There are many ways to heat your animal’s enclosure. Flexwatt heat tape, Reptile Basics heat tape, heating cable, and heat rope are most often used for racks. Radiant heat panels (RHPs) are the most popular for heating individual cages. Other less popular but adequate sources include heat pads, ceramic heat bulbs, and infrared basking bulbs. For the safety of your animal, most heat sources should be installed outside of the cage. If not, there is a significant risk for burns. The one exception is the RHP, which is in fact mounted on the interior ceiling of an enclosure. The type/location of heat source is a matter of preference, and each has its pros and cons.
As the name implies, the heat source is situated at the bottom of the enclosure. Again, it should never be placed within a cage or tub due to the risk of fire and burning the animal. Also, it should not cover the bottom of the entire enclosure. Rather, it should be offset towards one end, covering no more than half the bottom of the cage. Bottom heat is set up using heat tape or heat pads and is most commonly used with rack systems.
Pros – Simple and easy to set up. Can provide a vertical thermal gradient if done properly in taller cages.
Cons – Heat gradient can be difficult to set up. The substrate has the potential to grow bacteria and fungi at a faster rate if kept too moist. Can encourage grounding.
Back heat is typically set up using heat tape on the back interior wall of a rack assembly.
Pros – Great for rack systems. Can provide a good back to front thermal gradient in most cases.
Cons – None to speak of.
Radiant Heat Panels, or RHP’s, are most commonly used for this application. They are installed offset (off center) on the interior ceiling of an enclosure. Infrared basking lights and ceramic bulbs can also be used for top heat.
Pros – Provides a good top-to-bottom, and side-to-side thermal gradient. RHPs won’t burn the animal and are the heating source of choice for most GTP keepers.
Cons – RHP’s are considerably more expensive than all other sources, but their efficiency and safety outweigh their cost. If using infrared basking lights and ceramic heating elements they need to be mounted outside the cage or covered so that the snake cannot burn itself. In addition to getting very hot, RHP’s and ceramic bulbs tend to dry a cage slightly faster.
Whole Room Heating
Some keepers uniformly heat an entire room instead of heating individual enclosures. Most often an oil filled radiator, baseboard, or other type of electric heater is used. An appropriately rated thermostat should be used as a back up to the one on the heating unit for extra safety. With whole room heating it is helpful to use a ceiling or box fan to ensure uniformity of temperature throughout the room. This is especially important if you have tall stacks of cages, or tall racks.
Pros – Whole room heating has less expensive up-front costs, and can avoid overly dry conditions sometimes attributed to in-cage heating.
Cons – With whole room heating you have less control of individual cages. This is especially challenging during breeding season if animals are being thermally cycled at different times of the season. It can create hot and cold pockets within the room if proper circulation is not achieved. Additional equipment is needed, such as timers, to set a night time drop in temps.