beekeeping equipment ventilation

Ventilation Part 3: Warré hives take ventilation seriously

When we hear the term “ventilation” we often think of a source of fresh air. But ventilation is also a means of ridding the internal environment of excess heat, moisture, carbon dioxide, and airborne toxins and pathogens.

Like any other animal, bees use oxygen and emit carbon dioxide and water vapor. The air containing these substances is warmed by the bees’ bodies and rises to the top of the hive. If there is no way for this air to leave, water vapor condenses inside the roof or under the inner cover. When enough water accumulates it forms drops that fall back on the cluster and chill the bees.[1]

If the stale air cannot get out, fresh air cannot get in. In a stagnant environment such as this, the concentration of oxygen goes down while the concentration of carbon dioxide goes up. In addition, airborne spores from fungus and mold can build to extraordinary levels, and so can other airborne pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. In my opinion, ventilation is one of the most overlooked elements of beekeeping.

Of the hive types I am familiar with, the Warré hive seems to have the best built-in ventilation. The Warré hive is essentially a top-bar style (meaning frameless) hive in boxes that are stacked like a Langstroth. However, above the topmost set of bars, a piece of starched burlap covers the entire box. Above this is a “quilt.” The quilt is a shallow super with a burlap bottom that contains materials such as sawdust, dry leaves, straw, or woodchips. These materials absorb moisture from the air so that it does not drop onto the bees below.

Above the quilt is a mouse-proof board and on top of that is a gabled roof with ridge vents and eave vents. These vents dissipate solar heat much like the attic of your home.

The only change I would make to the standard Warré hive would be to put vents in the sides of the quilt box as well. These could be drilled through the sides of the box and covered from the inside with hardware cloth much like the holes in a ventilated feeder frame. Air would diffuse through the material, allowing it to dry, without causing an excessive draft in the brood boxes. At the same time it would provide a pathway for carbon dioxide-laden air to leave and fresh, oxygen-rich air to come in.

In any case, studying the plans for a Warré hive can give you some good ideas about creating ventilation for your bees no matter what style of hive you are using.


[1] Evaporation is a cooling process, so as the water evaporates from the bees they become cold. It’s much like stepping out of a bath into a cold room.

Warre hive showing quilt and attic. Flickr photo by Blumenbiene/Maja Dumat.


  • I want to thank you wholeheartedly for all of your work, research, and posting of all the experiences and time with your bees. Thank you. I deeply appreciate this blog where I can refer to information that concerns how to take care of my bees the best I can.

    This late June I collected a swarm that got trapped by bad weather in one of our ceder trees. I got them into a borrowed box from an old timer I trusted. Three days later I only had 50-70 bees left. They were starving to death. The old timer told me not to bother wasting my time and he would help me in the next spring.

    Me being me, I agreed but went home and did my best level effort to save the few I had. Now I have 1000s of bees and am dealing with ventilation issues. I am also the proud owner of the most gentle hive I have ever been around.

    I look forward to coming to your website and finding the information I need as a growing beekeeper. It is wonderful to find a keeper that has dealt with and worked out the information I am just bumping into and wanting to learn about.

    Most Gratefully.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I am needing direction —>
    I am looking at redirecting beehives boxes to something lighter and easier for me to handle. I have a condition that is causing me to slowly lose the strength in my shoulders and arms. I can’t hardly pick up a deep super anymore when it’s full of bees and honey. The pain is getting to be unbearable.

    I don’t let it keep me from doing the things I want to do, in this case – keep bees. I just need to find a box hive system that is tested and proved and much lighter than what I currently am using.

    So Warrè popped up to my attention again. When I try to research it, I just become lost – dazed and confused.
    When I tried to talk to one of the ol’ timer bee eepers – I swear he looked at me like I spouted horns out of my head and spun in circles three times, then turned into some kind of beekeeper nut job!

    Can u give me a name of a book – a link to go to – anything would be helpful. I need a solid ground beneath my feet – there is so much out there that it’s hard to strain out what I should be paying attention to and what is someone’s theory of ‘proper’.

    My condition is not stoppable – I’ve come to terms with it. I just have to be smarter about how to keep doing what I get so much enjoyment from – I’d like to keep beekeeping for another 10 years.

    Thank you so much.

    • Monica,

      Don’t listen to anyone with an attitude; just forget them. Have you read my post on the Valhalla Long Hive? That might be a perfect answer. Here’s the link.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Many beekeepers using the Lang system that have adopted the quilt do so only for winter as a moisture trap. However, if you are using Warré system, where the quilt and top bar cloth are left on the hive all year long, you end up with a propolized cloth than does not allow moisture to pass.

    It took me a while to sort out that most Warré users seem to see it as an advantage to have the top of the hive sealed to prevent the loss of rising warm hive air (the concept of ‘Nestduftwärmebindung’ is often referenced), as well as to keep the quilt dry (as a dry quilt can perform better as an insulator).

    I’ve had great success using a propolised top bar cloth under my Warré quilt:

    • Shawn,

      I have seen the propolized cloth used to excellent effect in long hives. But if your primary purpose is to use the quilt box as a moisture trap, moisture-laden air will have to pass through the cloth. So much of this depends on your local climate. Where I keep bees, winter cold is not much of a problem, but winter humidity is.

      • As mentioned above, the only purpose of the quilt is to act as an insulator.

        I can’t speak to your location, but I can say upper ventilation is considered essential by nearly all beekeepers in my region. However, my propolised cloth experiment has proven this idea wrong over the last five years.

        • Shawn,

          That may have been true at one time, especially for Warre beekeepers. But Langstroth keepers have adapted the idea as a way to trap moisture. Several changes have occurred. For example, I use hardware cloth on the bottom to avoid the propolis complication. During the years I’ve run this site, literally thousands of beekeepers have expressed their amazement at how well the system works, and how their drippy covers are now totally dry and their top bars are dry and their bees are dry. I never considered the quilt box as a form of insulation, only a form of moisture control. But since only the top 1/4-inch retains moisture, the bottom few inches remain light and fluffy and certainly do act as insulation. We modified the name to reflect the changes we made and call it a “moisture quilt.” Beekeeping evolves. Some beekeepers evolve along with it, and some don’t.

          Upper ventilation is essential. I never said otherwise, which is why I encourage lots of ventilation ports in the moisture quilt, and why I also add an Imirie shim below it. I don’t see where you coming from on that.

          There are a number of excellent Warre beekeeping sites on the internet, and I encourage you to look around and find one that suits you. You will be happier associating with like-minded individuals.

          • What I’m suggesting is the upper ventilation question is something you may wish to consider more deeply. I initially understood your method to be the best way, however, in discussing with other beekeepers investigating this issue I was informed there are potential negative consequences to upper ventilation.

            While the idea that upper ventilation might be easier to swallow for warré users, where more often than not upper ventilation is not used, it is a consideration relevant to all hive types. It’s worth noting the detailed observations Dennis Murrell has made on condensation in lang hives, or the comments made by Seeley and others at the 15:10 mark of the video entitled ‘One question many have several different answers – Panel discussion on beekeeping’ recently posted to the National Honey Show youtube channel.

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