How to Make a DIY Insulated Tumbler for Winter

  • By: composthq
  • Date: October 1, 2022
  • Time to read: 7 min.

Composting requires heat to work quickly and effectively. Winter and cooler weather pose a problem then, right?

Therefore it’s essential to know how to make a DIY insulated tumbler for winter so that your compost mixture effectively breaks down. So, how do you insulate a compost tumbler or bin yourself?

To insulate a compost tumbler or bin for winter, you can build a shelter around it and cover it with insulating materials such as plastic or yard waste.

Minimizing heat loss will ensure your compost bin stays nice and warm during winter.

Why Insulate a Compost Tumbler or Bin

The bacteria in a compost pile responsible for decomposition performs best between 90 degrees and 160 degrees.

If your compost pile dips beneath 60 degrees, the bacteria becomes stagnant, and activity slows.

So as temperatures plummet during the winter months, composting comes to a screeching halt.

By insulating your tumbler, you can continue composting throughout even the coldest of days.

If you prefer a hot compost method, which means your pile reaches a minimum of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, then an insulated tumbler in the winter is a must.

An insulated tumbler in the winter means you have plenty of finished, nutritious compost to use in your garden during the spring.  

Build Your Own Insulated Compost Tumbler or Bin

Building a tumbler or compost bin is easier than you may think. 

Tumbler 

A tumbler is a type of compost bin that is fully enclosed and rotates. You turn it several times a week to keep your pile aerated so that it effectively breaks down.

You can certainly buy a tumbler, but if you want one that is quick and easy to build, we have an option for you.

You will need a 15-gallon plastic black garbage bin with handles and a lid, two bungees, and a drill.

  • Add air holes on the sides and bottom of the trash can every sixteen or so inches.
  • Throw in your compost mixture so that the trash can is three-quarters full. Make sure to add water following each later.
  • Using the bungees, secure the lid to the trash can.
  • With the trash can on its side, you can roll it to churn the contents.

That’s it! While there are much fancier versions of tumblers you can build or buy, they all do the same thing: rotate the contents.

For this version, the compost mixture should be ready within four to six weeks. 

Compost Bin

To get started, you will need four wooden pallets and either heavy-duty zip ties or screws. 

  1. Stand up your wooden pallets in a level spot so that they make a square.
  2. Using zip ties or screws, secure three of the pallets together. 
  3. The fourth pallet should open for easy access. You can use zip ties on just one side, or if you are handy, you can screw hinges into place. The goal is to make sure that it can swing open. 

That’s it for the bin! It’s quite simple but effective – until winter. Cold weather is why we need to make sure that it is adequately insulated. 

You can line the wood with styrofoam to insulate it for the winter months. But that’s just one option. 

Let’s check out the best materials to insulate a compost tumbler or bin, whether it’s the one you just built or one you already have.

The Best Materials to Insulate a Compost Tumbler or Bin

The best insulators use trapped air as that is the most efficient way to keep heat inside. Thick materials tend to keep heat in better.

Let’s take a look at some excellent insulators that are both human-made or natural. You can choose your material of choice to insulate your compost tumbler or bin.

Human-Made Insulators

Let’s take a look at human-made insulators first, beginning with plastic.

Plastic

Plastic is the best human-made insulator because of its makeup. The particles in plastic don’t move around quickly, so heat transfer happens at a much slower rate.  

Advantages of using plastic:

  • Plastic is waterproof. While water is good for compost, too much can cause the bacteria to dry. Cold water can freeze your pile, especially in the winter months. 
  • Since plastic is waterproof, it can also help retain moisture in your pile, which is great if you live in a dry area. A well-watered pile with a waterproof cover should stay moisture-filled. 
  • Plastic can be used season after season as it is reusable.

Downsides of using plastic:

  • Plastic isn’t breathable, and compost piles need oxygen. Resolve this issue by making sure your stack is aerated. 
  • Plastic retains moisture, which is a good thing, but it can also trap moisture. Adequate draining prevents your compost pile from becoming a sloppy wet mess. 
  • Plastic is a human-made material that is certainly not eco-friendly. By reusing plastic, you can limit your environmental impact. 

Styrofoam

Because styrofoam is plastic filled with trapped air, it’s one of the best insulators you can use for your compost bin. Foam traps heat, so you can use a thin layer to cover your pile.

Foam is excellent for hot composting in the winter because of how effective it is.

However, foam isn’t super flexible, so it can be hard to create a perfectly fitting cover, especially on a round compost tumbler.

Tarp

A tarp is another human-made material that works well as an insulator during the winter months. Much like plastic, a tarp has its advantages and disadvantages.

Choose a dark-colored tarp so that it will absorb the maximum amount of heat from the sun.

Cover your compost tumbler to keep heat inside.

To prevent your tarp from smothering your pile, make sure that it is not too tightly secured. Make a flap so that you can let oxygen in occasionally.

You could even use poles or sticks to prop the tarp up so that there is a small layer of air between the pile and the tarp.

If your tarp is not thick enough, double it up or add another layer of insulating material, such as yard materials.

Bubble Wrap

Plastic bubble wrap has air bubbles that slow heat transfer, making it an effective insulator. 

Bubble wrap is flexible, so you can quickly and securely cover your tumbler or bin with it.

The bigger the bubble, the better, as more air means an even slower heat transfer.

Bubble wrap will break down, so it will likely need to be replaced after a while. However, it’s cheap so it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to replace.

Also, make sure not too many of the bubbles have popped, as that will lessen the insulating effect on your compost pile.

Natural Insulators

Natural insulators are usually yard materials you can get from your backyard. If not, you can ask nearby farms or garden centers if they have any to give you. 

Benefits of Natural Insulators:

  • They are breathable. Oxygen can get to your compost pile, which is necessary for constant activity.
  • They are better for the environment. Natural materials break down, so you could throw them in your compost pile when they don’t work as an insulator anymore.  

Drawbacks of Natural Insulators:

  • They are not waterproof and need to be replaced often.
  • Typically a ton of yard material is required to get to the desired level of insulation. 

Snow

Many places get a lot of snow in the winter. Which is cold, yes, but is quite an effective insulator.

Because snow is mostly trapped air, it’s an excellent insulator.

If you live in an area where you get a lot of snowfall, it can help keep your compost bin nice and warm.

Just make sure it’s not too compacted as it will lose its heat transfer qualities. 

Leaves and Straw

Most people have plenty of leaves and or straw in their yard. Hay is also readily available for purchase.

The critical thing to remember when using these items for insulating purposes is that they are not too wet.

Keep in mind that trapped air is what slows heat transfer, so make sure your straw or hay isn’t too compacted. 

Cardboard

Cardboard is a great insulator as it traps air and slows down heat transfer. It’s cheap and easy to get your hands on as well.

You can cover or line your bin with cardboard during the winter to ensure the bacteria are doing their job.

Measuring the Temperature of Your Compost Pile

It’s necessary to keep a check on the temperature of your pile once you have insulated it. 

Compost thermometers will give you an accurate reading.

You can certainly feel the compost to see if it’s warm, but be careful because it can burn you if it’s scalding.

Another sure sign is steam. If steam is rising from your compost pile, it is likely nice and warm.

Additional Insulation Ideas

If you have a compost tumbler or bin already, you can use any of the insulating materials mentioned above to cover your tumbler or pile. 

One of the best things you can do during the winter is to ensure that your compost pile is not sitting on cold or frozen ground.

The ground will suck all of the heat out of your pile and into the ground.

With a tumbler, it’s likely already off of the ground. With a bin, you might need to raise it.

You can also build a shelter around your compost tumbler or bin, which will keep it warm and protected from harsh winter weather.

Using hay bales with a plywood lid and you have easily created a sufficient shelter.

If possible, you can move your tumbler or bin into your garage or shed during the winter months.

You can bury your compost mixture. Trench composting works well during the winter months as it acts as a shelter for your pile, keeping it warm. 

In Summary 

It’s important to make sure that your bin is adequately insulated in the winter months so that your compost pile is actively decomposing.

You are certainly going to be happy you took a few extra steps to keep your pile active in the spring when it’s all about your garden.

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