Insulating Your Hives

Insulating bee hives
With our top bar hives, it’s easy to insulate your hives and help keep your bees warm during the cold winter. Notice the foil bubble wrap stapled to the front to prevent strong winds from blasting through the front, but still allowing adequate air flow.

In reviewing old beekeeper literature, sometimes there will be references made to beekeepers overwintering their hives indoors in a basement or garage to keep their colonies warm.  Some beekeepers still wrap their hives during the winter with felt paper to “insulate” their hives even though this is more of an air-sealing activity. However, many beekeepers don’t do anything to help their hives keep the cold air out and maintain warmth. Winter time is a critical time for beekeepers as this is when most hives will perish.

At Wild Bunch Bees, we encourage people to insulate their tops bars as it is a relatively cheap and one-time cost incurred that can increase your colony’s chances of winter survival.  Heat rises so putting insulation on top is very effective at keeping heat inside your hive. At our Wild Bunch Farm, we don’t use any chemicals (including essential oils and formic acid) so we have to use every sound and economically-sustainable method to increase our colonies’ chances of survival.  We average 80%-90% winter survival rates without chemicals.

As long as you don’t block the front entrance holes and rear ventilation holes, you can insulate the rest of the hive.  Our roof design allows you to place as much as 1” of insulation thickness on top of the top bars.  We recommend placing anywhere from ½” to 1” thick polyiso foam board on top of the top bars underneath the roof.

Honey as firewood
Think of your bee colony’s honey as firewood. The more insulated and air-sealed your hive is, the less they will have to use their honey to keep warm. The insulation helps keep the warmth in the hive and maintain the temperature.

1” thick polyiso foam board has an R-value (a measure of how well a material resists heat transfer) of R-6.  In contrast, wood, which your hive body is made out of, generally has an R-value of R-1 per inch.  So by putting polyiso foam board on top and around your hive, you are effectively increasing your hive’s R-value and ability to retain heat by 600%!  You can easily buy a piece of foam board and cut it to size and place it around your hive.  Just make sure the foam board insulation is firmly pressed against your hive body because air gaps between the insulation and hive body makes the insulation less effective. Think about how less effective a blanket would be if it was just floating 1” above you instead of snuggly wrapped around your body.  With the help of some bungee cords, you can make it happen.

You may be asking, “Aren’t the bees already capable of generating enough heat to keep warm during the winter?”  The answer is “yes,” but in order to create and sustain that amount of heat through the long winter, the bees need fuel.  Their fuel comes in the form of their honey stores.  In an uninsulated and drafty hive, the bees have to work much harder and go through more food to keep their hive warm because the heat is being lost very quickly.  In some cases, you may find that the bees might have starved because they had to use up so much of their honey stores keeping warm or they could have froze to death because they couldn’t get to rest of the honey because it was too far away.

Think of your bee hive as a house that is only heated by a wood stove. In an uninsulated and drafty house, you will have to put more firewood into the wood stove to maintain the temperature in your house because it is quickly being lost through your uninsulated walls and cracks. If you run out of wood, then you will freeze. For the bees, they act as their own wood stove generating heat by vibrating.  However, to keep vibrating they need fuel in the form of honey. By insulating your hive, you will help the hive stay warmer and the bees will use less fuel. Keep in mind that many times the bees will be in a weakened state when they are in a cluster. They are packed tight, unable to move around very much, and this is where diseases can build up and zap their strength.

Leave a reply

Join our beekeeping newsletter

Stories, tips, new products, & more