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Safety & energy-efficiency in large reptile enclosures

Picture of Safety & energy-efficiency in large reptile enclosures
In this instructable, I will demonstrate how I reduced the energy consumption of my snake pen while upgrading the heating and lighting setup to better match their needs.

A little bit about myself and my pets...

I have owned several types of exotic lizards and snakes. Currently, I have two boa constrictors; a male and a female. The male is about 6' and the female is 9' and I adopted them about 4 years ago. So, they're big, they're heavy and they are living in a pen that I built for Savannah Monitors several years ago.

I wanted to provide them with better light and heat while using less power and gaining more control of the system.
 
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Step 1: A little about my enclosure

Picture of A little about my enclosure
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The snakes are in a pen that I built several years ago. The enclosure is a 4' x 4' x 4' cube on top of a 2' x 4' x 4' base. The enclosure is divided into two stories to house the two snakes and was expertly painted by my wife. I don't put them together at all because I don't want any baby snakes.

Originally, two 60 or 75 watt reptile bulbs are what I used to provide the heat and light. So for 12 hours a day, I'm using 120 watts for the lights.

Over the past year, I have tried to reduce my all-around electricity consumption in the house and the snake pen is something I wanted to address as well.

Step 2: Replacing the lights

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The incandescent lights are eating up a lot of energy. The rest of my house has energy-saving compact fluorescent lights, and now CFL's are being made specifically for reptile enclosures. So, first thing to do is replace the incandescents with CFL's.

The two 60 watt lights are gone and I replaced them with two 20 watt CFL's. This means, I'm using 40 watts to light the enclosure now.

Plus, CFL's last longer than incandescent bulbs which means that I will have to replace the lights less often which will not only lead to energy savings over the long-term, but will also reduce the amount of money I have to spend on lights.

For an idea of the money I spend to replace lights, I have to replace each bulb roughly every two months which winds up being 12 bulbs per year. I pay about $9 per bulb from the pet store ($9 x 12 bulbs = $108/yr.). I bought these two CFL's online for $34 and I'm willing to gamble that they will last a lot longer than two months.

Step 3: Heating

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Now that I got rid of the incandescent bulbs, I also got rid of the heat that they provide. This means that I will have to find an alternative way to provide heat for the snakes.

I investigated several different products to determine what would be best for me. I looked at:

ceramic heat emitters (100 watts apiece - ouch! - out of the question)
Flexwatt heat tape (20 watts per square foot and priced fair although potentially dangerous)
heating pads (8" x 18", 24 watts apiece, sometimes a little pricey)
radiant heat pads (several wattages and too pricey)

What I wound up choosing was heat cable, since it seems to be versatile and safe. I bought two 11.5 foot cords which are 15 watts each for $28

Since none of these products can regulate heat on their own and can get too hot for the snakes, they must be controlled manually with a rheostat.

Step 4: The rheostat

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To adjust the heat output of the heating cable (aka "heat rope"), I decided to use a rheostat.

A rheostat and a thermostat are different. A thermostat will turn a heating device on when the temperature is below the setpoint and will turn it off when above the heat setpoint. A rheostat acts more like a dimmer switch, where it will reduce the current going to the heating device. This allows for even heating, since it stays on the entire time. It can also be adjusted to provide the exact temperature that I want in the enclosure.

The rheostat was $17 online.

Step 5: Putting it all together

Now that I have everything, it's time to put it all together and make it work.

The lights were replaced and I put mesh over the front of the dome lights so the snakes can't somehow break the CFL's. The lights are controlled by a light timer set to a 12 hour on/12 hour off cycle.

I tested the heat cable and rheostat on my kitchen counter to get the heating temperature correct. Then, I ran the heat cable into the pen and fastened it into place with some duct tape. I coiled the heat cable under the area where the light shines and placed a piece of rubber matting over it for safety. I duct-taped the mat down so it wouldn't move.

The rheostat was mounted to the side of the pen with all the other controls and both heat cable were plugged it. The rheostat is controlled by a second light timer on a 18 hour on/6 hour off cycle.

After I was finished with installing the new system, I covered everything over with some paper. The paper makes the cage much easier to keep clean. This week, it's paper grocery bags and masking tape. I prefer newspaper, but I was out.

Step 6: Fun with algebra....

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To calculate the energy consumption of a device per day, I used this equation:
a (b/1000) x c = d

a = the number of like devices (in my case, either lights or heat cable)
b = the wattage of an individual device
c = number of hours it is on per day
d = this is the answer, equal to the amount of kWh (kilowatt hours) used per day

The old setup (2 60W incandescents):
2 (60/1000) x 12 = 1.44 kWh per day
1.44 x 365 = 525.6 kWh per year

The new setup (2 20W CFL's, 2 15W heat cables)
2 (20/1000) x 12 = 0.48 kWh per day
2 (15/1000) x 18 = 0.54 kWh per day
365 (0.48 + 0.54) = 372.3 kWh per year

My energy savings:
- per day: 0.42 kWh per day
- per year: 153.3 kWh per year

I think that's pretty good.

Step 7: The end

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I'm pretty happy with the results of this project.

The boas seem happy with the new setup, and I'm thrilled that I will be saving energy with the new system. Making energy-saving choices like these can help to save reptile owners a lot of money over the long-term. It's fun to have reptiles, and it doesn't have to bankrupt you.

Check out my other reptile-themed instructable:
Feed a snake the safe way with CO2

If you have any additional questions about this instructable, or if I can help you out with your own setup, feel free to leave a comment and I'll try to get back to you.

I just got my 20g tank along with my baby ball python. I would also like to save money on the electric bill. I did buy the zoomed snake cage kit which tells you what i have in it. Would you be able to help me out on what to use to save my electric bill before it gets to high. I know I am using 100w day time bulb and 100w night time bulb along with a medium heat pad. I know I am not using (2) light source light you but would like to simplify my electric bill asap with getting new equipment saving power.

F1X0R6 years ago
I think as owners we can reduce energy consumption quite a bit. I l also think that where we can, we should. How ever Reptiles do tend to need quite a bit of electricity in their day to day lives when kept as pets. It would be important for potential buyers to recognise this potential cost.
iPodGuy (author)  F1X0R6 years ago
I agree. No reptile should have a less-than-adequate habitat, but the same result can be achieved in a number of ways. It's really worth the time it takes to investigate and plan a setup.
HubertF iPodGuy4 years ago
BEST ive heard yet on here about herps .VERY refreshing!
egermann045 years ago
what kinda bedding would you be able to put down over the rubber mat that would made the heat transfer suitable for the snake?
iPodGuy (author)  egermann045 years ago
None.  I suggest using newspaper or thin cardboard. 

Reptiles can develop intestinal problems over time due to inadvertently ingesting substrate.  Even if it says it is safe, I highly doubt it.
What are the temperature ranges you read on your cage thermometers with the new bulbs?
iPodGuy (author)  MommasArtMess5 years ago
Typically the ambient temp. is in the low 80's or high 70's.  With the open front of the cage, I don't retain too much heat.  It's been awhile now since I did the renovation, and I like the localized heat of the heat rope.  It's warmer in that area of the cage and provides a nice temperature gradient.
Knerps6 years ago
Thanks for this instructable. I am saddled with AUD3000 plus elect bills annually heating 20 odd reptiles and welcome anything that could save me money. Unfortunately, my snakes are mainly arboreal and seem to like the overhead heat spot, which for most of my enclosures is a 100-150W source. Unfortunately cords or mats don't seem to cut it for these snakes except when babies. I think ceramic heat globes or radiators on pulse proportional thermostats may be more economical than incandescents. Either way, I'm saving up for a solar panel set up.
iPodGuy (author)  Knerps6 years ago
How abut a CFL/radiant heat panel combo? If they're in to basking, those radiant panels would do the trick. I'd keep it on a rheostat, though. Check online. This instructable is brought to you by eBay...
DIYDragon6 years ago
Wow! 9 feet? he's a big, pretty boa. I noticed your Kingsnake.com sticker too - I've been there on the classifieds boards to find dart frogs before, lovely little creatures. : D Good energy tips, and the coils being under the rubber surface should keep the animals from burning themselves.