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Butterfly House Plans: How to Build a Butterfly House

Butterfly house

Butterfly house

DIY Butterfly House

Building a butterfly house is one of those woodworking projects that is fun to make, yet doesn't take a lot of time to complete. Just a few pieces of lumber and a couple of hours in the workshop, and the result is an interesting accent for any garden.

While entomologists and biologists question whether or not butterflies will actually use a butterfly house to take shelter from the storm, most gardeners will agree that a butterfly box looks great in the garden.

The original butterfly house was made of mahogany scraps that were headed for the landfill. I really like how the wood weathered over the years, and the lichens growing on the roof are an added bonus. It looks right at home in the garden.

The new butterfly house is made of pine. Inexpensive and readily available at home centers, pine takes paint well and will last for several seasons in the garden.

Cedar, pine and redwood are also good choices for building a butterfly house. Put outside and left untreated, the wood will weather to a warm silvery-gray color.

Here's how I made this butterfly house. It is an easy weekend project that requires just a few pieces of wood and some common hand tools. Make two, and give one as a gift to a gardening friend.

The original and weathered butterfly house made from reclaimed mahogany

The original and weathered butterfly house made from reclaimed mahogany

Wood needed for the project

Wood needed for the project

The Cutting List

To make the box, start by cutting the boards to the following dimensions:

  • Front: 22" long x 5" wide
  • Back: 22" long x 5" wide
  • Sides: 19" long x 3-½" wide (two pieces needed)
  • Roof: 4" x 5-½" (two pieces needed)
  • Bottom: 3-½" x 3-½"
  • Mounting Block: 6" x 3" x 1-½"

The butterfly house is a basic box with a peaked roof. One side opens on a simple hinge, allowing access to the inside for cleaning or for mounting it to a post.

Step 1

To cut the peaks for the roofline, mark the center of the front and back pieces. Lay out the 30-degree angles along one end of each piece. Cut along the marks to form the peaked ends.

Entrance slots

Entrance slots

Step 2

Next, lay out the entrance slots on the front section. The butterfly box in the diagram (below) has six slots that are 5" long by 3/8" wide. The exact locations are not critical. I centered the middle slots, then laid out the locations for other slots in a pleasing pattern.

Step 3

I used 3/8" Forstner bit to drill holes at each end of the slot, followed by a jig saw to cut out the rest of the slot. Any rough spots were smoothed out with a file.

Step 4

Cut one edge of the roof sections at a 30-degree angle to match the peaks on the front and back pieces. Fitted together, the 30-degree cuts on the roof sections form the peaked roof.

Step 5

I stained and painted the pieces before beginning the final assembly. The front piece is painted red, and the roof sections are stained ebony black. The rest of the pieces were stained white. Only the exterior was painted or stained.

Drill holes at the end of the slots

Drill holes at the end of the slots

Some Assembly Required

Step 6

Begin the assembly by attaching the front to one of the side pieces with exterior screws or nails. Align the bottom edges of both pieces before securing them together.

Step 7

Attach the bottom to the front and side assembly, and then attach the back section.

Step 8

Line up the remaining side with the bottom of the front and back pieces. To create a hinged door, secure the side section to the front assembly with one nail or screw driven into the edge approximately 1" down from the top.

Step 9

Then, finish the hinged side by driving one nail or screw through the back to form a pivot point. Position the hinge nails or screws in the front and back sections directly across from each other, enabling the door to open easily (refer to the side view drawing).


Step 10

Drill and countersink a screw hole along the center of the bottom edge of the hinged door. A single short screw will secure the door, yet allow easy access to the butterfly boxes for cleaning.

Step 11

Position the roof sections by attaching the pieces to the front and back sections. Do not nail the roof pieces to the side section which forms the hinged door. The butterfly box is ready for the garden, or for some brightly colored paint.

Step 12

Mount the finished garden butterfly box to a post in the garden. To use a section of ¾" copper pipe as a post, attach a small piece of wood (approximately 6" long x 3" wide x 1-½" thick) to the inside of the butterfly house, securing it from the back with a couple of nails or screws. Drill a ¾" hole through the bottom and into the block, and then mount the butterfly box onto a section of copper pipe.

DIY butterfly house plans

DIY butterfly house plans

The finished house!

The finished house!

Attracting Them to Your Garden

Butterflies are beautiful creatures, and every gardener enjoys seeing these delightful insects floating and fluttering amidst the blooms in their gardens. Inviting the many different types of butterflies, such as Monarchs, swallowtails, painted ladies and red admirals, is as easy as planting the types of plants and flowers that they like to eat, both as caterpillars and then later on as adults.

Attracting butterflies to the garden does not require a lot of space, and many nectar-providing annuals and perennials can be grown successfully in containers. Planting the types of plants that butterflies need for each phase of their lifecycle from laying eggs and feeding hungry caterpillars to providing nectar for adults ensures that these wonderful visitors to your gardens year after year.

Butterflies are attracted to flowers with bright colors and a strong fragrance. Plant your butterfly garden in full sun, and include the blooms of purple coneflowers, coreopsis and tickseeds, bee balm, and the popular buddleia butterfly bushes. Many annuals offer nectar-filled blooms, including cosmos, marigolds and geraniums. Adding native plants such as goldenrod, thistle and Joe Pye weed increases the diversity in the garden and provides natural food sources for butterflies, and may encourage butterflies to stay in the garden longer and perhaps, to lay their eggs and begin the cycle for the next generation.

Add a water source such as a birdbath. Change the water often to keep it fresh, and place a few small stones on the bottom of the birdbath to provide landing areas for the butterflies.

To keep the butterflies and their caterpillars healthy, avoid using broad-spectrum pesticides that kill the beneficial insects along with all of the bad bugs.

And don't forget to add a butterfly house!

Tips for Attracting Butterflies

  • Plant a perennial flower garden
  • Include milkweeds and native wildflowers
  • Provide shrubs for shelter
  • Avoid using pesticides
  • Don't forget a water source
  • Build a butterfly house!

Butterfly Facts

  • There are over 17,000 species of butterflies worldwide. More than 750 species of butterflies live in North America.
  • The smallest butterfly, the blue pigmy found in California, is less than ½ inch in size. The largest butterfly is the Queen Alexandra of New Guinea and can measure 12 inches from wingtip to wingtip.
  • Butterflies cannot eat, and can only drink. Used to sip nectar from flowers, the butterfly's long flexible tongue is called the proboscis.
  • Butterflies can see ultraviolet light, which aids them in their search for nectar-filled flowers. They are only active during the day and rest at night in sheltered areas.
  • Butterflies cannot hear. They taste through their feet and smell through their antenna.
  • Many types of butterflies have toxic chemicals in their bodies. Their brightly colored wings warn birds and other potential predators of their foul-tasting chemical defense.
  • Most adult butterflies live only 20 to 40 days. Some can live up to six months, though some live for only a few days.

A Video by Bird Man Mel

This short video shows you how to attract butterflies to your backyard, how to keep them coming back, and to create a natural and butterfly safe environment.

Swallowtail visitor

Swallowtail visitor

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Does a butterfly house really work?

Answer: While gardeners may question whether or not butterflies will actually use a butterfly house, most will agree that a butterfly box looks great in the garden.

Question: Should anything be put inside of the butterfly house for them to rest on such as moss or bark?

Answer: I placed a couple of sticks and sturdy plant stalks into the butterfly house an angle to provide the bugs with a place to land and rest.

Question: Does the butterfly house have to be narrow?

Answer: The shape and overall dimensions are not critical. I shared the shape and sizes that I use for my butterfly houses. Have fun building yours!

Question: I'm making the butterfly house. I have made the 30 degree angle on the front and back boards but it is not matching with the two sides. Do I need to modify it with another angle cut to match up with the side boards?

Answer: The front and back pieces are longer than the side pieces (not including the peaks). When the box is assembled with all of the bottom edges aligned, the sides are shorter than the front and back. This creates a gap under the roofline for air circulation.

If your side pieces meet up with the angled peaks of the front and back sections, you can either shorten the length of the side pieces or cut the top edges at the same 30-degree angle as the roof line. Then the pieces should line up correctly.

Question: You don't mention what length and width of boards are needed to accomplish the task described in this article?

Answer: The Cutting List section outlines the dimensions for each piece:

Front: 22" long x 5" wide

Back: 22" long x 5" wide

Sides: 19" long x 3-½" wide (two pieces needed)

Roof: 4" x 5-½" (two pieces needed)

Bottom: 3-½" x 3-½"

Mounting Block: 6" x 3" x 1-½"

Have fun building the butterfly house for your garden!

Question: How high off the ground should the butterfly house be placed?

Answer: The Butterfly Gardening website recommends mounting the butterfly house about 4 feet above the ground and in a sunny location. They also suggest placing a few pieces of tree bark inside the house to provide additional shelter and a place for the butterflies to roost.

Question: When should the butterfly house be cleaned?

Answer: I clean out the butterfly houses in late spring, waiting for a stretch of several sunny days to warm to roust any hibernating insects from their winter retreats. I'll add a few more twigs and leaves to the inside of the box as resting spots for any bugs taking shelter from the weather.

© 2011 Anthony Altorenna

Tell Us About Your Butterfly Garden

perry on August 14, 2019:

its good making for school

Chris and Gay Glover on November 03, 2017:

Found our dill plants covered with swallowtail eggs. We protected them and fed them 20 pots of dill. After that was gone, We fed them five pots of parsley which was eaten down to the nubs of stems.

We now have over fifty cocoons which should start hatching in one week.

Looking fwd to the occasion and we plan a "release party".

Excited for such "nature" occurrences.

Kenneth Avery on May 22, 2017:

Thanks a million for publishing this most-helpful hub.

When I am not occupied with HubPages, I build all

types of Wren/Bluebird houses and now thanks to you,

I am going to build a butterfly house, but only to GIVE

to a friend of mine who is waiting for a liver transplant.

No. I did not put this here to be shallow or gain favor in

the hereafter. She is a good friend of our home and I just

felt that it was the thing to do.

God bless you for this hub.

Martina from Croatia, Europe on October 07, 2013:

I don't have a garden, but I love to watch butterflies when visiting my parents. They love lavender the most, and they adore to rest on roses when they are in bloom.

RoSelou on September 14, 2013:

I am interested in breeding a butterfly looking moth, building a butterfly house is probably needed in my plan. I never knew it existed.

geosum on May 24, 2013:

I love butterflies. Those butterfly houses are really neat. If I had a garden, I'd want to have one. Thanks for a great lens.

Cynthia Haltom from Diamondhead on May 03, 2013:

I never knew butterfly houses existed, thanks for sharing this information.

fifinn on March 31, 2013:

I do not have a garden, but I really like the explanation of the butterfly in this lens.

anonymous on March 20, 2013:

The butterfly house is so nice, i have not see it before, it is look so funny, and it is a good idea for leaving the butterfly if they would like to stay in it.

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on January 29, 2013:

Lots of great ideas. I love watching butterflies in my garden.

Gregory Moore from Louisville, KY on January 14, 2013:

We always plant lots of flowers, so we get the benefit of lots of butterflies!

Bellezza-Decor from Canada on January 03, 2013:

Never heard of homes for butterflies. Nice concept!

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on December 28, 2012:

I love seeing the butterflies flutter around our back yard. I always envision them as small fairy creatures. Dragonflies are another of my favorite summertime visitors. How can you not like an insect that eats mosquitoes?

SassyGie on November 26, 2012:

I love butterflies but I don't have my own garden due to limited space here in the city... I love visiting butterfly gardens though!

anonymous on July 12, 2012:

I love the wood theme you are now using to encourage us to make those butterfly houses....every home should have one!

pawpaw911 on July 03, 2012:

Another great DIY project. We have Lantana in our yard, and the butterflies really like it.

Pam Irie from Land of Aloha on June 27, 2012:

The butterfly houses are charming!

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on June 18, 2012:

The butterflies really enjoy our Mimosa Tree. I loved visiting this page and all the great instructions on building a butterfly house and all the other wonderful information and pictures.

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on June 09, 2012:

Ooooh, I don't have a butterfly house and I need one! Great instructions!

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on June 03, 2012:

I'm actually surprised by how early the butterflies arrived here at high altitude. Now that the cacti and other wildflowers are starting to bloom, I expect I'll be seeing even more of these beautiful winged creatures. Having a butterfly box intrigues me. Thanks for the tips, ideas, and plans. Appreciated!

Jeanette from Australia on May 24, 2012:

I like most butterflies, but I'm not that fond of the white cabbage butterfly!

LynetteBell from Christchurch, New Zealand on May 21, 2012:

In New Zealand loads of people cultivate the swan plant to attract the Monarch butterfly but I've never seen a butterfly box before. Thanks for the information!

jazziyarbrough on May 19, 2012:

Yes. very useful article, thanks for sharing, and I love butterflies, and I may decide to make a butterfly house one day!

anonymous on April 24, 2012:

Now I want a Butterfly House in my garden!

anonymous on March 31, 2012:

I have a butterfly garden and we get lot's of monarchs. I am sure they would love a house. Another awesome lens Anthony, always a pleasure.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on March 23, 2012:

I had no idea that there was such a thing as a butterfly house. How very novel and magical a gardening idea it is. Very charming.

anonymous on February 25, 2012:

Spring is just around the corner and this is a good time to get started building those butterfly houses to get them in place in your yard. My sister grows milkweed so that its ready for when the Monarchs come to her yard, I would guess she has it started already.

mrducksmrnot on August 12, 2011:

Another of your great lens. The butterfly box is on my list of to do asap. Love these ideas.

anonymous on July 22, 2011:

How wonderful to provide shelter for the delicate butterflies. I had never heard of a butterfly house but love the idea and it does look very cool.