Building a 3-Tier Russian Tortoise Enclosure

Astrid37

New Member
Joined
May 6, 2021
Messages
16
Location (City and/or State)
Virginia, USA
Hello, I'm looking into building my own 3-tier wood indoor enclosure for my baby Russian tortoise that will be able to carry him or her into adulthood. Apologies in advance for the very long post, but I want to do this right.

Once baby reaches adulthood, I plan to keep adult outside in a safe enclosure as much as temperatures in northern Virginia allow. Recognizing that adult will need a minimum of 32sq feet of space when they are inside, I am looking at building a 3 tier plywood enclosure. The first (bottom) tier will be 65x30x30. This is where baby will live. It will be an enclosed chamber to allow for the appropriate lighting, UVB, temperature, humidity etc... I have read (and re-read and then re-read some more) the "Best Way to Raise a Temperate Tortoise" and am keen to follow it to the letter. The second and third tiers will both be 65x30x12. The only environmental addition on the 2nd and 3rd tiers will be LED lights plus substrate and tortoise-safe plants. Baby will not have access to those tiers until an adult, as there will be a trapdoor in the ceiling preventing movement up there. The ramp will be there with railing to prevent falling of both baby and adult. So, baby will grow up only on the first tier with all of the appropriate temperature gradients, basking, humidity, humid hide with CHE over it etc... As an adult, they will have all of that on the first floor and then the choice of where to go when they are inside, as the 2nd and 3rd tiers with only LED lights will also be open to them, as it seems that lack of additional heat- and humidity-producing equipment is not necessary on those tiers as long as they have them on the bottom tier. Our home is kept at about 66-68 degrees year-round. As an enclosed chamber, I am guessing that some heat from the incandescent bulb and CHE on the bottom will rise to the 2nd and 3rd tiers, which may keep it warmer than the house. Also, if necessary, I will be putting some kind of barrier TBD on the floor of the 2nd tier to prevent any heat burns to the tortoise were they to bury themselves on the 2nd tier directly above the incandescent bulb or CHE on the 1st tier. The fixtures for these bulbs will be on chains that are on hooks screwed into the ceiling of the 1st tier. The ramp will need to avoid getting too close to the fixtures, too. The fronts of all three tiers will have sliding glass/plexiglass/acrylic doors. Substrate on all three levels will be orchid bark with a little garden soil (vermiculite, perlite, and fertilizer-free).

A few questions:

1. I realize that this will be very heavy if built with wood but for reasons too long to get into here, it needs to be wood and not pvc or epvc (husband requirement). It also needs to look very nice, like a piece of furniture (husband requirement), and be super resistant to moisture/mold while being constructed of materials that are 100% tortoise-safe.

I am considering one of these as the plywood to use. Do you see any safety concerns with any of these from a chemical perspective? Would one be better than the other?


https://www.homedepot.com/p/Columbi...-ft-PureBond-Red-Oak-Plywood-165956/100046409 or https://www.homedepot.com/p/Columbi...-8-ft-PureBond-Maple-Plywood-263012/100548908

2. If I use this in the corners: https://www.homedepot.com/p/FLEX-SE...berized-Waterproof-Tape-TFSBLKR0405/302634866

one of these to cover the inside of all three tiers: https://www.homedepot.com/p/Pond-Ar...-Clear-Non-Toxic-Epoxy-SKU-CLEAR-GA/203886519 or


and use stain + polyeurethane to cover the outside of the enclosure, would all of this be safe?

3. I will be including a plastic resin sliding open/close vent on all three tiers in case they ever becomes necessary. Should I be including anything else from a structural/environmental perspective that needs to be built in that I am forgetting?

Many thanks in advance to anyone who made it this far in the post and for any help you can provide.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
54,106
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Personally, I would not use most of those materials for an indoor enclosure. I don't know what makes marine plywood "marine", but I wouldn't use it.

Any sort of tape will eventually be dug up.

The Pond shield will work and is non toxic once cured, but its tough to work with.

Stain and polyurethane both have a lot of fumes. I wouldn't use those either.

The tier system for tortoises doesn't make sense. They are not arboreal. I don't know that having a three story home with ramps translates to 32 sq. ft. for them. For fossorial species, it makes some sense to have a large upper area representing the surface and a second smaller darker area that would represent an underground retreat, but even that doesn't really work inside a house because they go underground to get away from intense heat or cold outside. There isn't any intense temperature extremes in your house, so no need to go underground.
 

Astrid37

New Member
Joined
May 6, 2021
Messages
16
Location (City and/or State)
Virginia, USA
Thanks, Tom, really appreciate your taking the time to respond. I saw some other Forum posts where people were suggesting adding levels to their enclosures to increase square footage, so that was my aim. So that approach isn't worthwhile?

What would be a safe plywood that I could use? Thank you again!
 

KarenSoCal

Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jul 8, 2017
Messages
5,147
Location (City and/or State)
Low desert 50 mi SE of Palm Springs CA
I believe it was @Markw84 who posted a lot of info re' grades of wood a while back.

If my memory is correct, it was one grade lower than marine grade that he suggested. It was for a heated night box, I think.
 

Astrid37

New Member
Joined
May 6, 2021
Messages
16
Location (City and/or State)
Virginia, USA
Thanks so much @KarenSoCal, was it this one that you're thinking of from 2019? I couldn't find any other posts from that user that specifically talked about marine grade and exterior grade?

"Marine grade is the best grade of plywood. It is better, and more expensive than exterior grade. With marine grade you will see smaller knots allowed in the wood and no open/filled knots are allowed. Exterior grade normally allow some knots of up to 1 1/2" but they must be filled. The interior core gaps in plywood (for expansion) are also much smaller in marine grade. The wood used must be at least a "B" grade wood for marine plywood. Exterior uses "C" grade - which is still good wood. Both use a waterproof adhesive.

So Marine grade would be a better enclosure material. Not sure if its worth the extra money as exterior is also a very good material."
 

TeamZissou

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 23, 2020
Messages
605
Location (City and/or State)
Albuquerque, NM
For wood enclosures, @Markw84 recommends Rustoleum counterop paint. It is a very high quality paint that is basically impermeable. Somewhere he has before and after photos showing the bottom of an enclosure. After three years of moisture, it looks unchanged. I believe he used three coats on the bottom and a few inches up each side and two coats everywhere else. He also recommended exterior grade wood, though if the coating is that impermeable I do not know why the wood grade would matter.

I recently made a new enclosure with it but am still waiting for tortoises to go in that enclosure.

Ideally though, you'd use expanded PVC board, though finding this is impossible in some areas.
 

Markw84

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 17, 2012
Messages
4,342
Location (City and/or State)
Sacramento, CA (Central Valley)
Thanks so much @KarenSoCal, was it this one that you're thinking of from 2019? I couldn't find any other posts from that user that specifically talked about marine grade and exterior grade?

"Marine grade is the best grade of plywood. It is better, and more expensive than exterior grade. With marine grade you will see smaller knots allowed in the wood and no open/filled knots are allowed. Exterior grade normally allow some knots of up to 1 1/2" but they must be filled. The interior core gaps in plywood (for expansion) are also much smaller in marine grade. The wood used must be at least a "B" grade wood for marine plywood. Exterior uses "C" grade - which is still good wood. Both use a waterproof adhesive.

So Marine grade would be a better enclosure material. Not sure if its worth the extra money as exterior is also a very good material."
That is the post I did replying to grades of plywood best for an enclosure. I do recommend exterior grade as the glue is waterproof while regular grade plywood will delaminate over time as the glue breaks down with moisture. Even with the countertop paint I like, mentioned by @TeamZissou , water penetration along edges and the outside is always a concern with an enclosure.

I do only use expanded PVC now for enclosures. IF you have trouble finding it, try looking for sign shops as it is most commonly used in making large signs.

I do believe the PVC makes a very attractive enclosure and you would be much more pleased with it long term over any plywood, even the cabinet grade plywoods you mentioned earlier in your posts.
 
Top