Updated on December 29th, 2021
Your wooden beehive boxes are exposed to the elements year round. Having invested a fair amount of money and time into these hives, you want them to last as long as possible. Thus, preserving beehives with a protective coating is a wise economic decision.
Painting beehives is the most common way to protect pine boxes from weather damage. Rain, snow, and sun eventually rot unprotected wood. As a result, cracks may appear, and joints separate. Several types of coating protect wood, but painting beehives is a simple and inexpensive way to extend their useful lives.
If you bought cedar boxes, which are more expensive, the I would not paint them. Cedar stands up to the elements much better than pine. Applying tung oil (available here on Amazon) will give cedar boxes a beautiful natural look while providing water resistance to preserve the wood.
This article explains why you should paint your beehives, how to paint a beehive, and more.
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Should You Paint Your Beehive?
If you have pine woodenware, we recommend that you paint your beehives.
Pine is the most common wood used for hive components due to its relatively low cost and ease of use. However, pine is particularly susceptible to weather damage (moisture).
Painting beehives has the primary benefit of protecting your equipment from the elements and extending their useful life. Without protection, hive components may last only a few years. (We have painted boxes over 7 year old without major issues.)
Beehives are also made from naturally durable woods like cedar and cypress. These hives are more expensive than pine but hold up better without paint or other coatings. You may find cedar or cypress hives are expensive or have limited availability with current pandemic supply chain issues.
Besides protecting your hives from the elements, there are other reasons to paint beehives:
- White and other light colors help reflect the heat from the sun, keeping the hives a little cooler for your bees. By contrast, in the north, darker colors help the hives absorb heat. Even though we are in the north, we tend toward lighter colors to help keep hives a bit cooler in summer We cover our hives in a darker color for the winter.
- Colors can be an identifying feature for the bees and you. We keep each stack of boxes with a predominant color. Thus, we have the “green” bees or the “yellow” bees and so on. (Okay, maybe that’s a little nutty but we like it.) You can paint different size boxes different colors to make them easily identifiable.
- Boxes can be colored to blend into your surroundings. This may be especially desirable in areas where you don’t want to attract too much attention from close neighbors or possible vandals.
- Bees are excellent navigators and color differences can help orient them to the correct home hive.
- You can paint your beehives for the simple reason that you like the way it looks.
Whatever size bee yard you eventually end up with, your hives will be one of your largest investments. It makes sense to protect them and get them to last as long as possible.
We recommend Langstroth hive as the best type of hive for beginning beekeepers. Pine is the most common wood used for Langstroth hives.
What Kind Of Paint To Use On Beehives
Hives face the same weather issues as your home’s exterior. As a result, you have some similar options when choosing a paint.
Exterior Grade Latex Paint
Exterior latex paint is a water-based paint made with resins that help it resist fading, chipping, and peeling. It is designed for exposure to temperature changes and moisture.1
Exterior latex paints comes in several sheens depending on personal preference.
We typically used satin/eggshell for cost reasons. Higher levels of sheen (semigloss and high gloss) are more expensive but provide better protection and are easier to clean.
Some suggest priming the hive so paint will adhere better. However, since we put at least two coats of paint on hives, we think combination primer-and-paint products work fine.
Exterior latex paint cleans up easily with soap and water.
Oil-based exterior paint is an alternative to latex paint. Oil-based paint is more durable but also more expensive and more difficult to clean up than latex paints. We do not think oil-based paints are worth the extra cost and effort. Latex paints are also less likely to bubble due to moisture penetrating from inside the hive.
Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) Paint
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Volatile organic compounds are compounds that have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. Many VOCs are human-made chemicals that are used and produced in the manufacture of paints” among other things.
VOCs are emitted as gases with potentially adverse health effects, particularly indoors with high concentrations.
If you’re concerned about VOCs for either yourself or your bees, look for paints especially manufactured to be low-VOC or zero-VOC. VOC rating under 100 is good, under 50 is better.
If you have ever shopped for paint, you know there is a wide gap in pricing between brands and even within brands based on quality (real and perceived). Picking a paint thus becomes a question of budget and personal choice.
Even with a top-of-the-line paint and a great paint job, your hives will eventually succumb to the ravages of the weather. We have had good success with the “lesser” brands sold at national home centers and even some budget paints.
If color or quality is less of a concern than cost, check out the “oops” paint section in your local stores. When an error is made coloring the paint, it is often put back on the shelf at a discounted price. It’s still perfectly fine to use and you might even find some odd color you like.
How To Paint A Beehive
Beehive painting is a relatively simple task.
Assemble The Hive
Assemble hive bodies with exterior wood glue and fasteners (nails, screws, or staples). Do not paint components prior to assembly.
Gather Painting Equipment
Painting a beehive is not much different from painting the walls of your home.
Tools and equipment to consider are:
- Paint roller and/or paint brushes (if you use a roller you may still need a brush for hard to reach places around handles),
- Trays and liners,
- Paint can openers like this one on Amazon are handy,
- Paint tape to protect edges you do not want to paint (available here on Amazon), and
- Sandpaper or a scraper to remove any hardened glue left from your hive assembly.
Clean And Prepare The Hive’s Surface
Brush off any dirt or dust prior to painting. Give the paint an opportunity to adhere to the wood.
If you are repainting an old box, perform any necessary repairs first like fixing joints. Sandpaper can take off a lot of dirt and clean up a box for fresh coat of paint.
Paint The Exterior Only
Using your tool of choice (roller or brush) paint only the exterior of the hives exposed to the elements.
One exterior item we don’t paint is the entrance reducer. Even a small layer of paint could make the reducer more difficult to use and bees may chew on the paint. It’s also only used part time.
Leave the hive interior unpainted to avoid adding chemicals into the hive. Bees might chew the paint and the impact of any VOCs on the bees would be much worse if concentrated inside the hive.
The one exception to this is a solid bottom board. The bottom board will catch moisture, dead bees and whatever else falls out of the hive. Painting it can add a layer of protection.
Do not paint frames or the inside of covers. The exposed exterior of covers should be painted.
Some beekeepers paint the edges of hives as these are prime locations for water penetration. We, however, do not paint the edges of our hives. We found that in the heat of summer painted edges tended to stick together and the paint usually just peels away.
When To Paint A Beehive
Paint your hives before the bees are in them. This will make painting easier and limit the bees’ exposure to chemicals.
You do not need bees flying around you while to try to paint. You also do not want bees landing on wet paint and getting stuck or covered in wet paint.
Can you paint a beehive with bees in it? We have seen one well-known YouTube beekeeper’s video about how to paint a hive with the bees inside. We just do not recommend it. If a box is badly in need of repainting, we would swap it out with another box first.
Time Considerations | How Long to Wait After Painting A Beehive
We paint our hives a good distance from the apiary well before we plan to use them.
I always paint our hives outside in nice weather and let them “off gas” for a week or more before putting them in the apiary to limit any exposure to VOCs.
We always have a few painted boxes on hand in case we need to add one on short notice.
What Color To Paint Beehives
Colors are clearly a matter of your personal choice.
Beehives are often white. If you buy your hives prepainted, they will be white.
White is fine choice for a hive color as it reflects light and will keep a hive cooler in the summer than a darker color would.
Some beekeepers choose colors that help their hives blend into the surroundings. You may want to consider this if you don’t want to draw too much attention to your hives because of neighbors or to avoiding attracting vandals.
If you want your hives to blend into the environment, earth tones will serve you better than pastels and neon colors.
We light to pick bright colors that complement the surroundings as neighbors and vandals are not a particular concern. We enjoy the look of brightly colored hives.
How Bees See Colors
If you are taking into account that the different colors can help the bees orient themselves to the proper hive, consider how bees see colors.
The spectrum of colors visible to bees is slightly different from what humans see. For example, red is outside the wavelength range for bees so bees see it as black. On the opposite end of the range, bees see ultraviolet colors that are invisible to the human eye.
This chart shows the range of colors visible to honey bees and humans:
If you’re going to paint your hives, red may not be the best choice for the bees. For bees, red is the same as black.
Check out Bee Culture’s article How Bees See And Why It Matters for more information on this topic.
If you bought assembles, pre-painted (white) hives, you may not want to do anymore. Painting the hives beyond that initial coat becomes a personal decision based on your available budget for both money and time along with your personal tastes.
There’s no need to be limited to solid colors. Surfing around the internet you’ll find plenty of interesting designs decorating beehives. Feel free to express yourself.
Creatively decorating your hives could be a fun family activity.
Here’s a great video from Cutting Edge Stencils with a great way to decorate your hives:
How Much Does It Cost To Paint A Beehive?
If you don’t do anything too creative or fancy, painting a beehive is not very expensive.
According to Lowe’s paint calculator, it takes one gallon of paint to cover 200 – 300 square feet (let’s call it 250).
The exterior area of two deep and two medium 10- frame boxes is a bit over 16 square feet. Adding in a bottom board and covers, let’s round it up to 18 square feet. Two coats of paint means 36 square feet needing about 9.25 ounces of paint.
One quart of Valspar Season Flex exterior paint/primer is currently about $17.25 locally.
Based on these calculations, the amount of paint needed for the “complete” hive body described would be about $5, not including any tools.
That’s a small price to pay to protect your hives for years.
See our article How Much Does It Cost To Start Beekeeping for detailed information about the cost of your first year of beekeeping.
Do You Have To Paint A Beehive?
You do not have to paint your hives. If want to protect the wood but would prefer not to use paint, there are other options.
You can stain a hive. Deck stains designed to stand up to moisture and the sun’s UV rays are probably the best choice.
Some beekeepers use clear stains with a polyurethane coating will provided protection from the elements. If you go this route, check that your polyurethane is rated for UV exposure.
Stains and similar coatings may require more frequent refreshing than paint.
Dipping hive boxes in melted wax is great for protection from the elements. Unfortunately, the amount of wax and the equipment needed puts it beyond the reach of most backyard beekeepers.
However, if your beekeeping operation is larger enough, or if you can team up with other beekeepers, coating hives with wax is worthy of consideration. Check out the video below about wax dipping hives.
Woodenware is a major cost component of beekeeping.
Protecting beehives from elements makes them last longer, improving the return on your investment.
Painting beehives with exterior grade latex paint is a simple way to improve the longevity of your equipment and provided some decorative color to your apiary.
1 The Difference Between Interior and Exterior Paint by Kevin Jefferson – Paint & Industry Coatings