1. Welcome! Are you interested in tortoises? If so, we invite you to join our community! Our community is the #1 place for tortoise keepers to talk online. Once you join you'll be able to post messages, upload pictures of your tortoise and enclosure, and discuss any tortoise topic with other tortoise keepers. Get started today!

Building your own Expanded PVC Enclosed Chamber – For Beginners

Discussion in 'Tortoise Enclosures' started by Sterant, Jul 16, 2017.

  1. Sterant

    Sterant Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    365
    Likes Received:
    419
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location (City and/or State):
    Albany, NY
    I have recently been asked to do a post on building an enclosed chamber using PVC, and to tailor the post to those that have NO fabrication / wood working experience and the resultant lack of tools. So, that’s what this post is about. If you have even basic wood working or metal working skills, much of this will certainly be repeating things you already know. So, now that the disclaimer is out of the way….
    IMG_1920.JPG

    PVC stands for Polyvinyl Chloride and is most commonly heard of when talking about the white plumbing pipe used in residential and commercial plumbing. Though you can buy true PVC in sheets, it is heavy, expensive and likely overkill for our purposes here. What we will be using is Expanded PVC. Expanded PVC utilizes a manufacturing process where air is introduced during the process which “expands” the material by including microscopic bubbles within it. The addition of the air makes it lighter and less expensive, but also makes it significantly less rigid and less durable. Expanded PVC needs to be braced if using large pieces, scratches easily and can crack/shatter if you drop it. That being said, if you handle it with some care, it does make a good choice for our enclosed chambers. Expanded PVC is often sold under the brand name of Sintra, so if you hear “Sintra” that’s the right stuff. You can buy it in white, black or even sheets with one side black and one side white.

    This post will be based on making an enclosure that is 4’ long, 3’ deep and 2’ high. Though this might not be the ideal size for you, you can easily modify these plans to accommodate your needs. Just keep in mind that if you make one longer than 4 feet, you will need to brace the top so that it won’t sag and will support the weight of lighting. The picture above is showing 2 enclosures next to each other. These happen to be 5' wide as that's what fit my space best. Here is a picture of the bracing I have in the 5' version - again I don't think bracing will be required in the 4' enclosure.
    IMG_1913.JPG



    PARTS YOU WILL NEED (And where to get them)

    · Two 4’ X 8’ sheets of EPVC (White is the most common color though it can be found in black as well).

    I would suggest you buy this from a plastics supplier or from a sign shop. You can also buy it from The Home Depot.

    · PVC Glue

    Get clear glue – not the purple stuff. This can also be purchased from a plastics supplier or The Home Depot.

    · A tube of marine grade caulk
    . For white enclosures, I like to use Loctite brand marine caulk:

    http://www.homedepot.com/p/Loctite-10-fl-oz-PL-Marine-Fast-Cure-Adhesive-Sealant-2016891/206156418

    · Sliding Glass Door Track – Upper and Lower track – 4’

    The best stuff I have found can be ordered here:

    http://www.completecabinethardware....Track-Kit-No.1/Track-Assembly-1-4ft-Aluminum/

    · Glass Door Pulls (2)

    http://www.completecabinethardware....m-Sliding-Glass-Door-Pull-Satin-Clear-Finish/


    · 2 pieces of ¼” thick tempered glass.

    Each piece is 25” wide, but the height should be measured once your enclosure is done and you have installed the door track. The track comes with instructions that tell you how to measure for the glass.

    TOOLS YOU WILL NEED

    The most important tool you will need is a very sturdy and very flat work bench that is at least 4’ X 3’. This is critical. If your bench isn’t sturdy or flat, the EPVC panels will flex, your glue joints will be compromised and the panels wont fit squarely together.

    • Sand paper of various grits and a sanding block

    • A Jig Saw

    • An Awl – this will be used to “pre-drill” for the screws used to mount the door track. EPVC is relatively soft and you can easily press the awl into it which is must easier and more accurate than using a drill.

    • Clamps are critical to make sure the glue joints are tight and stay in place while the glue cures. You can never have too many clamps, but at an absolute minimum, I would suggest you have:

    8 like this:

    http://www.homedepot.com/p/BESSEY-T...d-2-1-2-in-Throat-Depth-TGJ2-536-2K/205402806

    and 10 like this:

    http://www.homedepot.com/p/Lincoln-Electric-3-in-C-Clamp-1-Pack-KH905/202940470
    • Small Philips head screwdriver
    • A Drill with an assortment of bits
    • A framing square
    • Papertowels
    • A friend or two
    1) CUTTING THE PVC

    Since this post is for inexperienced fabricators, I would highly suggest you have someone else cut the sheets up for you. Doing it right really requires a table saw or a panel saw, and someone that knows how to use it! It also requires a saw with a new, or really good high tooth count blade. The reason for this is that we want a very high quality edge because we are gluing this whole thing together. If the edge is bumpy, full of record lines from the blade or not cut square, your glue joints could fail and the chamber will likely not fit together correctly.

    If you buy the EPVC from a plastics supplier or sign shop, they can cut it for you. Try that first. If you buy it from The Home Depot, don’t let them cut it. The blades on their saws are generally dull, they won’t take the time to measure accurately enough, and they cut way too fast to get a good edge quality. Bring the sheets to a shop that can provide a very high quality of work. Sign shops, furniture or cabinet shops – someplace like that will have the tools and experience to do a good job for you. Don’t even bother trying to do it with a circular saw. Though its possible, if you had the experience to do that, you wouldn’t be reading this post and you would own a table saw!

    Wherever you decide to have it cut, provide them with the cut sheet included in this post and they should be all set. (Cut Sheet is at the end of the post)

    *** NOTE ***

    You will notice on the cut sheet (below) that the sides, front and back are all defined as being 2’ tall. Since the sheet you will buy will be 4’ wide, you are cutting it in half, and the saw blade has some thickness to it (called a “kerf” and will likely be at least 3/16”) these panels will be slightly less than 2’. This is OK as long as the sides, front and back are all EXACTLY the same height. Make sure to tell your saw operator about this. If they know what they are doing, this won’t be a problem. Technically, the true height of the sides, front and back would be “2’ less ½ kerf”.


    2) Glue the back to the bottom

    Set the bottom panel on your sturdy flat bench. The back sits ON the bottom along the back side and should be perfectly even along the back and should be flush with the sides of the bottom panel. I would suggest you test fit this and figure out a way to hold it in place. This first panel can be done by hand (without clamps). Use the framing square to make sure the back is square to the bottom. Once you have practiced fitting it, put PVC glue on the bottom edge of the back panel and set the back panel ON the bottom panel. PVC glue sets up rather quickly so get the back in place quickly then hold it until the glue cures (less than 5 minutes). Have someone else hold the square to make sure you glue it squarely.

    The picture below is showing the back sitting ON the bottom with a nice square fit:
    fullsizeoutput_940.jpeg


    3) Glue the sides on

    Glue the sides on one at a time. The sides also sit ON the bottom panel and go back against the “back” you glued on in step 2. The side panel should fit squarely against the bottom and the back at the same time. Keep in mind that the sides will not be even along the front of the enclosure – this is because we have to leave room for the front panel and the sliding glass door tracks. I would again dry fit everything before you apply the glue. You can use clamps when gluing the sides. I would run a few clamps from top to bottom holding the side panel down against the bottom panel, and a couple clamps holding the side panel against the back panel. Having a friend or two to help with this is recommended. Make sure the joints are flush, tight and square. When you are confident and ready, apply glue to the bottom and back of the side panel and clamp it in place. Let the glue setup for 15 minutes or so, then remove the clamps and move on and do the same thing on the other side.

    At this point you should have the back and the two sides glued to the bottom panel.

    The next picture is showing the bottom, back and the newly added side - all fitting tight and square ready for glue:
    fullsizeoutput_941.jpeg


    4) Cut the openings in the front and glue it on

    This is going to be the most time consuming part of the build. Most of the front will be removed in two “Windows” – This is totally up to you. I like using a bottom edge that is 5” tall so I have room for substrate and a 3” tall tortoise before it can see over it. I like a 3” edge along the top, and 2” right, center and left uprights. There is a detailed drawing of this included with the cut sheet below. Modify these measurements to suit your needs. A good way to cut out the windows is by using a jig saw. You can drill a hole in the middle of one of the windows and then cut to your window lines. Then repeat for the other window. Take a look at the drawing – it explains a lot. Once you cut the openings out, you can sand them until they are as perfect and smooth as you like. You might want to hit these edges with some paint to seal the porous edge. Once the front is shaped, you can go ahead and glue it in place.

    Gluing the front on is pretty straight forward. The only thing to watch for is that the front stays perfectly straight across its length. EPVC is very flexible (especially with the two giant holes you just cut in it) and when you apply clamp pressure, the front can easily bow and be glued into place along a curve rather than flat. This should be avoided as it will affect the proper fit of the sliding door track, (and it looks bad). What I do is I use the small clamps I suggested you buy and I clamp a rigid straight edge to the front panel close to, but not exactly along the bottom. This is so your straight edge does not accidently get glued to the bottom. You can use a 2X4 or you can even use the sliding glass door track itself – that is very rigid and is small.

    Once you have dry fit everything, apply PVC glue along the bottom and sides of the Front Panel, set in place and put as many clamps on it as you have. You can put a bunch all along the front edge, and then on each side drawing the front panel back into the sides.

    5) Glue the top on

    This is real easy – as long as your back, front and sides were all exactly the same height and you glued them correctly. The front, back and sides should all be perfectly flush along the top – no little steps up or down as you move from one panel to the other. If there is a height difference big enough that the top wont sit flat, you will have to sand the top edges so that the top can sit flat. Once everything is nice and flat, apply PVC glue to the top edge of the front, back and sides, put the top on being careful to make sure its flush all around its perimeter and then apply a bunch of clamps. Make sure the top doesn’t slide around when you apply the clamps.

    6) Mount the sliding glass door track

    With the enclosure sitting on its bottom (as it was all why you were gluing) set the lower door track in place and clamp it there. There are instructions with the track you can follow. Once the track is clamped in place, use the awl and press pilot holes in each of the mounting holes. Put the small Phillips head screws in the holes and there you go. Flip the whole enclosure upside down and follow the same procedure to mount the top track. If both tracks are flush against the front panel, they should be plumb to each other and the glass doors should fit and slide smoothly.
    IMG_1927.JPG
    IMG_1929.JPG



    7) Measure for and have your doors cut

    Follow the measuring instructions from your door track to get the correct width and height of the glass. You will need ¼” tempered glass doors. Any local glass shop should be able to provide these doors.

    Once you have the doors, you can attach the door handles. To mount those, put one piece of black electrical tape on the glass edge where you want the handle. Press (or lightly tap) the handle over the tape and this should provide a very tight fitting handle. Repeat for the other door, put the doors in the track and there you go!

    8) Finishing the enclosure

    Depending on your lighting and heating decisions, you can drill holes in the top and sides for mounting these fixtures.

    You should also seal all of the internal corners with the marine caulk I mentioned in the supply list. Though the PVC glue might possibly be water tight, it likely will not.

    Hopefully this post provided some good information and didn’t create more confusion then its worth!


    CUT SHEET
    Sterant side.png



    FRONT PANEL

    Sterant front.png


    Here are some additional pictures:
    IMG_1915.JPG IMG_1906.JPG
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 17, 2017
  2. Yvonne G

    Yvonne G Old Timer TFO Admin 10 Year Member! Platinum Supporter

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2008
    Messages:
    76,409
    Likes Received:
    40,742
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Clovis, CA
    (These ads do not appear for registered members.)
    A new thread was made including pictures, and in moving the posts around, I lost the two comments originally made on the thread. So I've copy/pasted them here . The Forum's program sorts posts in time/date order, so if I had tried to move the posts to this thread, they would have shown up on top, or before the info about building the inclosure:

    leigti said:

    Thank you for making this thread. For an 8 foot enclosure would it be better to make two of the 4 foot ones then put them together by modifying the two end panels? Seems like that would be more stable and prevent sagging in the middle. Or how would the bracing work for the roof to hold the lights?




    Sterant said:

    Yes - making 2 of the 4 foot enclosures and setting them side by side works. I did that with 2 five foot enclosures. Making an 8' enclosure would be fine, you would just have to brace the top effectively because an 8 foot piece of PVC will sag.
  3. KevinGG

    KevinGG Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2013
    Messages:
    1,118
    Likes Received:
    1,007
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Santa Cruz, CA
    These are incredible. Really modern looking. I could put one of these in full view. Thanks for sharing. What have you kept in these?
  4. Sterant

    Sterant Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    365
    Likes Received:
    419
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location (City and/or State):
    Albany, NY
    Thanks @KevinGG ! I keep young radiated tortoises in them.
    Alex Z and KevinGG like this.
  5. Markw84

    Markw84 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2012
    Messages:
    2,797
    Likes Received:
    3,988
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Sacramento, CA (Central Valley)
    I sure wish Home Depot still carried these sheets. I would love to build a few of these with this material. If you call Home Depot, the say they do not carry and do not expect to any more. If you find one that happens to have stock still on hand, is about the only way apparently, they said.

    Just for reference, if I contact local sign shops, about how much would I expect to pay ro get a full sheet of 1/2" expanded PVC? Prices seem to vary incredibly!
    KevinGG likes this.
  6. Sterant

    Sterant Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    365
    Likes Received:
    419
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location (City and/or State):
    Albany, NY
    My Local Home Depot has some, but maybe its left over as you say.

    I would expect to pay about $100 a sheet for a 1/2" 4 X 8 sheet. I think the 5 X 10 sheets were $150 or so.
    Alex Z and Markw84 like this.
  7. Neal

    Neal Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Apr 15, 2010
    Messages:
    4,892
    Likes Received:
    773
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Arizona
    Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

    I apologize if I missed this, but what did you do to accommodate the electric cords for your lighting?
  8. Sterant

    Sterant Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    365
    Likes Received:
    419
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location (City and/or State):
    Albany, NY
    I just drilled a 1 1/2" hole in the back panel, right up near the top, in line with where the cord comes out of the light fixture. This way there isn't a bunch of cord in the enclosure.
  9. Neal

    Neal Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Apr 15, 2010
    Messages:
    4,892
    Likes Received:
    773
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Arizona
    Do you block any remaining void in the 1 1/2" hole in any way? or, does that size of a hole not not create any issue with maintaining constant humid and temperature levels in your experience?
    Clemsonturtle likes this.
  10. Sterant

    Sterant Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    365
    Likes Received:
    419
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location (City and/or State):
    Albany, NY
    I don't block the hole. I have another enclosed chamber that I have used for a couple years which has fairly large vents in it, and I leave them open as well with no problem maintaining humidity. Depends on the background humidity where you live.....its pretty humid where I live a lot of the time.... though in dry environments you might need to block holes.
  11. leigti

    leigti Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2013
    Messages:
    6,997
    Likes Received:
    5,086
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    southeast Washington
    I found somebody that can help me build this enclosure using these plans. I am very excited and very much appreciate you making this thread. I'll post some pictures when it's done.
    tinytortoise and MireyaMurphy like this.
  12. Sterant

    Sterant Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    365
    Likes Received:
    419
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location (City and/or State):
    Albany, NY
    Excellent. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions along the way.
    sofiacf likes this.
  13. KevinGG

    KevinGG Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2013
    Messages:
    1,118
    Likes Received:
    1,007
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Santa Cruz, CA
    Make sure to tag me when you post those pics. I want to see the process and the finished product decked out and in use. :) :) :)
    leigti likes this.
  14. Will

    Will Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2012
    Messages:
    4,182
    Likes Received:
    3,036
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    South of Southern California, but not Mexico
    I know it takes reasonable 'carpentry skill' to do this, but for me that is often the easy part. You did all the spatial and material use thinking and that is really helpful. I was contemplated doing this but then bought some vision cages as the basic unit was already there for me to make 'tortoise' worthy. Next upscale I will go with this.
  15. Sterant

    Sterant Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    365
    Likes Received:
    419
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location (City and/or State):
    Albany, NY
    The very first chamber-type setup I had was (still is) a modified Vision Cage. Actually works great, since my entire room is heated. The Vision Cage I used is too short (18") to comfortably put heat lamps / CHE's, etc in it. (at least for me). Since the room is heated, i don't need anything in there other than a small heat lamp. These new PVC enclosures are taller so there is room to mount whatever you need.
    MireyaMurphy likes this.
  16. Will

    Will Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2012
    Messages:
    4,182
    Likes Received:
    3,036
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    South of Southern California, but not Mexico
    I use heat panels, no worries with 18 inch head room. It's actually closer to a foot, I put a deep substrate in for most uses.
    Sterant likes this.
  17. Will

    Will Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2012
    Messages:
    4,182
    Likes Received:
    3,036
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    South of Southern California, but not Mexico
    My latest already built conversion are cricket tubs. I posted images of them in 'live naked people'. I put doors in each end and have them across a four foot shelf.

    Do you think this design here would work okay that way in terms of ceiling/structural support? The long sides would be solid and the short sides would be made to receive doors. This way I only need to be able to reach two feet in, not three and I still get the floor space. They are not so 'eye' friendly.
  18. leigti

    leigti Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2013
    Messages:
    6,997
    Likes Received:
    5,086
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    southeast Washington
    I talked to a sign maker here in town and he said there is no difference between expanded PVC and regular PVC sheets. Should I find a different sign maker?
  19. Sterant

    Sterant Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    365
    Likes Received:
    419
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location (City and/or State):
    Albany, NY
    ;-)
    There is absolutely a difference. Hard to show you with images, but regular PVC kind of looks like milky white plexiglass, while Expanded PVC has more of a really dense foam look.
    tinytortoise and leigti like this.
  20. Sterant

    Sterant Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    365
    Likes Received:
    419
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location (City and/or State):
    Albany, NY
    I can't find the picture you are talking about - can you upload it here?
Similar Threads: Building Expanded
Forum Title Date
Tortoise Enclosures Building a new enclosure!!! Oct 14, 2018
Tortoise Enclosures Enclosure building tip Jul 4, 2018
Tortoise Enclosures Building Clyde's adult enclosure May 27, 2018
Tortoise Enclosures Cost for Building Your Own Outdoor Night Box May 13, 2018
Tortoise Enclosures Building a habitat way a head of time Apr 30, 2018

Share This Page