Complete Guide to Heating and Lighting Your PVC Reptile Enclosure

Complete Guide to Heating and Lighting Your PVC Reptile Enclosure

One of the best and most popular materials for reptile enclosures right now is expanded PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). Although the name sounds intimidating, this material is just a type of plastic that has been used for many things from signage to long lasting pipes and more.

The reason this material is so great for reptile enclosures is due to the ‘expanded’ nature. In between the outer layers there are millions of small air bubbles locked inside the material. This creates an insulating effect so the heat and humidity does not pass through or get absorbed by the material.

When setting up heating and lighting in your enclosure, always use a thermostats and properly place your probe with any heating element!

Make sure to consult multiple resources when looking for the proper environment needs of your pet. Reptile care is a fine balance of many variables, so the type of set up will depend on not just your pet, but your home environment as well.

Use temperature and humidity probes along with a heat gun to check your set up regularly, especially when you’re just setting everything up at first!

Most importantly; remember to have fun! As complicated as it may sound at first, you can totally do it and it is worth it!

Enjoy learning and creating the best environment for the happiest reptile! ☺️

Ambient Heat:

Radiant Heat Panel (RHP): Radiant heat panels are a low profile plastic panel that screws into the enclosure lid, on the inside of your enclosure. This is the best and safest way to provide overall, natural heat inside your PVC reptile enclosure. The best part about these is that even if your reptile touches the Radiant Heat Panel, they will not get burned, unlike with lamps and bulbs.

If you have a snake, this is the most recommended way to heat your PVC enclosure.

Radiant Heat Panels emit infrared heat, which is great for your reptile. Infrared Heat is known to penetrate into the muscle tissue, which is healthier for your pet. This is the same type of heat that ceramic heat emitters produce, but without being scolding to the touch. 

Another benefit is that RHPs attach to the top of the enclosure, much like the sun, emitting heat from above and gently heating the objects in the enclosure more so that the air. 

Always consult with the manufacturer when sizing your radiant heat panel.

Basking Spot and Direct Heat:

Deep Heat Projector or Ceramic Heat Emitter: Both of these heat bulb styles emit infrared heat, which is the best for your reptile. This is a more directed heat which is perfect to use to heat one side of the enclosure more than the other and provide a heat gradient. These bulb styles do not emit light, so they can be on all the time. Always make sure you are placing something underneath the bulb and it is not pointing at bare PVC.

(We recommend using both of these with a lamp cage if you’re using it on the inside of your enclosure with a pet that can climb, to prevent accidental burns.)

General Heat Bulb Guidelines:

Generally speaking, you can use any heat/light bulb with a PVC enclosure as long as you follow these guidelines:

  • Always use a thermostat

  • Place something to absorb the heat underneath the lamp (rock/tile)

  • Make sure to properly place your probe

  • Check the enclosure and basking spot temperatures regularly with a heat gun

  • Higher enclosures are always better so you can create a heat gradient and provide your reptile with the appropriate options for it to regulate its temperature

  • Bulbs should be used with an appropriate bulb holder, ceramic holder with a metal bracket if you are screwing into the lid on the inside of the enclosure or a dome lamp fixture if you are using a screen top to hold the lamp (https://www.arcadiareptile.com/heating/lamp-holder-bracket-pro/ OR https://www.chewy.com/zoo-med-repti-deep-dome-lamp/dp/190106)

  • IF USING LAMP ON THE INSIDE OF THE ENCLOSURE make sure you use a lamp cage to protect climbing reptiles from burns (https://www.arcadiareptile.com/heating/heat-lamp-cage/)

  • IF USING CERAMIC FIXTURE ON THE INSIDE OF THE PVC ENCLOSURE make sure your ceramic fixture is not directly touching the PVC.

  • Do not attach ceramic directly to the PVC, always use a wood or PVC spacer.

  • Try to look for a ceramic fixture that is in a metal bracket to provide ventilation and decrease heat transfer onto the PVC, such as the one below:

Why we DO NOT recommend Under Tank Heating for any PVC cage:

There are too many safety issues involved here due to the nature of the PVC material. Under Tank Heat pads were created for glass enclosures and are not safe to use on any PVC enclosures. PVC is a great insulator since it is filled with millions of locked bubbles acting like your vacuum sealed insulated coffee tumbler. This means the PVC doesn’t let heat go through it, so you would have to turn the heat mat way up to unsafe levels. Heat mats are meant to give off a low consistent heat that travels through glass very well.

There are also issues with providing the needed ventilation for UTH mats. You cannot stand the cage on the heat mat, you need to raise the enclosure so there is air flow underneath the UTH (this is recommended by UTH manufacturers for proper and safe function). This raises yet another problem; any PVC reptile enclosures needs to be on a hard flat surface that supports the whole bottom of the enclosure. You should not be using stacking kits that raise the PVC enclosure only by the four corners as it will sag over time. This is due to the nature of any PVC material.

Lighting Your PVC Enclosure:

This one is a bit easier! 😁 You can use any lighting necessary with PVC enclosures. The fixtures can be screwed into the lid or placed over a screen top. The type of lighting and its intensity depends on the kind of reptile you will be housing in the enclosure.

If you are unsure of the light required for your reptile breed, there is an amazing lighting guide on Arcadia Reptile HERE. (https://www.arcadiareptile.com/lighting/guide/

Need help finding the right combination of heat & light for your pet?

Here are some of our favorite resources:

Arcadia Reptile has a fantastic lighting (& feeding) guide on their site:
ReptiFiles has tons of care sheets available that cover all set-up needs:

Pro-Products will work with you to get you the exact size of RHP you need for your enclosure size and environment
Reptile Basics is another great source for Radiant Heat Panels

If you’re still not sure, don't hesitate to Contact Us!

General Guidelines review:

  • It is not recommended to use Under Tank Heating (UTH), heat mats/pads or heat tape with any PVC enclosure (PVC doesn’t transfer heat like glass, which is what the mats are designed for).

  • For ambient heat in the enclosure, the best & safest option for PVC cages is a properly sized Radiant Heat Panel (RHP).

  • A heat lamp on one side is another great option for maintaining ambient temperature, creating a heat gradient and a basking spot. Always have something underneath the lamp so it is not directly shining on the PVC.

  • To create basking spots, use a heat emitting lamp and a tile or a rock placed underneath it to absorb the heat.

  • You can use any lighting with your enclosure, read up on the requirements of your specific pet on the strength and longevity of light they need.

Why don’t Apex Cages have heat & light options?

There are a lot of variables that go into choosing the best heat and light for your enclosure. We engineered the structure of the enclosures so you can have the option to install the heating and lighting you need, instead of only being able to choose what the cage manufacturer has to offer. The lid of an Apex Cage can be removed at any time, while the cage stays in tact. This means if you ever need to install, move, or replace fixtures in your enclosure, you can do so with ease. There are wire holes in the lid, so you can position or re-position your fixtures and wires whenever you need to.

How you should be heating and lighting your enclosure highly depends on the type of pet you’re getting and their personality. Furthermore, the environment YOU live in plays a huge role as well.

You don’t have to be limited by what the cage manufacturer has to offer for heat and light any longer! Moreover, you can re-use the fixtures you may already have lying around the house!

Remember: Ambient temperatures of the room your enclosure is in can change your set-up completely. For example, if you live in the desert and it is always dry and hot you will have a different set-up to someone who lives in a humid environment where it is on the colder side most of the year.

This is not meant to discourage you! Part of the fun of getting a reptile is learning how to create the perfect environment for it and maintaining it. Enjoy the journey and bond with your friend as you research everything that you can do to make their home the best for the both of you! Once you set up heat & light yourself once, you'll never go back, the freedom is just too good! 😉

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