Help Bees Thrive in Your Backyard with This Free DIY Bee Home Design Tool

This summer, you can do your part to help bees with a simple backyard project. Launched in celebration of World Bee Day on May 20, a free online tool is making it easy to design a bee home for your outdoor space to help protect these important insects.

Brendan Austin/courtesy Space10

The goal of the Bee Home project (a collaboration between IKEA's research and design lab, Space10, design studio Bakken & Bæck, and industrial designer Tanita Klein) is to make it simple for anyone to create a habitat to support local bee populations. The wood structures, which you can design online and assemble yourself, are essentially tiny apartment complexes for the species, offering safe shelter as their natural habitats are disrupted by urban growth. Ranging in height from about 2.5 inches to 10.5 inches, the homes include small holes that mimic those bees typically bore into trees or the ground for storing food and laying eggs.

The habitats are designed for solitary bees, which don't produce honey but help pollinate the nearly 90% of flowering plants that require pollination across the globe, including about a third of what we eat, according to Space10. Because female solitary bees each produce 20 to 30 offspring, "a single Bee Home could give life to hundreds of solitary bees," the website says.

To create your own bee home, use the website's free design tool to customize a carpentry plan with your desired dimensions, number of levels, and layout. Once finalized, you can download and print out the instructions. Next, purchase some hardwood such as oak or cedar (make sure the boards have been kiln-dried or air-dried to remove moisture) and use the website's community tool to locate an available workshop or find a local manufacturer with a CNC milling machine, a computerized cutting tool that works well for custom designs, to help you cut the pieces. Then assemble the snap-together design following the instructions (which shouldn't require any additional tools or adhesives) and place the bee home in an outdoor space near flowers. Depending on the design you choose, the structures can be set on a flat surface, mounted on a wall, or staked into the ground. Your bee home can last up to 30 years and should be disassembled and cleaned with warm water and vinegar every three years.

Ideally, you should face the bee home toward the morning sun and place it next to a wall or under a tree to protect it from strong winds. Planting native wildflowers can also help attract inhabitants. Once your garden is planted and your bee home is set up, all that's left to do is wait for your new neighbors to arrive.