Very sturdy Sulcata house build – substrate options

Double Gular

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Very sturdy Sulcata house build – substrate options

Hi all,

I am building a very strong outdoor house for my adult Sulcata (150lbs, 35 years old). We live in San Diego where weather is warm all year around except for few months. He lives outdoor (our entire backyard with grass) with access to a climate-controlled doghouse where he sleeps at night. I am in the process of building a bigger Tortoise house with all the bells and whistle. I will post some pictures of the build soon. The base of the house is made out of heavy plywood, I would like to waterproof or lay something on top of the substrate so I could rinse off easily. I found some materials at Home Depot, but I think my Sulcata will easily scratch them. Can you recommend something? I am looking for hard surface that is waterproof that can be cut to fit?

My Sulcata house details:

  • Dimensions: 4x4x3
  • Roof that can be open and close from the top. I might install gas struts
  • Framing has been done with 3x3 studs. I had a shop rip 3x6 lumber into 3x3. I think I went little overboard, 2x4 or 2x2 would have been enough.
  • ¾ plywood both interior and exterior
  • Double Insulation all around
  • I will be reusing my Akoma Hound Heater Dog, I am not sure if it will able to heat up 48 cubic feet?
  • UVB and UVA light fixture inside
  • WI-FY enable Digital thermostat so I can monitor temperature remotely.
So far I have done the framing, dry fitted all the walls.
 

Tom

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I'm surprised you've gotten away with the dog house for so long, and glad you are making something better. San Diego, with your cool nights and mild summers is not warm enough for sulcatas at any time of year, depending on how close to the coast you are. Where they come from they live underground most of their lives. The ground temps range between 80-85 all year. When is the last time it was 80 degrees over night where you are?

If he's really 150 pounds, then a 4x4 is going to be on the small side. Inside dimensions are usually around 39x39 after you make the walls and insulation. Also, 36 inches is too tall inside. Even a big male sulcata is only 14-16 inches tall when laying down. I make my boxes 24 inches tall, which ends up being about 21 inches inside after the floor insulation is added. Making it any taller than this just makes it more difficult to heat down at the floor where the tortoise is. All that heat rises and you are heating 20 inches of air that the tortoise will never touch.

Another issue with a 4x4 for a big boy is the size of the door in relation to the size of the wall and interior of the box. The door will have to be so big that you will lose too much heat whenever the door is open. Vinyl freezer door flaps will help contain some heat, but a 4x8 foot box will stay warmer with such a large door.

The hound heater might not be enough on cold winter nights like what we are having right now. Here are two examples of boxes with safe ad efficient ways to heat them:

I've built about 20 of these now, and I continually refine the ideas as I go. The info I'm sharing with you is the product of many years of trial and error, testing, observation, and experimentation.
 

Tom

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I forgot to mention the floors... As you noted, no type of paint-on type coating is going to stand up to the abuse of a large sulcata. Luckily, none is needed. What works best is to leave the inside untreated and throw down a thin layer of dirt. The dirt makes clean up easy. I use a flat head shovel to break it all loose, and a doggy pooper scooper to remove the mess. Sometimes its easier to drag the poop out the door and pick it up outside. My 11/32 plywood floors last more than 10 years this way. If ever the floor starts wearing thin, its easy to cut some plywood and drop in a patch over the rough spot, or the whole floor if you want. Then it will last another 10+ years.

If you really want something down on the floor, you can cut a rubber horse stall mat to size. This will be good for the tortoise and protect the wood from abrasion and wear, but it will also trap moisture and water, so best to use some Pond Shield for the floor and walls if you are going to do that.

Finally, on the advice of @Markw84 , I've started using Rustoleum countertop paint on my interior ceilings. This prevents mold and mildew in the upper corners of the bare wood on the ceilings. It does take a good couple of weeks of warm dry weather for the fumes to dissipate, but its great after that. Outside I use Killz2 primer and Behr exterior paint. I used to paint the tops of my boxes white every spring, and dark every fall, and that does make a difference in the interior heat in summer, but lately I started using that corrugated plastic roofing stuff on top, and that seems to work well too.
 

2wgasa

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I forgot to mention the floors... As you noted, no type of paint-on type coating is going to stand up to the abuse of a large sulcata. Luckily, none is needed. What works best is to leave the inside untreated and throw down a thin layer of dirt. The dirt makes clean up easy. I use a flat head shovel to break it all loose, and a doggy pooper scooper to remove the mess. Sometimes its easier to drag the poop out the door and pick it up outside. My 11/32 plywood floors last more than 10 years this way. If ever the floor starts wearing thin, its easy to cut some plywood and drop in a patch over the rough spot, or the whole floor if you want. Then it will last another 10+ years.

If you really want something down on the floor, you can cut a rubber horse stall mat to size. This will be good for the tortoise and protect the wood from abrasion and wear, but it will also trap moisture and water, so best to use some Pond Shield for the floor and walls if you are going to do that.

Finally, on the advice of @Markw84 , I've started using Rustoleum countertop paint on my interior ceilings. This prevents mold and mildew in the upper corners of the bare wood on the ceilings. It does take a good couple of weeks of warm dry weather for the fumes to dissipate, but its great after that. Outside I use Killz2 primer and Behr exterior paint. I used to paint the tops of my boxes white every spring, and dark every fall, and that does make a difference in the interior heat in summer, but lately I started using that corrugated plastic roofing stuff on top, and that seems to work well too.
 

2wgasa

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@Tom "but lately I started using that corrugated plastic roofing stuff on top, and that seems to work well too."

Do you leave on all year or just during the summer? Any particular color?
Thanks
 

Tom

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@Tom "but lately I started using that corrugated plastic roofing stuff on top, and that seems to work well too."

Do you leave on all year or just during the summer? Any particular color?
Thanks
I'm using white, and I've left it on full time for about two years now.
 

Double Gular

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Tom, Thank you kindly for the reply and wealthy of information. I wish I had known about your boxes, I couldn't get someone to build one for me hence embarking on this mission to build my own. I too think now the height of the box may be too tall, but it is too late now to change it unless I disassemble it and cut it :(. Thanks for the flooring options.
 

Tom

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Tom, Thank you kindly for the reply and wealthy of information. I wish I had known about your boxes, I couldn't get someone to build one for me hence embarking on this mission to build my own. I too think now the height of the box may be too tall, but it is too late now to change it unless I disassemble it and cut it :(. Thanks for the flooring options.
The consequence of making it 3 feet tall is that you'll need more electricity and more heating equipment to keep temps up. This might not be a big deal. I use computer fans in some of my boxes to help keep the warm air down where I want it with the tortoises. That might help you too.
 

Double Gular

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Messages
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Location (City and/or State)
San Diego, CA
The consequence of making it 3 feet tall is that you'll need more electricity and more heating equipment to keep temps up. This might not be a big deal. I use computer fans in some of my boxes to help keep the warm air down where I want it with the tortoises. That might help you too.
Tom, I took your advise and I chopped it and shortened it to 24 inches, it is beginning to look like tortoise house now. I was able to reuse most of the wood.
 
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Tom

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Tom, I took your advise and I chopped it and shortened it to 24 inches, it is beginning to look like tortoise house now. I was able to reuse most of the wood.
Get some GE Silicone 1 and seal each joint and seam as you go. This will help hold in your heat and make it all work much more efficiently.

And don't forget the weather stripping around the top and the vinyl door flaps.
 

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