There are literally an unlimited number of ways to construct an iguana habitat, and with the many different types of materials that you can use to build it, it will be difficult to give you precise instructions, without giving you an exact plan to follow. We would rather you build a custom habitat that is unique to you and your iguana. With this in mind, we're going to provide several different methods on how to construct a habitat that is primarily built with wood, plexiglass, and/or hardware cloth. If you have experience with woodworking, you will probably have more advanced methods in constructing a habitat. These methods and suggestions are meant to be simple, to help people with little or no experience in carpentry build a decent habitat themselves, while at the same time, allowing each person to come up with their own plans while learning more about carpentry on their own. Although this advice is meant to be simple enough to give you some idea of how to construct a habitat, it still may seem like a lot of work and may even be somewhat intimidating. Once again, these are only examples and suggestions, and once you've planned your own design and started building it, you may not be so intimidated by it.
You will need tools to build a habitat. If you have little or no experience with tools, then we suggest you read our Tools page for more information on some tools that will help you.
Where to build the habitat - You should find a place where you will have plenty of room to work on the habitat. Most of the work can be done in a workshop, garage, driveway or back yard. You can construct and assemble the habitat in this area, disassemble it, move the various parts to the room the habitat will be in, and assemble it again. This may seem like a lot of extra work, but this practice run will make the final assembly much easier, as well as prepare you for a time that you may need to move the habitat.
Weight and stability - These two issues should be considered during the planning and construction stages of building your habitat. The habitat needs to be sturdy, while at the same time you may want to try the best you can to reduce the overall weight of it. A large habitat will be heavy, but if you try your best to reduce the overall weight, it will be much easier to build, as well as being much easier to move or transport it, if needed.
Framework - A very practical way of building a habitat, whether it's completely or partially built with wood, is to construct a frame built with 1x2, 2x2, 2x4 or 2x6 framing wood. The most affordable way is to use pine 1x2, 2x2 or 2x4 framing wood, which can be purchased inexpensively at any lumber yard or home improvement center. (Note: A 2"x4" is actually 1½" x 3½" x 8, 10 or 12 feet in length.) If you are planning to have a lot of hardware cloth or internet mesh, you'll want to make sure you use framing materials that are sturdy enough. If your habitat has several solid walls, you can easily get by with using 1x2s or 2x2s. Once the walls are attached to the frame, it should become very solid and sturdy. If you want to use a better quality of wood to improve the appearance, you can still build a frame from inexpensive framing material and use a better quality of wood for the walls, trim, etc.
Floor and ceiling - While you may want to use thinner material for the walls of the habitat, the floor should be sturdy and the ceiling should be sturdy enough to hold light fixtures, heating devices, etc. You may also choose to use thinner material for the floor and simply reinforce it. Using ¾" plywood for the floor should be sturdy enough, but you can easily use inexpensive ¼" plywood and reinforce it with 2x4s or 2x6s underneath it. The example below shows the top view of the floor of an 8'x4' habitat. This example shows a frame for a reinforced floor made with 2x4s or 2x6s.
This example requires two 8' pieces and nine that are 3' 9" in length. This example of a habitat is four feet deep. Most plywood and other forms of wood are four feet wide, so when planning a habitat that is four feet deep, it's best to plan it to be exactly four feet wide, which is the reason for the 3' 9" length of the support pieces. The support pieces should be approximately one foot apart. The nine cross beams can be easily screwed together with two 3" woodscrews in each end and the entire floor can then be covered with ¼" plywood and it will become a very sturdy floor. The plywood can be attached to the floor frame with ½" wood screws. Another idea that may be used with a floor such as this is to use 2x6s which will make the space beneath the actual floor deep enough to allow you to place a water basin in the floor. If your habitat is designed to give you enough room to get inside the habitat, having a sturdy floor will allow you to easily enter the habitat to clean and disinfect it. These are only examples and they show how to make an extremely sturdy and functional floor.
The optional angled cut (also called a miter joint) is shown in many of the examples here. Miter joints can be somewhat difficult to cut accurately, but they can be very effective and attractive. Another very effective and easy way to join the corners of the framework and other parts of the habitat is to use corner brackets, that can be purchased at any lumber yard or home improvement center. The diagram below shows a few examples of different types of corner brackets. These are only a few examples of the many different types of corner brackets to choose from. You can also use a simple block of wood on the inside corner of a joint, screwing the sections to the block of wood, making for a very sturdy and easy joint. Using more advanced joinery methods can be much more effective, including using dovetail, rabbet, dado, and mortise-and-tenon joints, just to name a few. There are many effective ways to join the pieces of wood and if you have the tools and the know how, we definitely recommend that you use the best way you know how.
The ceiling can be built in a similar fashion as the floor is constructed, but you may want to use 1x4s to reduce the weight of the ceiling. You may also want to only use three or four cross beams instead of one every foot. If you choose to build the ceiling in this way, you can also have a sheet of plywood covering the framework on both the inside and outside of the habitat. This will create a pocket of air inside the ceiling that will act as insulation, which will help contain the heat inside the habitat. You may also want to put foam insulation on the inner part of the ceiling, but use caution when doing this in areas that will have lights or heating devices nearby.
Walls - Once you have a frame built, you can then construct walls that will be attached to the frame. The type of material you use for the walls depends on your budget, how sturdy you desire the walls to be, and how heavy you want the entire habitat to be when completed. Thinner material, such as ¼" plywood or masonite is very affordable, easy to work with and can be reinforced to be much stronger in a number of ways.
Insulating the walls - A very effective way to ensure that the habitat will retain heat and humidity is by insulating it. This may add to the cost of the habitat, but the habitat will be much more efficient as well as functional. The best way to insulate the habitat is by constructing the walls with two sheets of plywood or masonite, with a layer of styofoam or rigid foam insulation between them. This will not only insulate the habitat, but it will create a very solid wall, while costing and weighing less than using thicker pieces of wood. Insulating the walls like this can be done by cutting two sections of plywood or masonite to the size of each wall. An easy way to attach the insulation is to glue the plywood or masonite to a piece of insulation cut to the same size as the wall. Use a high quality adhesive, such as paneling glue. This will work, but there is a better way to construct a wall that will be more durable and last longer. The foam may also expand over time and with exposure to the high humidity. Cut two sheets of plywood or masonite to the size of the wall. You'll then need some 1x2 or 2x2 framing material cut and fit to go around the edge of the wall, between the two sheets of wood. The foam insulation can then be cut to fit inside the space between the inner and outer wall. The insulation should be cut a little bit smaller than the space it will fit into, to make room for expansion. The walls can be glued and screwed to the 1x2 or 2x2, and when you're done, you will have a wall that will be insulated and easy to attach and move if necessary. The diagram below shows an example of how this type of insulated wall will look....
These walls can later be painted or stained, sealed and finished, and will last a long time. If you are choosing to build a smaller habitat now and building a larger one later, constructing walls like this will allow you to use these walls over and over again.
If you are using heating vent covers to ventilate the enclosure, holes can be cut to the size of the vent covers. Most vent covers are designed to be installed in a wall that is thicker than just a single sheet of wood and should fit nicely in an insulated wall such as the example shown here. If you are planning on using heating vent covers, you may want to measure them and adjust the thickness of the walls you build accordingly.
Doors - When designing and planning the type of doors you will have on the habitat, it's important to remember that you will need to have easy access to the inside of the habitat. Building large, easy to use doors will save you a lot of extra hassle when completing the construction, painting, finishing, sealing and eventually when you need to regularly clean the habitat. A large habitat with large doors will allow you to actually go in and out of the habitat. There are many different types of doors you can use, including normal doors used in a house. A door can also be as simple as a piece of plywood with hinges, latches and handles attached. Below are two examples of a simple, very easy to assemble type of door. One example uses plexiglass and the other uses hardware cloth. Using two doors on the front of the habitat, one made with plexiglass and one made with hardware cloth can create a habitat that holds in heat and humidity and provides good ventilation. There are many better ways to build a nice door, but these examples are shown as easy to build examples.
Before installing plexiglass or hardware cloth, make sure you sand, paint, stain, seal and/or finish the habitat first, so that the areas between the wood and plexiglass and hardware cloth are properly protected.
This example of a plexiglass door can be easily made with a few 1x6s, a large sheet of plexiglass, some ½" wood screws and some rounded washers. Plexiglass comes in many forms and thicknesses and can usually be cut to size at most home improvement centers or lumber yards. Glue, clamp and screw or nail the frame of the door together. Slowly drill holes in the plexiglass a little bigger than the width of the screws, approximately one to two inches from the edge of the plexiglass. Using the rounded washers, screw the plexiglass to the door frame, making sure that you do not snug the screws down too tightly. This may seem like a lot of work, but the plexiglass will withstand a lot of punishment by an adult iguana as well as make the door much more sturdy. You may also choose to install the plexiglass using window trim instead of using screws. The door can then be installed with the screws facing the inside of the habitat, making for an easy to build, while still quite attractive door. Once again, this is only one example of how to make a door and there are many better and more detailed ways to build a nice door.
This example of a hardware cloth door can be easily made as well with 1x6s, a section of hardware cloth, and some metal staples. Hardware cloth can usually be bought in a specific size and can be found in bulk rolls as well. It's important to buy hardware cloth of the right width. Very small openings in hardware cloth can rip claws and injure your iguana, while larger openings can cause problems for iguanas that rub their noses. A 1-1½" diameter is suggested. Glue, clamp and screw or nail the frame of the door together. Cut the hardware cloth to a size slightly larger than the inside opening of the door with a quality set of wire cutters or a rotary tool. Metal staples can then be used to attach the hardware cloth to the door. Many smaller staples will work best and there is less a chance of the wood splitting by using larger staples. You may also want to drill pilot holes for the staples to prevent splitting. Now, like the plexiglass door, it can be turned around and installed attractively. You may also choose to add some trim or molding over the edge of the hardware cloth to easily reduce the number of sharp edges and make it much more attractive.
You will also need to file, grind and/or sand any rough spots on the hardware cloth. Most hardware cloth has many rough and sharp edges which can easily be removed. Another option when working with hardware cloth is to purchase plastic or rubber coated varieties. You can also buy plastic or rubber that you can brush on the hardware cloth yourself. It will help with iguanas that may rub their noses on the hardware cloth, but it may need to be replaced or recoated from time to time due to wear and tear.
Another door option is to build a door that can be easily removed or opened so that the iguana will have the option to leave the habitat. Many people that have free roaming iguanas, also have habitats that give their iguana the freedom to come and go as it pleases. It's also a very good idea to have some type of latch or lock on the doors for times when the iguana needs to stay in the habitat. There are many people that are truly terrified of iguanas (as well as other reptiles) and if you have friends or family like this that may visit, having a good latch or lock (whether it really locks or not) may put them at ease.
The habitat front - Depending on your design, the front of the habitat will vary depending on how you incorporate the doors and walls into the habitat you're building. Many popular designs have large doors on the front or sides of the habitat. Placing the doors on the front of the habitat will allow you to easily access the habitat and you won't have to worry about placing the habitat with side doors away from a wall. You may want to install doors to slide or you can build a simple frame facing on the front of the habitat, and installing heavy duty hinges.
Sanding, staining, painting & finishing - Once you have most of the habitat sections cut and ready to install onto the frame of the habitat, you should thoroughly sand all of the wood. Properly sanding everything will not only ensure that the finish or paint you use adheres to the surface, but it will make it much more attractive as well. Sandpaper comes in many different textures (grits) and you should sand with course paper first (about 60 or 100 grit) and finish it with a fine paper (150 or 220 grit). Many professionals will sand several times with many different grits to make for a fantastically smooth surface.
After you've completely sanding all the wood surfaces, you'll want to paint or stain and finish it with a protective finish. First of all, it's important to wipe all of the dust and debris from sanding the wood. You can do this with a moist rag or a tacky cloth. It's best to paint and finish the sections before you put the entire habitat together. This will ensure that all the surfaces are protected. If you are using some types of compressed wood, painting and sealing will also ensure that there are no fumes or odors from the glue used to make some types of compressed wood. You may also choose to add an additional coat of finish after the habitat is fully assembled.
There are many options available, including oil-based paints and finishes and water based paints. Oil-based paints and finishes will require a laquer for cleaning up, but many feel that they are far superior in protecting wood against moisture. The most important part of choosing paints and finishes is to make sure that they are non-toxic. There are many paints and finishes available that are designed for kid's rooms. The best advice is to ask a knowledgeable sales person for advice on selecting a non-toxic paint and finish. The interior of the habitat should have several coats of protective finish. When you are painting and applying finish, make sure you are in a well-ventilated area and make sure you read all of the manufacturer's safety precautions.
Not only is it important to select non-toxic and safe paints and finishes, it's even more important that you allow the entire habitat and all of its sections to thoroughly dry for several days or even weeks before moving your iguana into the habitat. If the weather permits, it may be a good idea to take all the sections of the habitat outside to dry.
Trim work and molding - After the habitat is fully assembled, you may want to add trim and molding to improve the overall appearance of the habitat. There are many types and styles of trim and molding available. Expensive hardwood trim, inexpensive pine, and very affordable MDS trim are all options. If there is a chance that you may have to disassemble the habitat at a later time, you shouldn't glue the trim and molding. A few finishing nails will be enough to hold the trim in place and it can easily be removed later. Instead of getting into too many details on trimwork and the unlimited number of ways you can incorporate it into your design, we would like to recommend that you choose the trim and molding according to your budget and the advice you can get from qualified sales people in most lumber yards and home improvement centers.
Caulking & sealing - After the habitat is completely assembled, you should then apply some type of caulk or sealant to any cracks, joints or other areas that you don't want any problems with water leaks or condensation. Non-toxic tile caulk will work fine. Another very good choice is to purchase caulkstrips that can be cut to fit and are very attractive.
Conclusion - Once again, there are literally an unlimited number of ways to construct an iguana habitat, and there are many different types of materials that you can use to build it. These are only examples, and we recommend that you try to look at as many different examples of habitats, learn as much as possible about what you need to include, plan as much as possible, talk to as many other iguana owners that have experience in building habitats, and build your iguana its own custom habitat in the best way that you can.