Radiant Heat Panel FAQ

Reptile Basics Radiant Heat Panel


Do I need to use a thermostat or rheostat?

Radiant Heat Panels (RHP's) are designed to be used with a thermostat. Unlike some other heat sources, such as Flexwatt, it is possible to operate the Reptile Basics Inc. RHP without a thermostat BUT unsafe tank temperatures can occur! Remember, just because the panel can run at full power continuously does not mean it should. The panel itself uses an element made of a durable fiberglass cloth that is temperature resistant to over 1000 degrees so the panel burning out is an unlikely situation. When the RHP is operated at full power you do run the very real risk of overheating your vivarium and harming your animals due to the enclosed area. Please, use a thermostat to properly maintain ideal temperatures for your animals at all times!

Do these RHP's come assembled?

Essentially yes. They will need to be installed on the top of the cage (inside the cage) using the two stainless steel screws provided or other hardware you supply if the screws are not appropriate for your cage setup. You will also need to install the "clip on" power plug. We ship them without the plug installed so you can easily route the power cord through a small hole in your cage (approx. 1/4"). Installation of the RHP is quite simple and will only require a phillips screwdriver and about 5 minutes.

What about "outgassing", I hear that can be a problem?

Outgassing is a term that basically describes the gasses that the new plastic and some fiberglass products give off. By selecting ABS plastic and a unique, exclusive new fiberglass composite material we have essentially removed outgassing from our panel. They are odor free when you receive them and ready to plug in and use!

The advantages of the plastic/fiberglass construction are many- we have now designed a panel that is specifically for reptile use. It is VERY water resistant (PLEASE do not submerge it!!!) and the mounting method is designed in such a way to prevent your animals from climbing on the panel or tearing it down. It is also quite easily cleaned and sterilized, something that some other panels don't handle so well in our experience. You can clean your panel with just about any cleaning solution on a damp rag so it can be disenfected safely. Our unique, perfectly smooth lens material has a polypropylene surface so virtually nothing can stick to it and it does not discolor over time.

While some competitors (remember, they are competitors!) like to make a big deal about the outgassing of plastics, we have found through extensive research, discussion with bird and reptile breeders and our own experience that there have been no ill effects seen with ABS. We are especially happy with the results with birds as they are very well known to be highly sensitive to almost any kind of toxic fumes. This result is also born out in the MSDS sheet for ABS plastic as well. On top of all of that- because of the high efficiency insulation used in the Reptile Basics RHP in most cases 95% of the plastic housing never gets above 100 degrees anyhow!! Remember, that is with a FULL POWER test. Under normal operating conditions ALL of the ABS housing will remain quite a bit cooler than that. ABS has been used for cage decor, hide boxes and cages themselves for years (remember those beige cages that used to be everywhere you "old timers"?) without incident at these temperatures. In fact quite a few caging manufacturers use ABS plastic and heat the cages with heat tape, getting the plastic to these temperatures and beyond with no ill effects. The "high temperature outgassing" argument falls pretty flat. Plastics have become an invaluable tool in reptile husbandry due to their ease of cleaning and sterilization, durability and light weight.

What about fire safety?

The Reptile Basics RHP now incorporates a thermal fuse, something our competitors do not. Should the panels internal temperature exceed safe levels encountered in normal operation it will automatically shut down. While the element itself and the insulating material/lens are all fire resistant consumers have expressed concern over the safety of heating devices used in their caging for some time. While many types of cage heating, heat tape for example, do not lend themselves to this type of safety device we have found RHP's to work very well with them. For this reason we have incorporated it into our design. One of the advantages of producing the panels "in-house" as opposed to repackaging/labeling a product designed for use in other applications and manufactured by others!

To properly use this RHP with the thermal fuse you must take a couple of small precautions to ensure proper operation-

  • Do not mount the panel in such a way that the lens is closer than 6 inches from a cage surface
  • Do not set the panel lens side down on any surface while it is plugged in (don't know why you would do that??)

Either of these will cause the internal panel temp to potentially exceed the operating temp of the fuse and potentially void your warranty and incapacitate the panel!

How does this thing work? Why is it better than other methods of heating?

RHP's are similar to Ceramic Heat Emitters (CHE) - they both project IR heat into the cage. Unlike CHE's that get very, very hot on their surface, these RHP's maintain temperatures safe to use inside the cage. This Infrared Heat tends to heat objects more than the air, much like the natural sunlight outdoors. This type of heat mimics real sunlight both in the direction it comes from and its penetration into the muscle tissue. IR heat has been shown to have a therapeutic effect on sick and injured animals as well. Your reptiles will spend less time basking and receive a much greater benefit from it. The RHP has been the heat of choice for the bird community for years due to these benefits. We at Reptile Basics Inc want to see the RHP gain this popularity in the reptile field!

Unlike CHE's, the surface temperature of the Reptile Basics RHP is not hot enough to instantly burn you! At full power our RHP will reach approximately 190 degrees on the lens surface. While this temperature sounds very, very high- you can hold your hand on it for 10 seconds or more without getting burned. I have done it myself and so have several of my human guinea pigs. When installed properly it would be nearly impossible for your reptile to stay on the heat for even that long. At worst the animal may bump into the panel while exploring the cage. If your RHP is properly set up on a thermostat you will not generally see even these temperatures. Our tests of three other RHP manufacturers products show very similar, sometime greater, surface temps. A higher surface temperature will project the heat farther BUT it is a trade off on burn safety. We carefully tweaked our wattage density of the custom manufactured element to get a safe compromise between surface temps and effective range.

Which size do I need?

We have tested the 40 watt panel in several 2'x4' cage designs including our own PVC and various thicknesses of plywood. Participants in this test have also included ARBREPTILES (Clay Davenport), Boamaster (Mark Venhorst) and other private breeders. We have all reached pretty much the same guidelines.

In a 2x4 cage that is 12" tall or less in a room temp of 75° F+ you will see good results with the 40 watt RHP. The taller the cage the more likely you will want to set up basking sites that are elevated and closer to the RHP to give your animals a gradient. Generally taller cages 18" or taller are set up for arboreal use so this is not a problem. If your room temp is lower than 74 F or your cage is 12"+ you may want to move up to the 80 watt.

Cages less than 2'x4' will generally work well with the 40 watt panel. Once again, height and room temp is a determining factor. We have had very good success with several Ball Python keepers in the Northern parts of the US using the 80 watt panel in our 2x3 cages. While normally a bit much for this size cage we have found this combination to work very well in the cooler room temps often found in these areas with the higher temp requirements of these snakes. Make sure you use a thermostat!

If your cage falls into the 2'x4' or 2'x6' range you will want to upgrade to the 80 watt panel. The 120 watt panel is for generally for larger cages 2'x6' or larger, open air enclosures or cool room temperatures. The 160 watt panel is intended for 6' and 8' cages. When in doubt you can move to the next higher wattage, just make sure you use that thermostat!