How to build a bee hotel – The perfect home for Nature’s pollinators

Solitary bee hotel made of tubes with a wild bee
Build your own solitary bee hotel and help protect an endangered species.
  • Difficulty
    easy
  • Cost
    25-35 £
  • Duration
    1 h

Introduction

Since 1900, the UK has lost 13 species of bees to extinction. A further 35 of our more than 250 bee species are endangered. Despite this, unlike other countries such as Germany, bees are not considered a protected species. This only adds to the risks and challenges they face.

 

Why exactly is our solitary bee population at risk? Due to industrial agriculture and the ongoing urban sprawl of our landscapes, many solitary bees can no longer find what they need to survive. This includes wildflower plants with pollen and nectar that serve as food for the bees and their larvae, sufficient material for nest building and suitable nesting opportunities.

 

The good news: It is incredibly easy to build a bee-friendly environment that caters for all these needs! Building bee houses for your garden (or any outdoor space) offers an invaluable shelter where solitary bees can rest, nest and breed. There are more than 40 species of solitary bee that are more than happy to accept this kind of support, so you may find yourself soon needing to make more than one bee house! Fortunately, we are here to show you everything you need.

 

Interested in learning how else you can contribute to species conservation? Take a look at another one of our popular DIY guides: How to build your own insect hotel. For more background knowledge on our buzzing friends, check out our article on the difference between bees and wasps.

 

Looking to enrich your garden with everything that nature has to offer? Why not check out our guides on building your own bird box or maybe even a bat box?

 

But for now, let's look at how you can build a solitary bee box for your outdoor space.

You need

Let's go – step by step: DIY solitary bee house guide

This is our brief guide to building a solitary bee nesting house using little more than a block of wood.

 

Before we start, be sure to observe occupational safety at each step to protect yourself and your health. Our overview of safety precautions for DIY projects provides further information.

 

Step14

Prepare the wood

You need:
  • Make sure the log is completely dry.
  • Mark drill holes. A creative arrangement makes for a more appealing and natural-seeming DIY bee hotel than a symmetrical drilling pattern.
Step24

Drilling

Solitary bee house with drill holes of different sizes

With asymmetrically arranged drill holes of different sizes, your solitary bee hotel is sure to be fully booked!

You need:

 

  • The depth of each drilled hole should be at least 8-10cm. This ensures there is enough space for solitary bees to nest.
  • The ideal diameter of the holes is 3-6mm. However, you can also drill some smaller and larger holes with diameters of 2-9mm.
  • Each hole should be separated by at least 2cm and must not cross each other.
  • Don't drill all the way through the wood block!
  • Don’t drill into the end grain, but rather perpendicular to the grain course. NOTE: A drill stand may make this easier, particularly if building several solitary bee houses!
  • We recommend using a cordless drill with a sharp wood drill bit. As you go, remove the drill bit from the hole from time to time to remove any excess sawdust. It's best to work with multiple wood drill bits, as they heat up quickly and can scorch the inside of the drill hole. This is likely to make your solitary bee hotel less effective than it could otherwise be. NOTE: If you are at all unsure how to use the drill, take a look at our video tutorials for drills and screwdrivers.
Step34

Smoothing out the edges

You need:
  • Thoroughly remove any remaining sawdust from the block. A pipe cleaner is ideal for this task.
  • Use sandpaper to smooth the outer surface of the wood block, as well as remove any sharp splinters or edges from the outside of each drill hole.
  • Drill holes can be smoothed further with an abrasive rod or grinding drill adapter.
Step44

Install the roof

You need:
  • A roof can be useful to protect the wood and insects from the weather, although it is entirely optional. If you do choose to build a roof, ensure it does not shade the entrance to your solitary bee house too much or otherwise make it difficult for the bees to enter. Roof tiles, corrugated metal and plexiglass are all good options to consider.

 

Planning & background information: Building a home for solitary bees

A solitary bee house can be a rewarding and satisfying way to contribute to the wider conservation of nature, as well as increase the biodiversity of your own garden. Here we equip you with the knowledge needed and answer some common questions about building a home for bees.

What materials are suitable for a DIY bee hotel?

When considering what material to use, it is important to try and emulate the natural habitat of the solitary bee as much as possible. Many bee species like to live in small, enclosed spaces. For this reason, a tube-like structure is considered by experts to be the ideal nesting aid. Tubes can be created in several ways, utilizing many different materials that you might have at hand:

 

  • A tin or wooden box with bamboo tubes, reed stems or cardboard tubes: For this method, simply fill a wooden box or an old tin can (provided there are no sharp edges) with the aforementioned tubes, cut to approximately 10 to 20cm in length. Make sure that the tubes are sealed on one end and that their interior is entirely smooth. The entrance to each tube should also be smooth to prevent injury.  
Solitary bee house made of tubes in a can
Example of how a solitary bee hotel using tubes and a tin can could look.
  • Wood: A very popular option. However, not every type of wood is suitable. We recommend woods with minimal warp when drying such as ash, maple, birch, oak or chestnut. Ash is the most preferable as it is the least likely to crack or deform. However, this wood must also be dried properly before use. Softwoods are unfortunately unsuitable due to their resin content. Softwoods tend to produce sharp fibres inside the boreholes when damp, which can injure the bees. In our guide above, we explain how to build a solitary bee house out of a block of wood.

 

 

In general, you should avoid making your solitary bee house too complex in terms of size or materials as this could attract a wide range of insects who don’t necessarily play well with one another! It is best to offer several smaller, self-contained spaces which can then be distributed throughout the garden.

 

Extruded clay bricks: Bricks with holes are a fantastic option for DIY bee houses and can even be stacked together to create multiple structures. It is important that they are properly protected from the elements and that one side is fully sealed with plaster or beeswax. Remember to sand smooth if necessary.

 

Tree slices: Tree slices can be aesthetically pleasing but it really is not a suitable nesting material for bees as dry cracks form very quickly. This creates gaps between the holes, which in turn encourage parasites and fungi. Solitary bees instinctively avoid tree slices. 

Tip
Only use well-dried wood!
The wood for your DIY bee hotel must first be stored until completely dry, otherwise it tends to crack. Old timber is recommended, as is wood from dead trees. To save money, consider asking carpenters, building yards, lumber merchants, or sawmills for any leftover wood scraps they might have. 
Insect hotel with various materials behind wireframe
Avoid too many materials or structures: Keep your bee box simple!

When should I build a bee box?

Solitary bees are most active in Spring and Summer, with activity peaking between June and August. You can build a bee house whenever but having it ready for Spring is a good idea as this is when the most solitary bees are looking for suitable nests for egg-laying. During winter, your solitary bee house should be kept somewhere dry and cool to make sure it is ready for the coming spring.

Where should I place a bee nesting house?

An ideal place to secure your bee house is on a tree or wall. The tubes should be horizontally positioned, and the entire structure secured to ensure it does not fall in the wind. It should ideally be a sunny patch of your garden, south or southeast facing, and protected from the elements (for example, under a roof or overhang).

 

Available food supply in the immediate vicinity is also very important. A diverse garden filled with nectar and pollen-rich flowers (preferably native ones) is already on its way to being bee-friendly. A good tip is to choose plants with different bloom times, spread across the most active period of the solitary bee (Spring to Autumn).

 

Find out how to make your garden more insect-friendly with: 

Can I move my DIY bee hotel?

Try to refrain from moving your habitat while it is in active use as this is likely to aggravate or distress the bees. It is fine to move while not in use, such as during winter.

Do I need to clean my bee hotel?

There is no need to regularly clean a solitary bee house and definitely avoid any chemicals or artificial cleaning products. If your DIY bee house starts to look dirty or dishevelled, it might simply be time to build another!

Can I paint my solitary bee house?

While not necessary, you could paint your bee house, provided that the paint is 100% chemical-free. In addition, make sure that the product you choose is weather-resistant. Linseed oil and beeswax are natural alternatives that bees have no objection to.

Can I set up a solitary bee hotel on the balcony?

In principle, this is not a problem, as the shelter itself is small. All you must ensure is that you have a sufficient supply of food – perhaps with the help of a DIY greenhouse for the balcony. Alternatively, a herb bed on the balcony can attract bees. You could also consider building a vertical garden out of rain gutters or even a plant wall.

Should I build my own DIY bee hotel or purchase one?

Many readymade insect hotels do not consider the diverse needs of each individual critter that you might want to accommodate. They are too big or too small, made of the wrong materials, or intended for multiple general insect species. If you build your own bee box, you can take all the above factors into account and truly create the best possible habitat for solitary bees, specifically.

Tip
DIY for species-appropriate animal husbandry
DIY is the trump card when it comes to animal welfare. For example, you could build a chicken coop for the garden or a bird feeder, all the time making sure that each project meets the exact needs of the desired residents in the best possible way. Find even more inspiration in our DIY area for dogs, cats, birds & Co.

Cost of a solitary bee house:

How much your DIY bee hotel will cost, if following our guide, will depend largely on the type of wood you opt for. Dry ash wood can sometimes be found for as low as £10/plank. Bamboo tubes can also be had for approximately £10 for 70-100 pieces or cardboard tubes for even cheaper. This would bring you to a total of approx. £20.

 

A ready-made solitary bee hotel, like the one featured in our guide, can cost around £30 in stores. There are cheaper models available, as well as expensive versions which can exceed £100. Whether these habitats are all species-appropriate, you would have to check on a case-by-case basis.

 

Of course, we believe building your own bee house is the best option. Only then do you have full control and can be sure that your habitat is fit for purpose.