What You'll Need to Build A Night Box

Tom

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Hey Tom,

Do you have a video link that could explain all the wiring/electrical? I don't know how thermostats work and I have never owned an oil filled heater before. I don't know how they go together. I would love to have the heater turn itself on and off when necessary.

This is my first time reaching out for help on this forum. I built my 8 year old Sulcata a 4x4 using the template you've provided through this forum. I can't thank you enough 🙌

--
Rudy
Hello and welcome!

The thermostats and heaters are very easy to use. As soon as you have them in your hands, it will be obvious.
  1. Plug your thermostat into the wall or extension cord.
  2. Put the thermostat's probe somewhere far from any heat source, and out of tortoise reach.
  3. Set the thermostat (it will have instructions in the package) to the temperature you want to maintain.
  4. Mount your mini radiant oil heater to the floor with screws or with some metal sash chain, so it can't move. This will maintain the correct distance from the wall and wood blocker.
  5. Most of them have an on/off switch. Turn it on. If your has a low/med/high switch start with low. If the low setting can maintain the temp, then stick with that.
  6. Turn the thermostat on the actual heater all the way up to the hottest setting and then back it off around 10-15%. This will act as a failsafe, should your reptile thermostat ever stick on. 6a. If you want to experiment, you can plug the heater directly into the wall and fiddle with the thermostat settings to find when the heater's built in thermostat shuts it off at around 90-95 degrees. Then mark that on the dial with a sharpie and leave it set there. This will give you two thermostats protecting your tortoise.
  7. Plug the heater into the little receptacle on the thermostat. Now the thermostat will send power to the heater any time the temperature at the probe dips below your set point. When the temperature rises above the set point, the thermostat will shut the heater off. Because this is a radiant oil filled heater, all that hot oil will continue giving off heat for a long time. When the temp drops again, the heater will come back on again.
  8. Tidy up all your wires with zip ties and a wall mounted shoe box, and tuck them all away out of tortoise reach.
  9. Close the lid and walk away. Use a digital thermometer that records highs and lows and watch the temperature for a few days. Adjust the reptile thermostat as needed to get the temperature where you want it.
 

Nash

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Tom, my husband and I JUST finished building one of your 4X4 night boxes, exactly to the "t". Before that we had a 5X6 ft. shed that we insulated top to bottom. We had our Sulcata in there for 2 years. He had a red mat underneath him, a panel above him and also we had an oil heater that you recommended as well as humidifiers running 24/7. OK, now we have this new 4X4 night box; do we use all of these heating devices in the 4X4 box. I see and read that you only have water dishes on your shelves for humidity. I am hoping I don't have to run humidifiers anymore and that my electric bill will be improving. The temps get down to the teens in the winter. The box is on a cement pad but we put runners that are 1 1/2" off the ground. What would you recommend? My husband is wanting to know do we run the heating panel above him. We made the box so that the oil heater has its special place, already. So now just wondering what all else you think we should do. We value your opinion.
 

Tom

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Tom, my husband and I JUST finished building one of your 4X4 night boxes, exactly to the "t". Before that we had a 5X6 ft. shed that we insulated top to bottom. We had our Sulcata in there for 2 years. He had a red mat underneath him, a panel above him and also we had an oil heater that you recommended as well as humidifiers running 24/7. OK, now we have this new 4X4 night box; do we use all of these heating devices in the 4X4 box. I see and read that you only have water dishes on your shelves for humidity. I am hoping I don't have to run humidifiers anymore and that my electric bill will be improving. The temps get down to the teens in the winter. The box is on a cement pad but we put runners that are 1 1/2" off the ground. What would you recommend? My husband is wanting to know do we run the heating panel above him. We made the box so that the oil heater has its special place, already. So now just wondering what all else you think we should do. We value your opinion.
With just the Kane mat and RHP over head, I'm able to maintain 80+ when temps dip into the high 20s on a cold winter night. The oil heaters keep me in the 80s too. It sounds like you get a bit colder then me, so I'd do a redundant double system in your case, as long as you have enough power to manage it all. I'd run two thermostats, one set a little higher than the other. Maybe your oil heater set at 86 in winter, and then set your heat mat/RHP combo's thermostat to come on at 80. If the ambient temp never dips too low, the Kane mate/RHP combo will never turn on. If the oil heater can't keep up with night temps in the teens, then the Kane mat RHP will kick on and keep your baby sufficiently warm.
 

Nash

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Thanks Tom, this sounds great to me. And the humidity? The bowls of water, do they work just fine? I can see it in the winter because of the heat that is in there, but I'm really concerned during the hot months. My little guy hasn't tried burrowing yet in my yard. He is 6 years old and has just always gone into his shed. I kept it pretty humid, cool, warm what ever it needed to be. He may try to burrow in the summer now that he has this kind of box but until then? Do you have any suggestions?
 

Tom

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Thanks Tom, this sounds great to me. And the humidity? The bowls of water, do they work just fine? I can see it in the winter because of the heat that is in there, but I'm really concerned during the hot months. My little guy hasn't tried burrowing yet in my yard. He is 6 years old and has just always gone into his shed. I kept it pretty humid, cool, warm what ever it needed to be. He may try to burrow in the summer now that he has this kind of box but until then? Do you have any suggestions?
Try the tubs and see what it does. Adjust as needed. Every situation is different, so you'll need to see what your gauges say in your enclosure.
 

Nash

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Thank you again. I know you are very busy with your new hatchlings, I appreciate you taking the time.
 
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Tolis

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Hi Tom I am in a hot semi-arid environment, winter temps fluctuate between 40-60F, it never drops lower to freezing temps. It is much cheaper for me to use just the oil radiator instead of the mat and panel combination. I have a feeling the radiator will also evaporate the water dishes more effectively and maintain high humidity. However I do want want the best for my baby aldabra so I am willing to spend the extra bucks if the mat/panel is better in any way.
 

Tolis

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Hi Tom I am in a hot semi-arid environment, winter temps fluctuate between 40-60F, it never drops lower to freezing temps. It is much cheaper for me to use just the oil radiator instead of the mat and panel combination. I have a feeling the radiator will also evaporate the water dishes more effectively and maintain high humidity. However, I do want the best for my baby aldabra so I am willing to spend the extra bucks if the mat/panel is better in any way.
I have been advised to avoid oil radiators because they consume a lot of electricity. It is hard for me to estimate how much power each heating solution needs since I cannot know how long each needs to work until the enclosure reaches the set temperature.
Anyone of you ever regretted using any type of heating and switched to a more efficient economical heating solution? I am sure you folks in Cali are careful with your consumption...
 

Shellieru

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Hi Tom, I just wanted to thank you for your incredible generosity in sharing your design, information, and answering questions. I'm in the process of putting together my tortoise house and your posts have been such a huge help. I'm really grateful! I had searched all over the internet before I found this group and wasted a lot of time and making a lot of mistakes. Wish I had just come here first. Thanks again!
 
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Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
54,123
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Hi Tom I am in a hot semi-arid environment, winter temps fluctuate between 40-60F, it never drops lower to freezing temps. It is much cheaper for me to use just the oil radiator instead of the mat and panel combination. I have a feeling the radiator will also evaporate the water dishes more effectively and maintain high humidity. However I do want want the best for my baby aldabra so I am willing to spend the extra bucks if the mat/panel is better in any way.
If the box is more then 1.3x1.3 meters, then the heat mat and RHP combo might not work as well. Too much space.

I have been advised to avoid oil radiators because they consume a lot of electricity. It is hard for me to estimate how much power each heating solution needs since I cannot know how long each needs to work until the enclosure reaches the set temperature.
Anyone of you ever regretted using any type of heating and switched to a more efficient economical heating solution? I am sure you folks in Cali are careful with your consumption...
Whoever is telling you this doesn't understand how this works.

The heat mat and RHP each use about 80 watts. The thermostat turns them on and off as needed to maintain the necessary temperature. On a 50 degree night, in a sealed and insulated box with the door closed, they can maintain the correct temperature, but they are on most of the night. You are burning 160 watts of electricity all night long.

By contrast, the mini radiant oil heaters burn 400-700 watts. Way more electricity! But here's the catch: When the temp drops and the thermostat kicks on, those 700 watts heat up the oil in the heater and all the metal fins, and when the temp in the box is warm enough after 30-45 minutes, the thermostat kicks the heater off. All that hot oil and metal keep giving off heat for a long time after the power is off. These heaters will only run for an hour two or three times a night in most circumstances, IF your box is correctly built. Because they keep radiating heat for so long after they turn off, they don't run much at all.

In some cases I use less electricity to heat the big 4x8' boxes with a radian oil heater, than I do to heat a 4x4' box with a Kane mat and RHP. I know these things because I've put an electrical meter in-line and measured electrical usage.
 

dudeofjunk1955

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I just typed up a list of the needed supplies to build a night box and thought I'd copy paste it here:

For sulcatas, I make the doors 26x16". This will fit all but the largest of large males for their entire life. If you end up with one of the giants, you will eventually have to make another box with a bigger door.

I don't use anything on the floors or walls. I put some dirt on the floor, and this makes clean up really easy. The floors in my sulcata boxes never rot. If ever they did, its easy to put a plywood patch over the rough spot and get another decade or more of use out of the box. If ever the patch were to rot, easy to replace the patch.

Cost for all the electric stuff (Heavy duty extension cord, latching plastic box, thermostat, heater, computer fan, etc...), insulation, sealant, paint and primer, hinges and latches, and all your lumber will run around $700-800.

For a 4x8' box, you'll need:
  • 7 sheets of plywood. Do NOT use OSB or any other type of particle board. I use 11/32 thickness. This keeps the weight of the box down, and the insulation and sealant holds the heat in just fine.
  • 4 sheets of rigid foam 1.5" insulation.
  • Around 12-15 2x4s.
  • 6-10 2x3s.
  • 4 2x2s to frame the lid. Saves a lot of weight in these heavy lids...
  • 5-6 tubes of GE Silicone I sealant.
  • One gallon of Killz 2 primer.
  • One gallon of Behr Premium Exterior Paint.
  • I use "Deck Screws" from Home Depot. Super long lasting, strong, and you'll never pop the head off of one. Mostly 1 1/4" screws to attach the plywood to the framing, but also 3" screws for strength in the corners and when you attach the 2x4 to the back of the box that you'll attach the lid to with hinges. Not a bad idea to have 1 5/8 or 2" screws in case you strip the wood with one of the 1 1/4 screws in softer wood.
  • I also get a couple of pressure treated 2x4s and cut three strips to size, to rest the box on and keep it off the ground.
  • Spend the extra few bucks on the hot galvanized hinges for your doors. Its a pain in the arse to replace those if they rust due to pee or rain. Regular door hinges work fine for me for the back since they dry off after a rain and don't sit in water all the time.
  • I use a plastic shoe box type thing to contain all my cords and thermostat and keep things a little neater, and to prevent the tortoises from getting tangled in the wires.
  • I use coffee cup hanging hooks to route my wires and keep them out of tortoise reach.
  • Use a medium or heavy duty extension cord. At least 14 gauge, if not 12. I think the thinner 16 gauge cords are too thin.
  • Here is the thermostat I usually use: https://www.lllreptile.com/products/13883-zilla-1000-watt-temperature-controller
  • Here is the heater I typically use: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Optimus-...hguid=47821a26-852-1673f254fbdcb1&athena=true
  • Here is the computer fan I usually use: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B009DLW9RO/?tag=exoticpetnetw-20
ENJOY!!! :D
12 15 2 × 4s is that count of 12 15 footers
Hey Tom,

Do you have a video link that could explain all the wiring/electrical? I don't know how thermostats work and I have never owned an oil filled heater before. I don't know how they go together. I would love to have the heater turn itself on and off when necessary.

This is my first time reaching out for help on this forum. I built my 8 year old Sulcata a 4x4 using the template you've provided through this forum. I can't thank you enough 🙌

--
Rudy
Is that 12 15 2x4s count of 12 15 footers
6 count of 10 footers 2x3s
4 count 2x2. how long??
 

Tolis

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I just want to advice anyone looking to build a box to consider the double door option it is a game changer for me.
It allows me to check if the tort is inside without lifting the heavy lid.
It also provides good airflow circulation when both doors are open.
You can make a small door to minimize heat loss and a bigger one for when your tort grows up.

Also if you are planning to add gas struts plan in advance and use frame where the struts will be screwed instead of insulation.

Do not try to cut corners and go with a dog house or something similar. In my box a 500w oil heater can barely keep the temps over 70f when the temp drops to 40f which is the coldest for my area.
 
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