Introduction: Vivarium With Planted Back Wall From Old Cupboard
I needed a new large vivarium to house a new gecko. But options out there were expensive and didn't fit my room layout. So I decided to convert an old Ikea wardrobe into one.
Items used for build:
1x Ikea wardrobe
2x Pine strips 1cm x 1cm (other scraps or off cuts will do)
1x aquarium silicon sealant (must be aquarium safe so not to leach into water and poison animals)
1x Bag of cement and sand
1x Pack of eco earth/coconut fibre
1x Black bag or pond liner sheet (I used black bag)
1 x 2.5 meter strip of vivarium glass slider
2 x sheet of acrylic/toughened glass. Have them cut to the height of your opening and a couple of cm wider than half of it for the overlap. (I used acrylic sheet)
1 x can of expanding foam
Various plant pots and chunks of foam.
Circular saw and driver.
Step 1: Step 1: Converting the Wardrobe
I measured my wardrobe so that I could cut the front doors and use the off cuts to make the enclosure floor and the front top and bottom Plinths for the glass sliders. To do this just make sure the height of your door cut is AT LEAST as tall as the wardrobe is wide. We will be cutting the off cuts down later to make the enclosure floor.
Remove the doors and measure your cut. In my case it was just over half. This will leave you with 2 smaller lower doors to reattach. With them reattached then measure from the base of the wardrobe to about 3mm above the door, mark this point on all 4 inner corners of the wardrobe. Measure from the front of the wardrobe to the back, taking off the depth of the doors. Use this measurement to cut your pine strips to length. Then attach on strip to the left inner side lining its top edge up with the marks made in the corners, and again with the second strip for the right inner wall. These are to lay the floor onto. Next its time to cut the door off cuts down to size to fit in as the vivarium floor. Measure the inner width of the wardrobe (do it twice) and cut down both door halves. Take one and slot it into position resting on top of the pine strips. This will leave a gap not quite as wide as the width of the remaining door off-cut. Measure the depth of this gap and subtract the thickness of the door (to allow you room to install the front plinths in a bit) Now cut the remaing floor piece to fit the gap. This will leave you with a strip that can then me cut in half and glued and screwed into place top and bottom of the vivarium opening (see picture) This is where we will later mount our glass sliders.
At this point take your aquarium sealant and seal all the edges and exposed wood grain etc to seal it to prevent osmosis from the humidity later.
I also used some off cuts to make a small light box in the top, this later had LED's fitted and extraction holes for a pc fan ventilation system.
Step 2: Step 2: Starting the Background.
To start the background sketch out of just mentally visualise where yous like ledges and "rocks"
Once you've got a good design or plan laid out you can start cutting the foam chunks for form the base of our rocks. This saves on expanding foam later.
Take your cut foam chunks and put them into place gluing with aquarium sealant. Once the sealant is dry we are going to move onto the expanding foam.
Cover the whole back wall and any side out cropping or areas you want to later be "rock" Once the foam is in place I then add my plant pots by pushing them down into it and any bark or surface details I want in the final wall. These will be swallowed up and hidden as the foam expands. It expands A LOT so don't think "Hmm not enough" and adding more as you'll be surprised later. Also don't worry about the look as we will be carving it to shape once drive and exposing those plant pots.
The carving step is your chance to really give your back wall some shape and make it look like rocks and hollows. You can see the difference in the pictures. To carve the foam I just used a bread knife, I found this worked best.
Step 3: Step 3: Concreting the Background.
Now we have a fantastic blank canvas background shape. Lets take it beyond the standard foam vivarium! That's been done to death already!
As I didn't want a solid grey background this is where i used the coco fibre. Mix your concrete according to the instruction with your bag. I had 2 different brands and both differed so I wont go into that. Except to say for the colour i got on my background I replaced half the sand with coco fibre. Wear rubber gloves and a dust mask when mixing!
This sand/coco fibre gave a really nice fibrous brown grey mix. Mix in small batches and make it reasonably thick so you can mould it onto your foam shapes.
When drying keep misting the concrete to keep it moist. If the concrete drys too fast it WILL crack. I heavily misted every so often or when it looked a a bit dry (the colour changes)
Step 4: Step 4: Decorating and Planting
Once the concrete was dry I moved onto surface decoration and other tank features such as drift wood etc etc. This is more personal preference and will differ depending on the species you're keeping.
But to decorate the surface I smeared black aquarium silicon onto certain areas then forced moss and coco fibre down into it. Once the silicon has dried use a stif brush to remove any excess that hasn't stuck.
The base is them lined with the black bag or pond liner. This cut to shape then glued/sealed in place with the aquarium sealant. This is a second barrier as we already sealed it earlier on. Then fill half your base with clay balls for drainage then lay another sheet of black bag on top. On top of this add your potting soil. Be sure to use one with out added fertiliser. Once its in place pat it down and then get a fork and ram it down through the second black bag layer to create drainage holes.
Once your planted and decorated the vivarium measure and cut your vivarium glass sliders and glue with the aquarium sealant to the top and bottom plinths and insert your glass.
I made a custom LED light using 4 10w LED's and an old pc heat sink and pc fan as an extractor to keep air flowing. These are easy to make and have many Instructables on the subject on the site already.