Sulcata winter housing help

Tortugatron

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Tortoise Club
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Buhl, Idaho
Hello everyone. I live in Riverside, Ca and I raise sulcatas. The warmer than usual weather here has been pretty kind to them and I haven't had a need to provide housing aside from the burrows they've carved out behind the garage. That is, until recently. The change in night time weather coupled with the warnings of a wetter than usual winter finally compelled me to put something together. That, and the addition of a new big guy to our herd.

Meet Steve:

KIMG0117.jpg

Steve is about 20 and just under 100lbs. We aren't sure we're going to keep him yet, but the situation at his previous home was one that it his well being depended on being rehomed so we took him in. Maybe temporarily, maybe forever. Until we decide though, we have to keep him alive through winter.

Previously, I kept my sulcatas inside the garage on mats with a space heater. That's not really an option for this winter because of how big they've gotten, plus the new monster. They have this really nifty habit of rearranging all my furniture and tool boxes in new and exciting ways, so I've decided to evict them from the garage.

First, I built this out of scrap lumber,

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but soon realized too much of it was wrong. Too small, no real way to insulate, no good way to waterproof, etc. I needed something bigger and warmer, so I turned to my friends on the forum for direction and after just a little looking around I found some great build threads for night houses (thank you, @Tom ). This is what I came up with:

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It's 2' tall, 4' wide, and 8' long with a hinged top and the entire structure is insulated with 1 1/2" Styrofoam, except for the bottom which is 1/2" plywood laid on a foundation of sand. I tar papered the roof, with shingles and paint to come this weekend.

My question for the experts are these:

Is there a need for a substrate, and if so, what do you recommend?

Which is the best type of heating element? I planned to use heat bulbs originally, but after reading the threads on here I was considering an oil filled radiating heater. Now I'm reading about heat mats and infrared hearing elements, and am more undecided than ever. I'm more concerned with both heat and electrical efficiency than heater cost, so any advice on what works well would be much appreciated.

Also, I'm wondering about ventilation. After I caulk and apply weather stripping that thing is going to be pretty air tight. Do I need to cut in some type of vent? I built an insulated door that has a 1/4" gap around it when installed. When that is in place, will it be enough for air circulation?

Thank you in advance for your help, and for taking the time to compile such helpful resources. Looking forward to hearing your responses!
 

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Tom

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Looks nice. The one thing I would always advise against is using OSB or particle board. I use all plywood all the time and it holds up much better.

…okay… Two things. I would try to go back and retro-fit the floor with insulation. You'll lose a lot of heat energy through the un-insulated floor.

Your questions:
1. I use mini-oil heaters set on a reptile thermostat in my big 4x8 boxes. I use Kane heat mats and radiant heat panels in my smaller boxes.
2. Vents only let your heat out. I've never used vents in any of my boxes. The gap around my doors is less than 1/4" and my tortoises get plenty of air.

Hope this helps.
 

Dizisdalife

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Nice job! I agree with Tom's comments about the floor insulation and vents. I have never used a substrate. Sometimes I throw in some hay for my sulcata. It is mostly for him to eat, but he will burrow into it. That door looks a bit narrow. Maybe due to the size of the night box. As long as your big one can fit through okay it will do the trick.
 

Tortugatron

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Jun 4, 2015
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Location (City and/or State)
Buhl, Idaho
Looks nice. The one thing I would always advise against is using OSB or particle board. I use all plywood all the time and it holds up much better.

…okay… Two things. I would try to go back and retro-fit the floor with insulation. You'll lose a lot of heat energy through the un-insulated floor.

Your questions:
1. I use mini-oil heaters set on a reptile thermostat in my big 4x8 boxes. I use Kane heat mats and radiant heat panels in my smaller boxes.
2. Vents only let your heat out. I've never used vents in any of my boxes. The gap around my doors is less than 1/4" and my tortoises get plenty of air.

Hope this helps.

Very helpful, thanks Tom!

I wish I had known about that OSB. I knew not to use particle board, but standing in the lumber aisle looking at the prices I went for the cheaper route, figuring that shear panel and most roofing nowadays is OSB. I put the glazed side facing in in an attempt to somewhat abate potential moisture issues the OSB might have, but I figure it's hot and humid and made of wood ndthat therefore wouldn't last forever anyway. I'll keep that in mind for the next one.

For the heaters. Do you have a brand or size you would recommend? One or two? I have been looking around and am having difficulty finding mini ones.

Thanks for the tip about the ventilation. I figured they wouldn't breathe all the oxygen out of the box in a night anyway, but just. Wanted to make sure. I should have said the door I put in has a 1/4" gap split between the two sides, so really about an 1/8" gap around it. When I get inside there and close the door it's almost soundproof. That had me concerned the tortoises.

So far, just finished first coat of paint and installed the humidity/temp monitor and it's reading 80F outside and 105F inside the box. I'm glad I insulated as much as I did. I though laying it on fine sand would be a good way to insulate, but if your experience shows an insulated floor works better I'll look into that. Thanks again for the direction.
 

Tortugatron

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Nice job! I agree with Tom's comments about the floor insulation and vents. I have never used a substrate. Sometimes I throw in some hay for my sulcata. It is mostly for him to eat, but he will burrow into it. That door looks a bit narrow. Maybe due to the size of the night box. As long as your big one can fit through okay it will do the trick.
Thanks! Good to know about substrate. I was kind of concerned about the door sizing as well, but the big guy is only 18" at his widest and the door is 25" wide. We built it with a template already installed in case I ever had to cut the door bigger, but I figured this will give him room to grow. I also built it with the door off to one side and framed in another equal sized door on the other side under the plywood that I can cut out in the event that I ever needed split their yard and house to separate them.

Although, now that I think about it, I probably should have looked into the size ranges of full size sulcatas first...
 

Tom

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This heater has been working well for me:
http://www.walmart.com/ip/Optimus-700W-Mini-Portable-Heater-with-Oil-Filled-Radiator/37948255
You only need one. I use a thermometer with a remote probe so I can always check the temp in the tortoise house while I'm warm and comfy inside MY house.

I forgot to mention substrate: I use dirt in the bottom of my boxes with the Kane heat mats. Can't use grass hay with heat mats. I use bermuda hay or orchard grass hay in the big boxes with the radiant oil heaters. They use it to burrow into and they eat it too. I clean the boxes as needed.
 
M

Maggie Cummings

Guest
Use that Styrofoam sheet insulation under your floor. I live in the PNW and even with snow outside that Styrofoam stuff kept the plywood floor at 70 degrees. I used a DeLonghi oil filled heater on the lowest setting all winter and it kept a 20'X12' Sulcata shed at a steady ambient temp of 80 degrees. I also used a pig blanket with a rheostat and my big Sulcata stayed warm all winter, thru ice, snow or rain...
And I don't use any substrate. He had free feed of piles of hay but the main floor was bare plywood.
 

Razan

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Congratulations on the building of a giant night box. It looks good ! We acquired a big sulcata from a neighbor this year and built a half size version of your night box (thanks Tom). They are heavy aren't they. It does keep our tortoise cozy. We are scrambling right now to get it heated properly...our own fault for procrastinating all summer. How many sulcata's do you have?
 

Blakem

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Very nice. Thanks for your step by step pictures. Ivr used a mini oil heater for over a year and it's been great!
 

Morte

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Nov 1, 2015
Messages
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Very nice, I think you have inspired me to build something new for my tortoise. I live in San Antonio, TX and the Winters can be tough at times down here getting into single digits with ice and freezing rain. I have had several dogloos because I am basically lazy and have found them to be an easy solution for the climate. I have my 140 lb Sulcata in the Giant size now so there's no bigger size to go to and he has little clearance on the sides anymore. Here is what I have done for the past 15 years with him. I drill holes and have mounted a heat lamp set-up (dome) and I run the cord to a reptile adjustable thermostat that I also mount on the inside with temp probe. I run the cord out another hole to a nearby outlet. I seal up the holes and cover metal parts with silicone making it water proof. I have been using a 100 watt heat ceramic heat emitter and set the thermostat on 75 degrees. The door has a well fitting flap, when extreme temperatures hit I usually cover the door with a towel for some extra sealing. One time I had the temp set wrong, too high, and found him sitting out in very cold temperatures, going in and out to regulate his temperature, that was dumb on my part but at least I know he can deal with temperature issues if he has to. I have had remote temperature monitoring with alarms and will probably set that up again this year, sleep better when I have the monitor going. The dogloo is well insulated and I have it placed beneath an oak tree that provides some shelter from rain and close to a fence that provides shelter from the north wind and I face the entrance away from the prevailing wind as well. I usually use some alfalfa hay or similar inside especially in very cold temperatures. He doesn't really like it but will push it up against the door when it's very cold to provide insulation for the door flap and close gaps. As some have noted they do like to have room to move around to regulate their temperature and this is one reason I want to go to a bigger set-up. He still has some room but not as much as he used to have or that I would like him to have. My set-up is more geared toward a low effort beginner set-up, I think. It can be expensive buying dogloos but they are easy. Back when I started there was no info on the internet and not much out there period, most of what I found ended up not being what I saw in reality with my tortoise but there appears to be a lot more out here now. Thanks again for posting the pics of your set-up.
 

Tortugatron

Member
Tortoise Club
Joined
Jun 4, 2015
Messages
56
Location (City and/or State)
Buhl, Idaho
Congratulations on the building of a giant night box. It looks good ! We acquired a big sulcata from a neighbor this year and built a half size version of your night box (thanks Tom). They are heavy aren't they. It does keep our tortoise cozy. We are scrambling right now to get it heated properly...our own fault for procrastinating all summer. How many sulcata's do you have?
Thanks! It was quite an endeavor. I have three bigger ones, a 100lb male, 35lb male, and about a 15lb male. They've begun to get a bit hostile with each other, so I'm glad I built it with that in mind. Looks like I'll be cutting in that new door soon.
 

Tortugatron

Member
Tortoise Club
Joined
Jun 4, 2015
Messages
56
Location (City and/or State)
Buhl, Idaho
Very nice, I think you have inspired me to build something new for my tortoise. I live in San Antonio, TX and the Winters can be tough at times down here getting into single digits with ice and freezing rain. I have had several dogloos because I am basically lazy and have found them to be an easy solution for the climate. I have my 140 lb Sulcata in the Giant size now so there's no bigger size to go to and he has little clearance on the sides anymore. Here is what I have done for the past 15 years with him. I drill holes and have mounted a heat lamp set-up (dome) and I run the cord to a reptile adjustable thermostat that I also mount on the inside with temp probe. I run the cord out another hole to a nearby outlet. I seal up the holes and cover metal parts with silicone making it water proof. I have been using a 100 watt heat ceramic heat emitter and set the thermostat on 75 degrees. The door has a well fitting flap, when extreme temperatures hit I usually cover the door with a towel for some extra sealing. One time I had the temp set wrong, too high, and found him sitting out in very cold temperatures, going in and out to regulate his temperature, that was dumb on my part but at least I know he can deal with temperature issues if he has to. I have had remote temperature monitoring with alarms and will probably set that up again this year, sleep better when I have the monitor going. The dogloo is well insulated and I have it placed beneath an oak tree that provides some shelter from rain and close to a fence that provides shelter from the north wind and I face the entrance away from the prevailing wind as well. I usually use some alfalfa hay or similar inside especially in very cold temperatures. He doesn't really like it but will push it up against the door when it's very cold to provide insulation for the door flap and close gaps. As some have noted they do like to have room to move around to regulate their temperature and this is one reason I want to go to a bigger set-up. He still has some room but not as much as he used to have or that I would like him to have. My set-up is more geared toward a low effort beginner set-up, I think. It can be expensive buying dogloos but they are easy. Back when I started there was no info on the internet and not much out there period, most of what I found ended up not being what I saw in reality with my tortoise but there appears to be a lot more out here now. Thanks again for posting the pics of your set-up.
I can totally relate. My family raised tortoises since I was little and Dogloos were the go to for shelters. I don't think we ever used any.type of heat, even for our sulcatas. My mom loved tortoises and took the best care of them she knew how, but the information just wasn't there. It wasn't until I found this forum that I began to see the importance of specific and thorough care for these animals. I'd still have no idea what I'd grown up with was wrong if it weren't for the build threads and patience and ditection of the people on here. Good luck with building your night box. There are a ton of detailed build threads you can get ideas from. You probably don't have to go as heavy duty as I did. I bought everything apart from a few pieces of scrap 2x4 I had at Home Depot, and after lumber, insulation, hardware, caulking, screws, weather stripping, shingles, paint, heater and remote temp/humidity sensor, I think I'll be about $300 in. You'll have to keep us posted on your progress.
 

Tortugatron

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Tortoise Club
Joined
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Messages
56
Location (City and/or State)
Buhl, Idaho
Use that Styrofoam sheet insulation under your floor. I live in the PNW and even with snow outside that Styrofoam stuff kept the plywood floor at 70 degrees. I used a DeLonghi oil filled heater on the lowest setting all winter and it kept a 20'X12' Sulcata shed at a steady ambient temp of 80 degrees. I also used a pig blanket with a rheostat and my big Sulcata stayed warm all winter, thru ice, snow or rain...
And I don't use any substrate. He had free feed of piles of hay but the main floor was bare plywood.
That's my very next step. I figured sand would insulate well, but it makes sense that insulation would insulate better. What kind of hay did you use? Any specific name or just hay from a feed store?
 

Tortugatron

Member
Tortoise Club
Joined
Jun 4, 2015
Messages
56
Location (City and/or State)
Buhl, Idaho
This heater has been working well for me:
http://www.walmart.com/ip/Optimus-700W-Mini-Portable-Heater-with-Oil-Filled-Radiator/37948255
You only need one. I use a thermometer with a remote probe so I can always check the temp in the tortoise house while I'm warm and comfy inside MY house.

I forgot to mention substrate: I use dirt in the bottom of my boxes with the Kane heat mats. Can't use grass hay with heat mats. I use bermuda hay or orchard grass hay in the big boxes with the radiant oil heaters. They use it to burrow into and they eat it too. I clean the boxes as needed.
Great. Thanks again for the help Tom.
 
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