Do I really need to use a thermostat?
YES! Heat tape will last much longer and be much safer for you and your animals if it is used properly and safely. THG recommends that our element should never be used without a thermostat or rheostat to control its temperature. Our own experiences in the reptile hobby over the last 20 years also support this. While some will tell you it can be used “as is” in some widths and wattage’s, we have seen it fail when used this way and at the very least your temperatures will be unreliable. Heat tape can get a bit warmer than you want if left uncontrolled regardless of the width or wattage which WILL lead to premature product failure and possibly trouble with your animals if your set up is not ideal. A relatively small investment in the right thermostat can save you quite a bit over the longer term. Other reasons to use a thermostat will be discussed later in this section.
Which side is up?
There is no top or bottom with heat tape. Either side up works equally well.
Can I cut this stuff?
Yes, you can trim your THG heat tape to the desired length. Heat tape is a thin laminate material that can be cut with any good quality scissor. The element that we sell has been specifically chosen for reptile rack and cage use and can be cut to length. MAKE SURE THE ELEMENT IS UNPLUGGED WHEN TRIMMING!
How do I assemble the THG element?
To do this correctly you should use the special crimping tool sold by your THG reseller. Can this be done at home without this tool? Yes. We have found a vise works the best if you do not have the tool because you can get the entire rivet in it and smush it evenly. Soldering your connections is also a very viable option if you have the know how to do it. Please refer to the DIY’s on the Get Help section of this website- Crimped/Rivet Connections Solder Connections. If you are not comfortable making the wire connections we suggest you leave this to someone who does. The electrical connection of your heat element is one of the most critical elements of a safe installation.
How does heat tape work?
The THG element was designed for reptile use from the start, unlike others that are crossovers from the floor heating industry. What does this mean? We selected a style that is easily trimmed to length between the black cross bars, a lower wattage density more appropriate to the reptile application and a tougher laminate to lay flatter and resist wear better. We have also found that some other hobbies also benefit from these features such as seedling propagation and home beer brewing. We are sure there are more so if you have a specific application in mind please send us an email.
Along each side of the heat tape is a copper foil strip that conducts electricity to the black lines in the tape that make up the heating element. Heat tape is very thin and made of a durable plastic film which makes it ideal for heating reptiles. We have been using heat tape on various racks and cages for over 20 years now with no significant incident. When used properly with a thermostat/rheostat it is a very useful and long lived product. The key is proper set up and use.
Why different sizes?
You will want to select the size heat tape you will use based on your application.
You want to create a basking area for your reptile, not a hot plate to sit on. We like to have the tape cover no more than 1/3 of the floor surface area, often less, when heat tape is used for belly heat. This will provide your animals with a nice thermal gradient so they can decide how warm they need to be. Remember, the animal will move on and off the heat as needed as long as you give it the opportunity to do so.
Like about anything else in life, heat tape and thermostats CAN AND DO fail! You want to use enough heat tape width and wattage to do the job you need done and still maintain a safe environment should it or your thermostat fail and get hotter than it is supposed to. Your animals MUST be able to get away from the heat should it become too much. This is another very important reason not to cover more than about 1/3 of the floor area with the heat tape when using it for belly heat. We have found this most critical on smaller size tubs in rack systems in the 5-6 quart range.
Ideally you should select the appropriate wattage/width so that you will only run the heat tape at about 50-75% capacity. For belly heat rack applications you should set up the thermostat probe on the heat tape itself for best results and highest safety. Do not place your thermostat probe inside one of the tubs or off of the heat tape in a belly heat setup. The most foolproof, consistent method is to place and secure the thermostat probe directly on the heat tape itself. It is a very good idea to check your thermostat probe periodically as part of your regular maintenance to make sure it is securely in place.
In most small to medium shoe and sweater boxes the 3 inch or 4 inch heat tape will do the job. In larger tubs you may want to use the 6″ element. Unless your room temperature is unusually cool you should get good results. For larger sweater or blanket box applications you would probably go with the 12″ wide heat tape. 12″ is also the element of choice for back heat set ups.
But if I place the probe on the heat tape with my belly heat rack I won’t know the temp in the tub, right?
Yes and no. True, your thermostat will not know the temp in the tub over the heat tape (basking area) but you will. Generally the heat tape will be warmer than the temperature in the tub. This is due to the air gap between the bottom of the tub and the heat tape as well as the thickness of the tub floor. We suggest starting with the thermostat setting about 5 degrees warmer than the desired basking temp. Let the system warm up for a couple of hours (this is important!) and check the results. If you are 2 degrees lower in the tub then raise the thermostat temp by 2 degrees. Wait a half hour. Test again. Once you have the difference figured out it will remain pretty consistent. Something to remember- this is a basking area, the animal will move on and off of it as needed. Absolute, 1/10th of a degree precision is not required.
Why go through this trouble when you can move the probe off the heat tape an inch or so and get consistent readings between the thermostat and the tub? Because you are not really sure how hot your heat tape is really getting, especially in a cooler room temperature. With the probe on the heat tape you KNOW that your heat tapes actual temp is controlled. If you still can’t get up to temperature then you need to consider a warmer room. For most reptile setups a room temp that falls below 70F is not ideal. We like a room temp around 75F but no warmer than 80F so a thermal gradient is possible.
My heat tape is not always the same temperature in all places?
Heat tape is not always as consistent as we would like it to be. It is a high quality product but it was not designed for ultra precision applications. The cost would be impractical. Over the years of use in our own collections, the thousands of racks and cages we have built and the miles of element we have sold we have found that you can expect about a 3%-5% fluctuation over the length of a section or between production runs. That may be up to 5 degrees at a 100 degree setting on your thermostat.
Is this a problem? If you are set up right at the limitations of your animals, yes. If you are set up properly, almost never. Your reptiles are going to instinctively thermoregulate themselves if you let them. This is where your design comes into play. You want to allow them to move on and off of the heated area freely. If their tub in the rack system is 3 degrees warmer than your “ideal” temp then they will spend a little less time on the heat than the animal in the next tub that is 3 degrees cooler than the ideal temp. If you are substantially lower in temp that can lead to issues because the animal will not be able to achieve an ideal body temp. This is why planning a proper setup is important. You want your animal to have access to very slightly higher temps than it requires and also very slightly lower temps than it requires. With this arrangement your reptile will always be able to find a spot that is “just right”.
How much of this heat tape can I hook up to a thermostat?
It is recommended you keep your heat tape runs at a maximum length of under 50 feet in length for the 3″ and 4″ heat tape, 35′ for the 6″ element and under 25 feet when using the 12″ heat tape. Remember- these are considered maximums, it is wise to stay below them.
Most thermostats used for reptiles are rated for 500-1500 watts. The 12″ heat tape is 23 watts per foot and a 500 watt thermostat will safely run around 19 feet total, a 1000 watt thermostat around 38 feet total. Use the 3″ tape at 4 watts per foot and that same 500 watt thermostat will run 106 feet total, a 1000 watt thermostat about 212 feet total. The 4″ heat tape is 6 watts per foot and we recommend no more than 70 feet and 140 feet respectively. We don’t suggest running thermostats at their absolute maximum rating, as it can lead to a shorter lifespan.
Heat tape care:
Do not use your heat tape if it has been creased or has friction wear to the laminate. When installed under a sliding tub rack system, for example, heat tape can be caught on the rear edge of the tub and may crease or fold. It can also show wear from the repetitive friction of sliding the tub in and out. If your heat tape has been creased, or has friction wear to the laminate, it should be replaced. Use care when installing your heat tape to prevent this from happening, and replace your heat tape if you notice this type of wear.
Some technical details of THG heat tape:
-UL component listed in USA and Canada
-Produced in an ISO9001 and ISO4001 certified factory
-Flame retardant PET laminate film
-THG carries commercial general liability insurance coverage
General Reptile Heating Safety
The reptile hobby in general requires the use of various heating elements, bulbs, or a combination of heating devices. One of the best investments that you can make as a reptile keeper is an inexpensive smoke detector. If heating devices are set up properly and used appropriately the likelihood of fire is very, very low. Unfortunately mistakes can be made, heating devices can fail, lamps can be knocked over, things can be overlooked or forgotten and accidents happen. While having smoke detectors is a good idea anytime, we recommend you use smoke detectors in our “reptile rooms”. If you have a monitored alarm system in your home why not add a couple of monitored smoke detectors as well? They are inexpensive, but can be a valuable tool.