Heat Tape FAQ

Do I really need to use a thermostat?

In a word, YES! Heat tape will last much longer and be much safer for you and your animals if it is used properly and safely. The manufacturer of heat tape indicates it should never be used without a thermostat or rheostat to control its temperature. My own experiences over the years also support this. While some will tell you it can be used "as is" in some widths and wattage's, I have had it fail when used this way and your temperatures will be unreliable. Heat Tapes can get a bit warmer than you want them to 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.

Can I overlap or leave the unused portion rolled up at the end of my rack?

NO! Under no circumstances do you want to apply power (plug in) element that either overlaps itself, or another section of element, or has any part of it rolled up. This will result in a very quick failure of the element and it will require replacement. Just don't do this!

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! 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 almost any length. MAKE SURE THE ELEMENT IS UNPLUGGED WHEN TRIMMING!

Sorry, I had to say it Laughing

Can you assemble my heat tape for me?

Absolutely. To really mash (technical term) the metal rivets on there good, and correctly, you need the special crimping tool sold by the manufacturer. 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. But why would you when we will do it to your specs- Just order the connected heat tape product(s).

How does heat tape work?

Reptile Basics sells the THGHeat brand of heating element. The THG element was designed for reptile use from the start, unlike others that are crossovers from the floor heating industry. 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. I have been using heat tape on various racks and cages for over 15 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. A couple of things to keep in mind:

1) You want to create a basking area for your reptile, not a hot plate to sit on. I like to have the tape cover no more than roughly 1/3 of the floor surface area, and 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.

2) Like about anything else in life, heat tape and thermostats CAN AND DO fail! Probes get dislodged and in general things sometimes go wrong. 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, your thermostat or your setup fail and get hotter than it is supposed to. At Reptile Basics we do not recommend belly heat under 6 quart tubs (shoebox). Even with the 3 inch element this is a recipe for disaster. A back heat set up is equally effective in small tubs and much safer for your animals. Your animals MUST be able to get away from the heat should it become too much. Again, it is 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. Something to keep in mind with regular housing and also shipping of reptiles- You can kill them a lot faster and do more harm faster with heat than with cold. Err on the side of caution.

3) TEST!! you can easily test your set ups maximum capability. Only do this while you are supervising the rack! You can plug the heat element directly into the wall outlet to simulate the maximum temperature your setup can generate. Is the coolest part of the tub survivable by the animal you are housing? While they may not be happy, they will be alive should this ever come into play and it is an easy test to perform. Don't forget to set up your element with your thermostat when you are done!

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 MUST set up the thermostat probe on the heat tape itself for best results and highest safety. We cannot stress this enough. 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 and if possible under one of the tubs. 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 as well as the temperatures in your tubs to ensure all is working properly and as expected. There is no substitute for paying attention where animals are concerned.

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. I like to start with the thermostat setting about 5 degrees warmer than my 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 about 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. 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.

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. While a very useful, good quality product it was not designed for use in 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 5% fluctuation over the length of a section. Often a little better, sometimes a little worse. That adds up to about 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. It is what they do for a living so let them do it. Now, 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 a little 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 40 feet in length for the 3", 4" and 6" heat tape, under 25 feet when using the 12" heat tape and under 10 feet for the 21" 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 18 feet total, a 1000 watt thermostat around 36 feet total. Use the 3" tape at 4 watts per foot and that same 500 watt thermostat will run 90 feet total, a 1000 watt thermostat about 180 feet total. The 4" heat tape is 6 watts per foot and we recommend no more than 80 feet and 160 feet total respectively.

I typically choose not to run thermostats at their absolute maximum rating, it can lead to a shorter lifespan, just like keeping your gas pedal on the floor all the time when you drive your car will shorten engine life.

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 use, and recommend you do as well, smoke detectors in our "reptile rooms". After all, why wouldn't you? If you have a monitored alarm system in your home why not add a couple of monitored smoke detectors as well?