Last Updated: November 10, 2022

Build a Bee Hotel

By Published On: August 6th, 20209.9 min readCategories: Garden, Projects

Last Updated: November 10, 2022

A Bee Hotel is a shelter that attracts native pollinators to your yard

A bee hotel in a field

Hotel de Sage – a hotel for native bees and other insects

Building a Bee Hotel

Last winter my wife sent me a link to an article on insekthotels (aka “insect or bee hotel”) from a popular German nature website. If you’re not familiar with these (don’t feel bad, I wasn’t either), they’re basically the same as a birdhouse except for insects instead of birds. And, like a birdhouse, there’s all kinds of design options based on the insects you’re trying to attract.

The insect hotels in the article were huge and elaborate pieces of art, built like Alpine chateaus, castles and sod-covered hobbit houses. Nice to look at, but nothing I was going to imitate (too fancy and I don’t do fancy), but they did look cool, so I decided to learn more about them.

What Bees Live Here?

The first thing I learned was you need to know what kind of insects live around you. If you don’t, you might end up spending a whole bunch of time building nests for bugs that live only in Northern Europe even though your hotel is in Southern California.

After schooling myself on the locals who might be guests for my hotel, I decided that most of the bugs have plenty of nesting space in the surrounding area. Native bees, however, are having trouble, so I decided to make my hotel bee-centric (though not bee-exclusive — all insects are welcome).

Native Bees

The West coast of North America as well as Arizona, New Mexico and the northern states of Mexico are home to many varieties of native bees — up to 1,600 distinct species by some estimates. Most of these bees are solitary or live in small colonies. There is no queen, no massive hive, or stinging like there is with the European honey bee.

map of where native bees live

Range for native wood bees in the western U.S.

It’s no surprise that bees living in the arid climate of the west are for the most part ground-dwellers and lay their eggs in burrows or tunnels. A few, however, nest in wood, which is much harder to come by. Here in the bottom left hand corner of America, there are three species we see on a regular basis:

California Mason Bee

photo credit: UC Davis Public Garden and Arboretum

Mason bee (Osmia Californica)
These guys are a smaller bee — about the size of a honey bee — but usually darker without the pronounced yellow stripes. Solitary and non-aggressive, they’re called mason bees because they use mud to seal the cocoon and some pollen for food in small cavities.

photo credit: UC Davis Public Garden and Arboretum

California Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa californica)
This is the big, black shiny slow moving bee we were all scared of as kids. Despite it’s badass looks, it’s actually very docile and a great pollinator because of the sheer amount of pollen it can carry. (Seriously. If a honey bee is a hatchback car, a carpenter bee is more like a 30-foot semi tractor-trailer.) It’s known as the carpenter bee because it hollows out old and rotting wood in which to lay its eggs.

photo credit: UC Davis Public Garden and Arboretum

Leafcutter bee, (Megachilidae ssp.)
A cousin of the mason bee, this one likes to line its nesting tubes with pieces of leaf it cuts (thus the name). It carries its pollen on the underside of its abdomen instead of the legs like a honeybee. To pick up pollen it uses a swishy side-to-side motion sort of like a Swiffer Sweeper, so it’s really good at spreading the pollen around. (It’s probably a great way to scratch and itch too.)

Designing the Bee Hotel

Since our native bees are all wood nesters I decided to skip construction materials like bricks and pottery I saw in other insect hotels and use only wood for the “rooms” in the hotel. Otherwise, I stuck pretty much to the building guidelines:

  1. at least 3 feet from the ground
  2. 9 to 12 inches deep
  3. a variety of woods and nesting cavity sizes

My Bee Hotel Plan

a drawing for a bee hotel

My bee hotel plan

The size and shape of this design isn’t anything special other than this is wood I already had lying around. The hotel’s legs are pressure treated 2x4s leftover from an landscaping project, and the body is made from 1×10 pine boards salvaged from a built in bookcase I’d recently torn out.

My original design was a narrow building, 6 feet tall with an A-frame roof like I’d seen in the German article, but it turned out to be highly unstable, so I switched to a shed roof made from a corrugated steel panel that hung off the back far enough to act as a counter balance. It also provided some shade and rain cover to the back of the hotel.

Once the design was done, it was pretty much just a matter of cutting the wood and screwing and gluing the hotel together.

Materials list

Bee Hotel Body (1 x 10 shelf boards)

Qty Length
4 1 x 10 x 36 in.
3 1 x 10 x 19-1/2 in.
2 1 x 10 x 11-1/2 in.

Bee Hotel Frame (pressure treated 2 x 4s)

Qty Length
4 2 x 4 x 72 in.
4 2 x 4 x 24-1/2 in.

Bee Hotel “Rooms” (variety of cut logs)

Qty Length
24 – 36 9-1/2 in.

Bee Hotel Roof

Qty Length
1 26 in. x 36 in. corrugated steel panel

Other Supplies

  • 1-5/8 in. exterior screws
  • Spray paint


  • Saw
  • Drill
  • 5/8 in., ½ in. and ¾ in. drill bits

Putting it Together

1) Assemble the body

For the hotel body, I used the four 36 in. boards to make the back and sides of the box. The back was made from two 36 in. boards laid flat side-by-side. The other two 36 in. boards were screwed to the edges to make the sides.

The three 19-1/2 in. boards were screwed to the back and sides to make the bottom of the box and the two shelves, roughly 12 in. apart, inside it. The top was left open.

Finally, on the top shelf of the box (next to the open end), I slid the two 11-½ in. boards in vertically and screwed them in place to make three roughly equal-sized compartments.

2) Attach the legs

Attaching the legs to the bee hotel

Once the hotel body was complete, I screwed the four 72 in. 2x4s to the outside of the box to make the hotel’s legs. The two front legs were screwed to the side of the box. The back two were screwed to the back of the box (not the side).

3) Add the roof

With the hotel lying down, I placed one of the 24-½ in. 2x4s on the top of the hotel on the front set of legs and screwed it into place. This is the front support for the roof.

Then I flipped the hotel over, took another 24-½ in. 2×4 and placed it on the back of the hotel body 3-¾ in. below the top of the box. I made sure it aligned so there was 1-¾ in. overhang on both sides. Then I screwed the board into place through the back legs. This is the back support for the roof.

With the hotel still lying on its face, I took one of the remaining 2x4s, rested it on edge on the back roof support and pulled it forward until the top front edge of the board lined up with the top front edge of the front roof support. Then I used a pencil to scribe the angle the side board met the front support at, and cut the end off at the proper angle with a hand saw. These are the side supports for the roof.

To finish off the roof frame, I screwed the side supports to the frame so that the sides rested on top of the back supports and lined up with the top of the front support, so the roof would pitch backward over the hotel.

Finally, I put the corrugated steel sheet on top and lined it up so the front had about 10 in. of overhang, and the back a couple of feet. Then I screwed the roof to the frame

To make the front side of the hotel look a little more “finished” at the top, I cut a piece of leftover cedar fence picket and screwed it in place to cover the opening completely.

4) Finishing up

I had a can of barn red primer handy, so the hotel got a coating of rusty red paint.

paint a bee hotel with primer

Painting the bee hotel

Once the paint was dry I carried the hotel down to the lower yard and stood it up in an area that I’m turning into a “poultry-friendly” Mediterranean garden (which is more difficult than it sounds).

To make sure it remained standing in high winds and storms, I hammered a couple of 18-in stakes into the ground and secured them to the bee hotel’s legs with exterior screws. The hotel was ready to have the “rooms” installed.

Once I had it secured, I drilled ½-inch, 5/8-in and ¾-in holes in a variety of wood logs — oak for the critters that like the hardwoods, and pine and agave stalk, for those that like burrowing in the soft wood.

I also cut up a bunch of Arundo cane for the tube dwellers, and drilled some redwood blocks for the smaller bees that like orderly condo living.

Finally, I topped it all off with the sign “Hotel de Sage” to let everyone know it was open for business.

The completed Bee Hotel

Bee Hotel Occupants

I built the bee hotel in spring because I knew the bees wouldn’t be looking for nesting sites until late summer and early fall. Since my potential guests are all fans of old and rotting wood, I figured 4-6 months would ensure that the “new bee hotel” smell would be gone by then.

Over the months I’ve inspected the hotel now and again to see who’s taken up residence. I spotted a couple of tunnel spiders (love those reeds), a mud wasp, and a little fence lizard, but never any native bees. From my reading, this was normal. Many people said they didn’t get any bees even years later, so I wasn’t too surprised to not see any myself (It’s not like there’s a Yelp for bees to find hotels near them).

But then yesterday, I went down to the hotel to grab a couple of quick photos for this post, when I spotted this.

Yep, that’s a carpenter bee who’s making herself at home in an agave log (¾-inch hole – they’re big)!

Closer inspection revealed that at least three logs are occupied (as evidenced by the sawdust being kicked out of the holes), but I’m hoping by the time fall rolls around a lot more of the spots will be taken as well. But even if they aren’t, I’m still really happy with the success of this bee hotel in its first year of operation.

If you’ve ever thought about building one of these for your own native bees, I highly recommend it. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as knowing that all kinds of nature finds home in your garden.

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About the Author

author avatar
Sage Osterfeld
I’m just a guy with nearly an acre of dirt, a nice little mid-century ranch house and a near-perfect climate. But in my mind I’m a landscaper survivalist craftsman chef naturalist with a barbeque the size of a VW and my own cable TV show. I like to write about the stuff I build, grow and see here at Sage's Acre.


  1. […] year I built a bee hotel in the hope of providing housing for some of our native bees. It looks like it worked because I can […]

  2. […] prefer the canopy of trees and leafy shrubs), but I read the same thing about Insect Hotels, and the one I built has been quite popular with the local critter crowd. So, I figured, “what the heck, I’ll make […]

  3. […] you’re interested in how I built my bee hotel, check out my “Build a Bee Hotel” post. It has the general guidelines for bee hotel basics as well as a little background on the […]

  4. […] been three years since I learned about “bee hotels” and decided to build my own to help out our local pollinators. Despite the many comments I read from others who said their […]

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