Materials Pros Cons Plywood Cheap, light-weight,
easily available Looks cheap Better-quality wood (hardwoods such as oak, walnut, etc.) Looks nice, blends with
decor Expensive, may be heavier Glass Keeps in humidity and heat Heavy, breakable, needs
ventilation, expensive, some iguanas will attack their
reflections Plexiglass Cheaper, lightweight,
keeps in humidity and heat Needs ventilation,
possible reflections, scratches easily Hardware cloth Strong enough for adult
iguanas, cheap, comes in different mesh sizes,
plastic-coated versions available, provides good
ventilation Doesnt keep in heat
and humidity, uncoated types can cause sores on iguanas
that rub their noses against it. InterNet mesh Lightweight, cheap,
provides good ventilation May not be strong enough
for adult iguanas, doesnt keep in heat and humidity Window screen Lightweight, cheap,
provides good ventilation Not strong enough for
adult iguanas, doesnt keep in heat and humidity
Disclaimer - The Green Iguana Society is offering this information to help you in constructing your own habitat for your iguana. It's very important that you use extreme caution when working with tools and electricity. Electrical problems and improperly set up habitats are a very common cause of fires and other accidents. If there is any doubt whatsoever that you may not completely feel safe with the construction and wiring you do, please get help from someone with more experience, a professional carpenter, or a qualified electrician. As always, we hope that all iguana owners use their own best judgement and make their own educated decisions on how to safely and responsibly construct their own iguana's habitat. The Green Iguana Society is not responsible for any accidents or loss that may occur while you are building a habitat.
As always, learn all you can about iguana care - Before you start planning or building a habitat for your iguana, it's extremely important that you do as much research into iguana care as you can. Many people build habitats while still learning about how to properly care for their iguana, only to find out after they've completed the project that they've forgotten a critical component. If you research it, plan it well, and build it right the first time, the habitat you build can and will last the entire life of your iguana and possibly longer. If you haven't read the rest of our habitat information, make sure you read through all of the pages in our Habitat, Enclosures & Cages section, as well as read other websites and books for more advice on what you need to include in your iguana's habitat.
Planning a location - We can not stress this enough...properly planning the habitat you will build is the most important part of building the habitat. If you've properly researched what your habitat will need, then you should have an idea of what you'll need to include. You'll now need to decide where the habitat will go in your house. It's a good idea to plan your habitat so that it can be disassembled, in case you move or want to move it to another room. Since the habitat will be so large, it will need to be put together in the room it will be kept in. If you own your own home and plan on living there for a long time, you may even consider building the habitat as a permanent part of your home. Whatever you decide, take your time in considering where the habitat will go and how you'll be able to move it if needed.
Decide on what materials you will use - This will be the most time consuming part of the process because you should thoroughly take your time planning what you'll be building. First of all, determine the size of the habitat. Try to make it as large as possible and use as much space as you can afford to give up for your iguana. Secondly, you'll need to decide what type of material you'll be using. There are many options, and all have their pros and cons. Below is a chart of different materials you can use....
The best choice is a combination of several kinds of materials. Since there are so many different ways to build a habitat, it will be difficult to tell you exactly which way to go, but the best way to start planning is to look at as many different types of enclosures and go from there.
These factors are very important in determining the materials you will use. You'll need to plan it so that it will retain heat and humidity, while still being properly ventilated with fresh air. Most people want their iguana in an enclosure so their home won't need to be 80-90ºF with high humidity. It can be difficult to create a good balance of heat, humidity and ventilation.
Ventilation - First of all, remember that heat will rise. Providing ventilation in the very top of the habitat can lead to too much heat escaping, which will make it harder to properly heat the habitat. Providing too much ventilation will make the habitat drafty, which can not only make it more difficult to maintain proper temperatures, but it can also lead to health problems in your iguana. With an ideal habitat, the humidity level will be very high. Having too much ventilation will make the room and your home extremely humid. This is one factor that many people do not think about, but too much humidity in your home over a long period of time can cause damage.
Since heat does rise, it's often a good idea to provide a very small amount of ventilation near the top of the habitat, a larger opening just below the main basking area, and a larger opening at the bottom of the habitat. Depending on how you decide to heat the habitat, the heat in the habitat will rise to the top. When the heat rises, fresh air will be forced in near the bottom of the habitat, rise up and exit just below the main basking area through the larger areas of ventilation. The very small ventilation openings in the very top of the habitat will help prevent the build up of stagnant air in the basking area.
There are several ways to provide ventilation. You can simply drill many large holes (1/2-3/4"), cut out a large opening and cover it with hardware cloth, or buy heating vent covers and mount them into the sides of the enclosure. Buying several heating vent covers that have adjustable openings will make it very easy to adjust exactly how much ventilation you and the iguana desire. This will also make planning easier, since you can plan it with a lot of ventilation and later adjust the vents. When using heating vent covers, be sure to buy ones made for use in floors. Floor vents usually have smoother edges, while other forms may have sharp edges that can be dangerous for the iguana. It's also a good idea to make sure the vent will not be adjusted by the iguana climbing on it. The best way to prevent this is to properly plan the location of the vents where the iguana will not be able to climb on it. Another way to prevent this is to place a piece of durable tape over the knob or dial that adjusts the vent. Another good way to be flexible with the amount of ventilation, heat and humidity you provide is to have a large amount of space covered in hardware cloth, and attach sections of plexiglass over the hardware cloth as needed, which will allow you to adjust the amount of ventilation, humidity and heat.
Planning an escape-proof habitat - Another very important part of the planning process is making sure your iguana will not be able to escape from the habitat. Having a partial free roaming set up can be good, but there are often times when you'll need to put the iguana in its habitat (for example, when you have visitors in your house that may not be comfortable with your iguana). Many people build their habitats with removable sections or doors that will give the iguana freedom to come and go as they please. Iguanas are notorious for being escape artists, and it's important to not only construct the habitat with quality materials, but plan it so your iguana will not escape.
Visibility - While it's important to design your habitat so you can see your iguana, it's also important to allow your iguana to see you. This will help in acclimating your iguana to the habitat and to you. This can be done with having a large area in the front of the habitat covered with plexiglass or hardware cloth. Regular glass should be avoided since it can be easily shattered and extremely dangerous when broken. Tempered glass, although much more expensive than regular glass or plexiglass, is also a very good choice. Tempered glass is much harder to break, and if broken, breaks into pieces rather than large dangerous shards.
Not only is it important to design the habitat so your iguana can see out, but it's also important to have a place where it can go if it doesn't want to be seen. Providing a hide box for new or young iguanas is very important in the acclimation process, but if you design your habitat properly, you can create an area that acts as a hide box. This can be done easily by having an area that is still a part of the main habitat area, but not openly visible to people walking by the habitat. Another good idea for providing a hide area is to install mini-blinds on the front of the habitat. Then you can adjust the amount of hiding area with a simple adjustment of the blinds.
Functionality - Another very important thing to plan is the functionality of the habitat. You'll need to design it so it will be easy to clean on a regular basis, as well as make it easy to get your iguana out of the habitat. Building a habitat with large doors on the front or sides of the enclosure will make for easy cleaning and accessability.
Determining where the basking areas, climbing materials, heating devices, lights and other habitat accessories will be is very important. The best way to start planning where everything will go is to start with determining where the lights will go, then the heating devices, and then plan the basking areas, climbing materials and where the other accessories will be according to where you've placed the lights and heat. Remember that it's important to provide several different zones in the habitat. You'll need at least one basking area where the UV and heat is ideal for daytime conditions, a cooler area (not cold, but cooler than the main basking areas), a darker area (not completely dark, but less light than the main basking area), a feeding area (best if located off the floor and out of the hottest part of the habitat), two water bowls for drinking (one near the basking area and one near the food area), a place for the iguana to soak, and a place where the iguana will be able to hide if needed.
Safety issues - It's important to design your habitat with safety in mind. Not only the safety of the iguana, but the safety of you and your home is important to consider. Heating devices and light fixtures can produce extreme temperatures and can cause thermal burns to the iguana as well as start fires if they aren't properly installed and monitored. While building a very large habitat, you will have the opportunity to design it properly by placing the heating devices in an area far enough away that your iguana will not be able to come in direct contact with them. Many iguanas are famous for jumping and leaping great distances, so this should also be considered when determining the location of the lights and heating devices.
Attractiveness - Building a custom habitat can be done quite easily with cheap materials, but with a little creativity, you can create a very attractive addition to your home. Using hardwood can be expensive, but it can also be very attractive if finished properly. Many people add plastic or real plants to the enclosure, but special care should be taken so the iguana will not eat or destroy the plants. If you have some artistic ability, another great way to make the habitat attractive is to paint a rainforest mural on the inside of the habitat. A very good example of this can be found in Green Iguana - The Ultimate Owner's Manual by James W. Hatfield. The book also has plans for the Ultimate Habitat, which is a very good example of how to build an attractive and functional habitat.
Drawing up a plan - By now you should have some idea what you'll need to include in the habitat you want to build. The more you plan before you begin construction, the better the overall project will be when it's done. Begin by simply making some drawings or plans of what you have in mind. You can make a simple plan, but the more detailed you draw it, the easier it will be to construct. Below is an example by Tory Klementsen. Tory converted a small walk-in closet into a comfortable iguana habitat for her iguana Hal. Notice the availability of climbing materials, heat lamps and artificial UV bulbs. You can read more about Tory's iguanas by visiting Hal & Sassy's Green Iguana Haven.
After you have a rough draft of the plan, you can then expand on it with more details. Try to include precise measurements and all of the materials you'll need. Once you have a few drawings and plans of the habitat, you can then expand on it by including a material list of what you'll need. You should try to include as many items as possible. This list could include wood, wire, plexiglass, light fixtures, bulbs, heating devices, climbing materials, substrate, screws, electrical wiring, switches, power strips and anything else you're planning to include. The more detailed the list is, the fewer trips you'll need to make to the store. Basically, the more time you spend planning and designing the habitat, the better it will be.
Building a habitat on a budget - Building your own habitat will cost quite a bit of money. The amount of money most people spend on a habitat is usually one of the most important factors when planning it. Many people choose to keep their iguana in an unsuitable habitat, simply because they feel they can not afford to build a better one. As mentioned before, it will cost quite a bit of money, but you don't have to purchase everything at the same time. If you feel that you can't afford to pay for the entire habitat, simply start buying a few items each week. Most people can put a little bit of money into buying supplies and materials each week, and within a few months you should have everything you need. Not only will this make paying for the habitat easier, it will also create a long lasting project that you can work on for a few hours a week, without the entire project being too much of a burden on your spare time. Spreading out the expense over a matter of months is far better than keeping your iguana in an unsuitable habitat, even if it takes you a year to purchase all the materials.
Cheap, light-weight, easily available
Better-quality wood (hardwoods such as oak, walnut, etc.)
Looks nice, blends with decor
Expensive, may be heavier
Keeps in humidity and heat
Heavy, breakable, needs ventilation, expensive, some iguanas will attack their reflections
Cheaper, lightweight, keeps in humidity and heat
Needs ventilation, possible reflections, scratches easily
Strong enough for adult iguanas, cheap, comes in different mesh sizes, plastic-coated versions available, provides good ventilation
Doesnt keep in heat and humidity, uncoated types can cause sores on iguanas that rub their noses against it.
Lightweight, cheap, provides good ventilation
May not be strong enough for adult iguanas, doesnt keep in heat and humidity
Lightweight, cheap, provides good ventilation
Not strong enough for adult iguanas, doesnt keep in heat and humidity