DIY Savannah Monitor enclosure

This is Diablo the Savannah Monitor in the temporary 3 hour DIY enclosure we built for him. He was rescued in pretty bad conditions, an 18″ x 18″ cage. So this 4′ x 2′ enclosure is much better for the time being, it would make a fantastic grow out enclosure as well but is not large enough to be a life long home for a Savannah Monitor.

This same enclosure would make a fine for life home for a Bearded Dragon, Uromastyx, or some other smaller species. You’ll need to slightly modify the tank decor and conditions for their specific needs of course.

This enclosure was constructed with 3/4″ Plywood, only a single sheet was used. We chose to use a Birch plywood because it was made with no harmful formaldehyde glue. If you use cheaper wood that uses this type of glue such as particle board to build an enclosure you’d have to seal it and then wait weeks for it to cure so that wasn’t an option. If you don’t seal it the inhabitants will be breathing in glue fumes and likely have health problems as a result.

The wood was cut 3 times at 2′ intervals so we are left with 4 sheets that measure 4’x 2′. Then one of those is cut in half so it ends up being 2′ x 2′.

Image is not to scale, it’s just a visual reference.

This design has a gap at the top back side for cords, ventilation and temperature probes. This alleviates the need for adding extra vents to the side and keeps it mostly out of reach for the inhabitants.

The supplies needed are as follows

  • 3/4″ Plywood 4′ x 8′ sheet (Get a Formaldehyde free wood if you don’t want to seal it)
  • 1 1/4″ screws (or thicker, depending if you use furring strips listed below)
  • 3 1/2″ screws
  • 48″ x 24″ sheet of Arylic 1/8″ inch is what we used, thicker would work too.
  • 2″x1″ wood for the viewing window / door frame. You’ll need about 5 8′ lengths. We used furring strips and sanded them down, they are more like 3/4″ x 1.5″ actual dimensions I believe.
  • Hinges and Latches for the door of your choice.
  • 1’x1′ stick on vinyl tiles. It takes 8 of that size to cover the floor.
  • Tiles or Stones for the basking spot
  • Large 18-20 gallon plastic tote for sand/dirt mix
  • 40lbs of dirt (from your yard if it’s free of pesticides or just get top soil from the store, make sure it’s just soil and not manure mix)
  • 40lbs of play sand from your local hardware store
  • Smaller plastic tray for a water dish, shallow totes work
  • Large log for climbing into the dirt
  • Halogen Flood Lamps 3 x 40watt (wattage can vary depending on ambient temperatures)
  • 3 x Clamp Lamps for the bulbs (We use cheap ones from the hardware store)
  • Timer and Power Strip
  • If it drops below the lows 70’s at night you’ll need another clamp lamp with a ceramic heat emitter bulb to provide night time heat to keep the temps no lower than the low 70’s. You’ll need a timer for this as well so it’s off during the day.
  • Humidity and Temperature Gauges
You’ll want to start by building the box using the 3 1/2″ screws. For our design with the gap we mounted the back and sides first. The sides sit directly on the bottom sheet and get screwed down. The back is flush with the bottom board and screwed to both the sides and the bottom. It will sit slightly lower than the sides, this is the gap we mentioned. Then you mount the top sheet, it screws to the sides only. You can stick your tiles on now, you may need to trim a bit depending if your vinyl tiles are actually 12″ or slightly less.
Now you’ll build the door/viewing window. Your box should be about 25 1/2″ tall at this point but measure to be sure. It should be 4′ x 25.5″. You need to cut down the furring strips into shorter lengths. Build a frame with opposite sides for added strength. For example if your box is the size above your measurements will be as follows.
  • 2 x 25.5″ (set 1)
  • 2 x 45″ (set 1)
  • 2 x 48″ (set 2)
  • 2 x 22.5″ (set 2)
You will lay the first set down to make a 4′ x 25.5″ square. Then lay your Acrylic over the top, the wood should hang over just a little on the top and bottom. Now put the second set of wood over the top, it should line up opposite of the bottom set. This way all the wood is screwed together. It makes the door much much rigid this way. We built one with both sides the same and it’s flimsy where the wood meets. You will need to predrill the holes through the top furring strip and through the acrylic, GO SLOW OR YOU WILL CRACK IT. It is expensive you do not want to crack it. Use a SHARP bit and go SLOW. You’ll stop as soon as you get through the acrylic. Now take your shorter 1 1/4″ screws (or  a little longer if you didn’t use furring strips) and gently tighten the frame together. We used a screw every 8-10″ or so.
Now mount your hinges to the door and mount it up to the box. Ours hinges down but you can do this however you’d like. Once your hinges are mounted get your latch mounted. They should come with proper mounting hardware as well. One the latch is mounted you’re pretty much done.
The final thing you need to do is screw the 4 clamp lamps to the top board inside using the shorter screws. Don’t screw to far of they will come out the top of your enclosure. Just enough to hold them in place, 2-3 screws is fine. Mount them so they point at the basking spot. Run the cords out of the gap at the top back of the tank. If you need a night time bulb mount it as well in a central location. You can start with 3 40watt bulbs and use a temperature gun to measure the basking spot. You are looking for around 130 degrees surface temps for a big guy like Diablo. You can go slightly less with a juvenile. Note, this is surface temp, not air temp. This is why you need the temp gun. Adjust the bulb wattage as need to get the proper temps but do not exceed the recommended bulb size for the clamp lamp.
Now just put your rock or tiles in the basking spot. Fill your water dish and place it near the cooler side of the tank. The plastic tote will get placed on the end away from the heat. You’ll fill it with a 50/50 mix of the sand and dirt until almost full. The mix should be wet but not muddy. It should clump together but break apart when dropped. The Monitor will dig and relax in the mix. It helps with humidity as well, since the Savannah Monitor does require humidity despite what the name might imply. We trimmed the tote by cutting a u shape out of the side and placed our large climbing stick on the tank floor and rested it in the cutout. The monitor climbs up the wood into the tote, otherwise it might be difficult for him.
Use your temperature/humidity gauges to make sure you’ve got at least 55% humidity on the side with the tote. You should see 90-100 degree air temperatures on the warm side and 75-85 degrees on the cooler side. You can take a scrap piece of furring strip and cover part of the gap on the top back of the tank as we chose to do. It is only about 40″ long so there is a 4″ gap on each side for ventilation and temperature control. With the gap full sized it remained to cool inside the tank because of our cooler ambient temperatures. It also helps keep unwanted pests from trying to visit the Monitor, such as a cat. You can just use one of the shorter screws to attach it to the top. If it remains to warm you can now easily install a shorter board in the gap to add ventilation or remove it completely and just staple some screen in place. It gives you easier option than cutting a giant HVAC vent into the side of the enclosure in my opinion. Plus it looks cleaner and the Monitor won’t mess with it like they do normal side mounted vents.


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