A very heavy Russian night box

RosemaryDW

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Our Russian was not satisfied with the heated plastic deck box we'd rigged up last year so I asked my husband to build a night box. He agreed and I sent him links for Tom's heated Russian box and several above ground heated shelters. I asked for something along those lines, with the added request of a lid, so I could easily check on her at night. I also wanted the inside of the box to stay as dark as possible, as light seemed to be an issue with the old box. Finally, I was hoping for a relatively small box, knowing she'd feel more comfortable.

Raccoons are our only likely predator, when and if they show up in this neighborhood, so we kept that in mind.

My husband is not one to do things the easy way; he decided to weld a box! The idea being he could get it to look somewhat like a planter box, as it is right next to our patio door.

He gathered some scrap metal and got to work.

In this construction photo; the side with three "legs" is where the door/entrance ramp will go.

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Wood panels were placed on the sides, for the planter box effect. Above and below the wood are insulation panels; the wood holds these in place.

On the inside of the lid is weather stripping, to provide a barrier to heat escape. It also proves a space to run the power cord up the back and out of the box. My husband drilled a hole so that he could drop the temperature probe in the back. The thermostat is attached to the lid with adhesive backed velcro so that we can swap it out if needed.

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The radiant heat panel is the smallest one we could find but still much larger than one small Russian tortoise! It is welded and bolted in, although double sticky tape probably would have sufficed.

I don't know how well you can see it in the first photo but the bottom is raised an inch higher than the ground. The wood inserts are sealed with silicon and the welded bottom edges are not quite three inches high. The box is in a sheltered location and we are in a dry area but if there is a crazy rainstorm, standing water would need to go higher than that to get into the box through the door edges. A little might leak in from the top.

The door/ramp has welded ridges and is secured with a barrel lock at night.

We used plain dirt inside, at depths of one to four inches. We figured it might provide a bit of climate control. It may have but she's since moved it around to suit herself. We can add a bit more but for now she seems fine with it.

Given the size of the heating element, we couldn't make the box nearly as small as hoped. My husband inserted a wood panel inside the box to break the space up and help her feel a bit more snug. It should also make it harder for a critter to get in and around to her. My cats are testing this theory now. :rolleyes: So far, so good.

The lid is about ten pounds. I'm not sure yet if that's heavy enough to deter a raccoon; we'll experiment with some latches.

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It's quite the box but would she actually use it? Fortuntely the answer is "Yes!" She spent about twenty minutes scratching around the first day, stayed inside the next night, and put herself away the third. She's still about fifty-fifty at putting herself away at night but the weather here has barely dropped below sixty so I don't haul her out of the burrow on warm nights. The thermostat is set to 65 degrees and daytime temperature gets up to about 80 in our current warm fall weather.

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While she still uses her burrow, she spends a fair amount of time in the box during the day, usually getting a final "charge" by the door in the late afternoon, when that side of the box gets some sunlight. The side of the box that sits next to the house stays a bit cooler during the day and she quickly figured out the warmest and coolest spots

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That said, she still shows signs of slowing down and I'm not sure we'll keep her awake until December as hoped. I sent my husband the links on fridge set up today. :).

Changes we are considering:

Moving the door lock or adding one to the inside of the box. We can open it from the inside but a predator can't.

Now that we've seen how much clearance space she needs, my husband will lower the height of the entrance. It hasn't happened yet but I'm pretty sure a cat could squeeze in there, which means a raccoon could as well.

Adding an additional lock or closure to the lid.

I'm not sure about the planter box "look." My husband says the metal will age to a "patina." Looks like rust to me but I won't complain!​

Hopefully the box does all the things we wanted because I don't see my husband building another. I actually can't imagine anyone else welding a box but it can be done!
 

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Anyfoot

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Cool, it's different, I like different.
Nothing's getting into that when it's locked up, that's for sure.
Not sure what your climate is like, but be careful of the sun beaming directly onto the steel, it will act like a hot oven, I would have it completely in the shade.
Also , why don't you give it a coat of paint to stop rusting. Mild steel will rust even with humid air very easily.(I'm assuming it's mild steel angle iron).
 

Yvonne G

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Just curious - isn't the weather cold enough in Newport Coast, CA for the tortoise to hibernate? Hibernation saves all the extra work of providing heat, etc. during the winter.
 

RosemaryDW

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She hibernated herself in the yard last year Yvonne but no, I don't think our weather is ideal for hibernation. We tend to have a good amount of warm and even hot weather off and on. Even if it were cold, we have a very small patio yard and the area where she tends to dig doesn't drain well, should we ever get rain again. Our house is definitely too warm!

Our vet said she could just stay up outside so long as there was a heat source but the way she is acting, I just don't think she will.

It's always a hard call. I am sure to worry about her no matter where or how she hibernates; in the fridge I can at least keep an eye on her.
 

RosemaryDW

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Not sure what your climate is like, but be careful of the sun beaming directly onto the steel, it will act like a hot oven, I would have it completely in the shade.

Definitely! It is in fairly deep shade, under our patio cover and against a wall. Our weather rarely gets truly hot but the box definitely heats up in the afternoon when the sun hits. It hit 120 degrees on the exterior last week when we were in the nineties but remained eighty inside.

I was a bit surprised to find her using it during the day because of how much she stayed previously in her slightly cooler burrow, She has plenty of hide choices so there must be something about this one she likes. I believe my husband planned for the heat reasonably well but if we note it getting hotter during the day we'll find a better spot/angle for it. Or my husband will build something entirely different!

Also , why don't you give it a coat of paint to stop rusting. Mild steel will rust even with humid air very easily.(I'm assuming it's mild steel angle iron.)

It might happen eventually. Right now he's pretty happy with the idea of a "rugged" look. He worked too hard for me to ask him to change it first thing. ;)
 

Anyfoot

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Definitely! It is in fairly deep shade, under our patio cover and against a wall. Our weather rarely gets truly hot but the box definitely heats up in the afternoon when the sun hits. It hit 120 degrees on the exterior last week when we were in the nineties but remained eighty inside.

I was a bit surprised to find her using it during the day because of how much she stayed previously in her slightly cooler burrow, She has plenty of hide choices so there must be something about this one she likes. I believe my husband planned for the heat reasonably well but if we note it getting hotter during the day we'll find a better spot/angle for it. Or my husband will build something entirely different!



It might happen eventually. Right now he's pretty happy with the idea of a "rugged" look. He worked too hard for me to ask him to change it first thing. ;)
Next year I'm going to build an enclosure using a shed for my hingebacks, options are wooden, plastic or metal sheds. Wooden is out, constant maintenance involved. I was worried metal would get too hot in the summer, plastic was going to be my option of choice. What ever I use will be fully insulated. You've got me thinking now because a metal shed is about £300 and a plastic is about £800. Let me know how your temps go please.
 
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