Setting up a Hova incubator


Well-Known Member
10 Year Member!
Feb 1, 2008
Location (City and/or State)
Somewhere in Florida
It has become time for me to back-up one of my old Hova Bator egg incubators. At 14 years old and running almost year 'round it still works perfectly but like NASA, I'm all about redundancy.

So last week I contacted the company directly online an ordered two new model 1602N units. The 1602N is one of the most basic, if not the most basic incubator they make. It is essentially just a Styrofoam box with ventilation holes, a simple heating element and thermostat. There are no fans or blowers, no blinking lights or computers.
I got the two delivered to my front door for $99.00. Not bad.

This is what the box looks like...

When you open the box it looks like this...

The manufacturer includes a plastic liner and a screen but I never use these and simply discard them or use them for other projects. Remember, these incubators were originally designed for incubating poultry eggs so for turtle and tortoise eggs I make some adjustments and modifications.
I start by losing the screen and plastic liner...

OK, this is the big modification I do. Hovabators have ventilation holes in the bottom of the floor and the top of the unit. This makes perfect sense for chicken eggs that are kept drier than our reptile eggs.

The problem for me is that these holes on the bottom allow moisture to drip out onto my original 1967 terrazzo floors. No bueno!
I can only imagine the mess it would make on one's carpet.
So to prevent this I seal off these holes with silicone cement.

Go ahead, goop it on too. Nobody cares.


OK, you now have to put the bottom aside for a couple of days while the silicone cures.

Let's take a look at the thermostat I have to install...
Good grief---that's a lot of moving parts! What do the Hova people take me for, a Master Electrician-- or an Engineer?

Actually it's rather simple. You thread the wingnut onto the screw thingie and then thread the screw thingie into this hole...

Then you turn the top over and locate the bottom of the screw...

Then you thread the thermostat to the bottom of the screw. The thermostat has only one side that's been machined to accept the screw so it is pretty foolproof. Even for me.


See? Not too hard...

This is the underside of the top of the incubator. You can see the heating element that goes around the inside.
If you look through the viewing window you can see the aforementioned terrazzo floor too.


Now it's two days later and the silicone has cured, meaning it no longer gives off that vinegar-like smell and is waterproof. So we can now add our incubation medium to the bottom pan of the unit.
I use perlite but, please use what you prefer best! I've also used vermiculite and it does seem to be easier to keep evenly moist. However, it also is messier and the perlite works fine for me.
Again though---use what you like best.

I fill a 5 gallon bucket about halfway with perlite and then fill the bucket with water.

I then take handfuls of the wet perlite and squeeze out as much of the water as I can before laying it into the bottom of the pan.

I know what some of you are thinking..."Hey professor, that's not very scientific. I mean, what's the moisture content? What's the ratio of water to perlite? What about this? What about that?"
Here's my answer. I don't know. When the incubator is first set up this way it is obviously too wet for long term incubation. But since we now need to spend a few days setting the thermostat, we can open a vent hole in the top of the unit and allow some moisture to escape.

Speaking of which, there is one other thing I do with my incubators. Since my home is air conditioned it is rather dry inside--even for Florida. The ventilation holes in the top of the incubator allow the moisture to escape too quickly to suit me. So I tape over some of them. Your situation my differ and you might find that it isn't necessary for you to do this.
Here we are. The bottom of the incubator has about 2 inches of damp perlite in it and we're ready to go.
Or not.
Now comes the most important part of the set up. You MUST spend at least another day (or two) regulating the temperature! Don't skimp on this or be in too big of a hurry.
I told you I like redundancy. So I place at least a few thermometers around the bottom of the incubator to be sure my temps are where I want them. Notice that these are all Hova thermometers? That nifty metal one is really old. Now Hova just sends you the cheapo plastic jobs. But they are accurate.

Now all you need to do is make slight adjustments with the thermostat setting. Be careful and move the setting just a tad bit each time until the interior is just where you want it to be. After that, tighten up the wingnut and it should remain pretty much where it was set at.

That's it. One last thing I would recommend it this: Whatever you place you incubator on (I put mine on the floor under a desk) it's a good idea to place an old towel under it. This will help prevent any condensation that might occur from messing up a table top or whatever. It probably helps keep the bottom of the incubator somewhat insulated too.
Hope this helps anyone who is considering one of these incubators. I must say that I like them and for the price, they are a good investment.


Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
May 29, 2014
Location (City and/or State)
Glenn Dale, Maryland, USA
Really thorough explanation. Takes time to document the process, but hopefully it helps a ton of ppl!

Next step....monitoring the eggs...and hatchlings! :)


Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
Platinum Tortoise Club
May 15, 2019
Location (City and/or State)
Malverne, NY
Bookmarked for later. Thanks for posting


Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
Platinum Tortoise Club
Sep 29, 2018
Location (City and/or State)
Westmoreland, NH
Thanks for this thread!

Perhaps optimistically, I ordered a Hovabator from Amazon once my pair of Russians began mating, in the hopes that at some point Persephone will lay some eggs.


The one I ordered came packaged as a "Reptile Incubator", and included some egg-cups, some incubation medium, a digital temp/humidity sensor, in addition to the stuff that normally comes with a hovabator.

I plugged the holes in the base unit with silicone and am waiting for it to dry before setting the incubator up further and taking it for a test run (to adjust the thermostat to the desired temp for Russian Tortoise eggs).


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