at the seams — and maybe add a bead of caulk as well.

North Carolina do it yourself large chicken coop from plans

Metal panels will definitely block more light than a transparent or semi-transparent panel (well, all of it). Not sure about solar heat, though. Metal transmits that differently than other materials. 

Many of our customers have installed metal roofing on their DIY chicken coop builds. See the Swifts’ Garden Loft; Christine and Andrew’s New Zealand Garden Coop; Coop #4 in this collection of Garden Lofts; and Coops #3, #9, and #10 in this collection of Garden Coops.

Corrugated asphalt panels

Some customers go with corrugated panels made of bitumen (asphalt), something like the ONDURA Premium Series by Onduline, which also makes Tuftex. These have similar advantages to polycarbonate panels, though there is no transparent option. These also require horizontal closure strips. And because the corrugations are larger, you need longer fasteners than for polycarbonate or metal roofing.

Red Ondura asphalt roofing panels on a backyard chicken coop

Asphalt roll or shingles over plywood

You might go with asphalt over plywood if you already have the materials on hand, like the look, or have the know-how and tools and simply prefer this kind of roof. I think for a chicken coop, especially one with a more open design, this type of roof is generally more work than it’s worth.

Some of our customers use shingles on our smaller standalone coop design, The Basic Coop, as well as to weatherproof the top of their external nest boxes when they add those to their coop.

External nesting boxes with asphalt shingles on the Garden Coop

I also mentioned earlier that some people prefer to install corrugated roofing over a layer of plywood. You can certainly do this, and it might make sense if your roof panels are softer or thinner and would benefit from the extra support. I haven’t found it to be necessary with corrugated polycarbonate panels.

As for how to install an asphalt shingle roof, a quick search for tutorials online will yield lots of results.

Corrugated PVC (polyvinyl chloride) panels

These might be the cheapest option, so I get why you might be drawn to them. But they don’t hold up — we’re talking years instead of decades. They deteriorate and become brittle when exposed to. . . sunlight?! They also don’t withstand impact very well.

Sometimes you’ll see these panels reinforced with fiberglass, and those fibers fade in the sun as well. If you have an image in your mind of corrugated plastic roofing being dull, dirty, and cracked, this is the kind of roofing you’re thinking of.

As I see it, either you’re investing in a larger walk-in coop that you want to have last for many years (which polycarbonate, asphalt, or metal will do), or you’re building a smaller coop, in which case the extra cost of those better options won’t add that much to your total budget. Plus, since smaller coops tend to be lower to the ground, there’s a lot more chance of something impacting your roof.

There are two easy ways to tell PVC roofing apart from (the much superior) polycarbonate panels in the store. The PVC panels will have a smoother wave profile (see below), rather than a hexagonal profile. And the PVC will cost about half as much. Again, unless you only expect your chicken coop to last a few years, it’s not worth the cost savings.

Just don’t.

Green or living roof

If you’re up for the project, you can incorporate a green roof or living roof onto your chicken coop. Our Garden Run half-height module design has a permeable living roof (allows rain to seep through to the run below). There are many ideas online too for using a traditional green roof — one with a watertight membrane beneath it — over your henhouse and coop.

A couple things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure the coop and the structure can support the weight of a green roof. This includes the extra building materials, plants, planting medium, and (of course) the rainwater the roof might hold. With the exception of our garden-top Garden Run design, all of our chicken coop designs would need extra reinforcement to support a green roof. We’re not able to advise on that, but you can overbuild to your heart’s desire — or consult a local contractor or engineer.
  • Choose plants like herbs and sedums that are drought-tolerant and flood-tolerant, like full sun, and will stay green year round. If your coop roof is low to the ground, you can maintain the greenery more easily. But if it’s up high, you need to plan for minimal maintenance.

What kind of roofing have you used on your backyard chicken coop or other projects? Pros and cons? Other questions? Let us know in the comments below.

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