Need advice on building a heated night box for SW Florida

FLZooMom

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Jan 1, 2021
Messages
12
Location (City and/or State)
SWFL
First, let me say I did do a search before posting this but I can't find any answers to my specific area; everything is for well insulated night boxes. Or for multiple torts or much larger torts.

So, we've had Morla for about 2.5 years now (she's 4) and she lives outside 99% of the time but occasionally we get a few days of cool temperatures and we bring her in. She hates it. I want to build her a box something like what @ZEROPILOT uses for his redfoots with just a CHE hanging so she can stay outside full time. It doesn't need to be insulated because it just doesn't get cold enough for that here but I will make sure that the back of it faces the north so on windy days the wind won't blow in.

I'm not sure what size to make it nor what kind of wood. I was planning to do it without a floor and a slightly sloping hinged lid to let the rain run off. Can I use pressure treated wood if I let it sit out for several months? If not, what kind of paint should I use? If I can't use pressure treated since it'll have contact with the ground I want to make sure it doesn't rot out so I'll be painting it inside and out. How big should the door be? Obviously, I'd like the house to last her for several years so making the door the right size will help facilitate that.

Thanks in advance for any help. I have the skills and the tools to build it I just want to be sure I do it right the first time.
 

Tom

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What species?

On a recent visit to SWFL, March I think it was, I came out one morning and my digital thermometer said it was 49 degrees. You probably remember that unusual cold spell. You need insulation for a tropical species in an area that occasionally gets down into the 40s and 50s in winter. I know of a torotise keeper over toward Pine Island that said on rare winter nights it gets down to near freezing.

An insulated box will serve you better in the heat as well. Its gets to 110 in my area in summer. My insulated boxes typically stay in the 80s, even in that heat in partial sun part of the day. An insulated box will also last longer since its thicker. You need to have a solid insulated bottom too.

CHEs shouldn't be used in this application because they will tend to slow-burn the carapace. You'd be better served by a Kane mat and RHP combo, or with a mini oil filled radiant heater. Either of these heating strategies is safe and efficient in an insulated box, and a thermostat will keep the heat off the majority of the time in your climate, but turn it on when needed.

The minimum size I'd recommend to accommodate heating elements and do this correctly is a 4x4' box, which is only 39x39x21" inside. Like this: https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/single-tortoise-night-box.181515/

Here is an example of a larger one showing more of the internal construction:


Scroll down into this thread and I show a third way to do it with explanation:
 

dd33

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Florida
We are located in "Central Florida" on the East Coast. We can expect to see a couple of nights in the low 30s every year. This is our second generation night box for our Aldabras. It is around 8x4 with two entry doors for the tortoises and two entry doors for us to clean it out. It is made with pressure treated lumber, that would be a must in Florida. I didn't paint the outside but I should have. The inside is lined in two layers of 3/4" R-Max foam insulation. There is a strip of tileboard around the bottom to protect the insulation. We have two Kane mats and one oil filled heater, all on separate thermostats on two separate electrical circuits for redundancy. The tortoise doors have clear plastic strips over them to keep the heat in. On those 30 degree nights we block the door shut from the outside with a piece of insulation just to be safe. The roof is corrugated metal over plywood. We don't have a solid bottom, just a thick layer sand.

Our tortoises are quickly outgrowing their doors and we have found that we need to have 1 door per animal. Sometimes they like to sit in the doorway and one of them will get stuck outside.
We added a fish eye camera inside to we can check and make sure that they are in the house on cold nights.

aldabra (2).jpg tortoisehouse.jpg
 

FLZooMom

Member
Joined
Jan 1, 2021
Messages
12
Location (City and/or State)
SWFL
What species?

On a recent visit to SWFL, March I think it was, I came out one morning and my digital thermometer said it was 49 degrees. You probably remember that unusual cold spell. You need insulation for a tropical species in an area that occasionally gets down into the 40s and 50s in winter. I know of a torotise keeper over toward Pine Island that said on rare winter nights it gets down to near freezing.

An insulated box will serve you better in the heat as well. Its gets to 110 in my area in summer. My insulated boxes typically stay in the 80s, even in that heat in partial sun part of the day. An insulated box will also last longer since its thicker. You need to have a solid insulated bottom too.

CHEs shouldn't be used in this application because they will tend to slow-burn the carapace. You'd be better served by a Kane mat and RHP combo, or with a mini oil filled radiant heater. Either of these heating strategies is safe and efficient in an insulated box, and a thermostat will keep the heat off the majority of the time in your climate, but turn it on when needed.

The minimum size I'd recommend to accommodate heating elements and do this correctly is a 4x4' box, which is only 39x39x21" inside. Like this: https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/single-tortoise-night-box.181515/

Here is an example of a larger one showing more of the internal construction:


Scroll down into this thread and I show a third way to do it with explanation:
I forgot to mention that she's a redfoot. I thought I had put that in there but clearly, I didn't. Duh.

OK, I can see adding insulation panels inside and it won't up the cost that much based on a quick search. I've seen the build you linked but, to me, it seemed a bit overkill for my area. I guess I'm going to have to do some more research. On very very rare occasions it gets into the 40s and it's even rarer for it to approach freezing. In fact, it seems as if our winters have been getting warmer here as evidenced by the fact that the fleas and ticks are here in full force all year round and I haven't had to cover my orchids or move them indoors.

I'm not too worried about it getting too hot in the box because during summer it'll be in the shade, it's only winter when the leaves drop on the tree that it'll get sun on it and that might be helpful.

Believe me when I say I'm not arguing here. It's mostly a stream of consciousness while I rethink my original plans. I'm glad I asked first.

Now, back to pressure treated vs not? What's your thoughts on that if I let the wood sit for a few months before I build and put her in it?

For a 4'x4' box I'm definitely going to have to add that additional 8' on her yard or else it'll take up way too much space.
 

FLZooMom

Member
Joined
Jan 1, 2021
Messages
12
Location (City and/or State)
SWFL
We are located in "Central Florida" on the East Coast. We can expect to see a couple of nights in the low 30s every year. This is our second generation night box for our Aldabras. It is around 8x4 with two entry doors for the tortoises and two entry doors for us to clean it out. It is made with pressure treated lumber, that would be a must in Florida. I didn't paint the outside but I should have. The inside is lined in two layers of 3/4" R-Max foam insulation. There is a strip of tileboard around the bottom to protect the insulation. We have two Kane mats and one oil filled heater, all on separate thermostats on two separate electrical circuits for redundancy. The tortoise doors have clear plastic strips over them to keep the heat in. On those 30 degree nights we block the door shut from the outside with a piece of insulation just to be safe. The roof is corrugated metal over plywood. We don't have a solid bottom, just a thick layer sand.

Our tortoises are quickly outgrowing their doors and we have found that we need to have 1 door per animal. Sometimes they like to sit in the doorway and one of them will get stuck outside.
We added a fish eye camera inside to we can check and make sure that they are in the house on cold nights.

View attachment 330302 View attachment 330303
Oh goodness! I'm glad I have a little one. That's a huge house and those are huge torts! They look really good, too! I guess you never have problems with bullying even with the difference in sizes?

All the rain we get here for half the year is exactly why I'm leaning towards pressure treated. I don't want it to disintegrate after a year of being out in the elements. I hadn't thought about a metal roof but I really like that idea now. And all the sand is why I was thinking of not adding a floor. I can remove the grass/weeds in that area and just let her be able to burrow right into the ground like she does now when she wants to cool off.

I'm sure you know but they do sell paint that's meant to recondition the wood and seal it, maybe you could do that when the rainy season is over?
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
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Joined
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Messages
54,442
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
I forgot to mention that she's a redfoot. I thought I had put that in there but clearly, I didn't. Duh.

OK, I can see adding insulation panels inside and it won't up the cost that much based on a quick search. I've seen the build you linked but, to me, it seemed a bit overkill for my area. I guess I'm going to have to do some more research. On very very rare occasions it gets into the 40s and it's even rarer for it to approach freezing. In fact, it seems as if our winters have been getting warmer here as evidenced by the fact that the fleas and ticks are here in full force all year round and I haven't had to cover my orchids or move them indoors.

I'm not too worried about it getting too hot in the box because during summer it'll be in the shade, it's only winter when the leaves drop on the tree that it'll get sun on it and that might be helpful.

Believe me when I say I'm not arguing here. It's mostly a stream of consciousness while I rethink my original plans. I'm glad I asked first.

Now, back to pressure treated vs not? What's your thoughts on that if I let the wood sit for a few months before I build and put her in it?

For a 4'x4' box I'm definitely going to have to add that additional 8' on her yard or else it'll take up way too much space.
A bigger enclosure is always better. Add those 8 feet anyway. :)

I use regular plywood and prime and paint it. This lasts for decades here in my warm dry climate. Other Floridians can better advise you on what building materials to use and how to make them last. @ZEROPILOT
 

dd33

Member
Joined
Sep 22, 2018
Messages
55
Location (City and/or State)
Florida
Oh goodness! I'm glad I have a little one. That's a huge house and those are huge torts! They look really good, too! I guess you never have problems with bullying even with the difference in sizes?

All the rain we get here for half the year is exactly why I'm leaning towards pressure treated. I don't want it to disintegrate after a year of being out in the elements. I hadn't thought about a metal roof but I really like that idea now. And all the sand is why I was thinking of not adding a floor. I can remove the grass/weeds in that area and just let her be able to burrow right into the ground like she does now when she wants to cool off.

I'm sure you know but they do sell paint that's meant to recondition the wood and seal it, maybe you could do that when the rainy season is over?
I would say that pressure treated wood is mandatory. Not just pressure treated, but pressure treated and rated for ground contact. At my house if you put a piece of non pressure treated wood on the ground it will be eaten by ant and termites and rot away in just a few months. Another option would be using some sort of plastic lumber product like Azek or something. It would cost at least double but it would last way longer.

I would definitely suggest you go with some kind of waterproof roofing material. There are several options at home depot. Our first night box had a plain wood roof. Even though it was pressure treated it began to warp and degrade very quickly. It also leaked and the tortoises hated getting dripped on at night. When we built this second house we tried to make sure they couldn't get dripped on or that the house would flood with water. Both of those things have caused ours to flee the night box during cold winter rains.

Sand is a no-no on this forum so I am sure you will have a lot of people telling you not to use it. We use oolitic marine aquarium sand that is 100% calcium based. I won't suggest that you use it but I can say that it has worked well for us so far and they seem to love bedding down in it. It does stick to them really bad and I feel bad seeing it all over their faces.
 

FLZooMom

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Joined
Jan 1, 2021
Messages
12
Location (City and/or State)
SWFL
A bigger enclosure is always better. Add those 8 feet anyway. :)

I use regular plywood and prime and paint it. This lasts for decades here in my warm dry climate. Other Floridians can better advise you on what building materials to use and how to make them last. @ZEROPILOT
Yeah, her yard is 6'x10' right now but with all the plants and such it just seems like she doesn't have enough room so we're going to add another eight feet making it 6'x18'. I'd like to add another few feet to the 6' side but I just don't have a good way to do it without annoying my landlord.

The 6'x10' was great when she was little but now she's getting so big that she looks like a giant walking around in there. Adding to that all the plants have grown tremendously in the last couple years and, well, you know.... Besides, she's our precious girl and she deserves everything we can do for her, especially after her first year and a half of life before we got her.
 

FLZooMom

Member
Joined
Jan 1, 2021
Messages
12
Location (City and/or State)
SWFL
I would say that pressure treated wood is mandatory. Not just pressure treated, but pressure treated and rated for ground contact. At my house if you put a piece of non pressure treated wood on the ground it will be eaten by ant and termites and rot away in just a few months. Another option would be using some sort of plastic lumber product like Azek or something. It would cost at least double but it would last way longer.

I would definitely suggest you go with some kind of waterproof roofing material. There are several options at home depot. Our first night box had a plain wood roof. Even though it was pressure treated it began to warp and degrade very quickly. It also leaked and the tortoises hated getting dripped on at night. When we built this second house we tried to make sure they couldn't get dripped on or that the house would flood with water. Both of those things have caused ours to flee the night box during cold winter rains.

Sand is a no-no on this forum so I am sure you will have a lot of people telling you not to use it. We use oolitic marine aquarium sand that is 100% calcium based. I won't suggest that you use it but I can say that it has worked well for us so far and they seem to love bedding down in it. It does stick to them really bad and I feel bad seeing it all over their faces.
Yeah, after I posted that last I started thinking about how badly and quickly untreated wood breaks down here. I'm not going to waste my time and money not using pressure treated.

For the roof, I'll either go with metal or see if the roofers that are coming in the next week or so will leave me enough shingles to do the night box.

I guess I should specify, not sand, but just the regular ground. Maybe I'll leave the grass and then Morla can decide how she wants to decorate inside.
 

ZEROPILOT

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First, let me say I did do a search before posting this but I can't find any answers to my specific area; everything is for well insulated night boxes. Or for multiple torts or much larger torts.

So, we've had Morla for about 2.5 years now (she's 4) and she lives outside 99% of the time but occasionally we get a few days of cool temperatures and we bring her in. She hates it. I want to build her a box something like what @ZEROPILOT uses for his redfoots with just a CHE hanging so she can stay outside full time. It doesn't need to be insulated because it just doesn't get cold enough for that here but I will make sure that the back of it faces the north so on windy days the wind won't blow in.

I'm not sure what size to make it nor what kind of wood. I was planning to do it without a floor and a slightly sloping hinged lid to let the rain run off. Can I use pressure treated wood if I let it sit out for several months? If not, what kind of paint should I use? If I can't use pressure treated since it'll have contact with the ground I want to make sure it doesn't rot out so I'll be painting it inside and out. How big should the door be? Obviously, I'd like the house to last her for several years so making the door the right size will help facilitate that.

Thanks in advance for any help. I have the skills and the tools to build it I just want to be sure I do it right the first time.
My heated night boxes are repurposed Home Depot composting bins. I like finding pre made items and then finding ways to use them in my tortoise keeping. These worked out great and are now many years old and have been through a category one hurricane. I originally seam sealed the bottoms to keep out flood water and I keep a few inches of mulch inside. The top is on a hinge and the entrance/exit flaps are dollar store car floor mats.
And @Tom is correct that there are still those rare days when I'm forced to bring all of the girls indoors.
But those days are pretty rare.
 

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FLZooMom

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Joined
Jan 1, 2021
Messages
12
Location (City and/or State)
SWFL
My heated night boxes are repurposed Home Depot composting bins. I like finding pre made items and then finding ways to use them in my tortoise keeping. These worked out great and are now many years old and have been through a category one hurricane. I originally seam sealed the bottoms to keep out flood water and I keep a few inches of mulch inside. The top is on a hinge and the entrance/exit flaps are dollar store car floor mats.
And @Tom is correct that there are still those rare days when I'm forced to bring all of the girls indoors.
But those days are pretty rare.
With the cost of plywood these days it'd certainly be cheaper to pick up a compost bin but I was actually looking on HD's website and couldn't find the one you have. Also, you have just a CHE hanging in each of your night boxes but I keep getting told that's a bad idea. Are yours just raised high enough that you don't have to worry about burning them?

I've been reading a lot of your posts because your climate is pretty much identical to mine so I'm grateful that you checked in!
 

ZEROPILOT

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South Eastern Florida (U.S.A.)/Rock Hill S.C.
With the cost of plywood these days it'd certainly be cheaper to pick up a compost bin but I was actually looking on HD's website and couldn't find the one you have. Also, you have just a CHE hanging in each of your night boxes but I keep getting told that's a bad idea. Are yours just raised high enough that you don't have to worry about burning them?

I've been reading a lot of your posts because your climate is pretty much identical to mine so I'm grateful that you checked in!
Mine are about 12" above the tortoises.
Nothing scientific. Just what works for me. Our climate is different than most.
I've also zip ties the cords to the wooden dowels that the CHE hang from as insurance against falling off.
Mine are on a timer. They COULD be on a thermostat. But they aren't.
I used black incandescent bulbs previously. But those always seemed to go out right when I needed them most.
The CHE last for years.
A kids toy box could work. Maybe a laundry hamper? Any sort of an outdoor storage box...
I cut a hole in the front at the bottom and then bolted them to the wooden walls of my enclosure.
Then used stainless steel staples to attach the rubber mats as door flaps.
I also do not see them listed in HOME DEPOT any more.
I think they cost about $70 each.
Many other similar boxes would work just as well.
 

k8tburt

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Jan 29, 2021
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Tampa
Hi. I love in Central Florida and I used a dog house to make my redfoots night box. I actually copied something I found online (simple outdoor tortoise house by startortoises.net) except I glued insulation sheets inside instead of used the pre made fabric insulation lining. I will probably have to expand the door at some stage but I like the fact it’s off the ground and because there is plastic bin inside it’s very easy to clean and switch out the substrate. I also made a door that I can attach to the outside to keep my tort inside at night. On extra cold nights I throw a old blanket over it to hold extra heat in.
 
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