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Old 07-16-2019, 01:02 AM
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Default Terrarium Build Advice?

Hey, guys. Long time, no see! I'd love some input and advice on something I'm trying to put together.

I have a 10 gallon tank that I was setting up for a betta when I realized that it has two cracks in it. One is on the bottom panel, left corner. The other is about a third up from the bottom on the front right in a weird squiggly pattern. Both of them can be felt from the inside, but neither from the outside. I decided it would be safest to not put water in this tank and replaced it with another one.

That leaves me with what to do with it. I decided I wanted to do a vivarium or terrarium. I haven't decided if I want to put anything other than isopods and plants in it for now and am trying to determine how doable my idea is.

Firstly, I will be silicone sealing the bottom crack, but not the one on the front because it would be highly visible and I don't see much point.

After that, I thought about sectioning off a low portion to the right with about a 3" tall section of coroplast, acrylic or glass, siliconed in so that it can hold water without water getting to the crack on the other side, then filling the rest with substrate and making a stream leading to it via a small pump that runs under the substrate. For the stream, I thought maybe small PVC joints fitted together, cut in half, then covered in silicone and a sand/gravel combo.

Other than the pane for the water portion, I don't want to do anything permanent to the tank like Great Stuff. I'd like to keep it as versatile as possible if I choose to change things later.

Here is an initial plan for the basic design:


The cracks can be seen as purple/pink. Rocks and gravel would be used to blend in the PVC, the water source, the pump and the transition to water. Is this a viable design? Is there an easier way to accomplish it?

Last edited by JackBinimbul; 07-16-2019 at 01:04 AM.
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Old 07-16-2019, 01:48 AM
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Default Re: Terrarium Build Advice?

I'm not sure I understand the purpose of the gravel / sand layers. Is it for making the setup look attractive from the side views? As far as I know there is no functional need for that kind of substrate, when you're already going to have an eggcrate-based drainage layer.

If this is a tiny little 10-gallon tank, I see it being difficult to get the texture you're looking for onto what must be extremely small PVC joints. Unless it's very fine gravel. Even then, though, I worry that time will wear away the sand / gravel particles and expose the silicone. At least, that's been my experience with waterfalls in the past. You may want to think about the color of the silicone you put down. Alternately, you could use brown-colored Flexseal spray and put the particles down while it's still sticky. That way, even if it all wears away, you'll still have sort of the right color.

Which program did you use to make the graphic? It does a good job of representing what you're trying to do.

EDIT: Also, regarding Great Stuff: if you're using a glass tank, just about nothing is truly permanent, if it's on the glass part of the tank. A new razor cartridge / razor scraper can deal with quite a lot. The only substance I have been unable to scrape away with a razor blade is epoxy clay.

Last edited by Kinstrome; 07-16-2019 at 01:51 AM.
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Old 07-16-2019, 01:56 AM
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Default Re: Terrarium Build Advice?

Thank you for the response!

I've never done a vivarium or terrarium before and want to make sure I have good enough substrate drainage considering the fact that I can't access the bottom once it's all said and done. Eggcrate would honestly be the biggest pain in the butt and I'd love to skip it, if I can. Any recommendations? Would soil and gravel be sufficient?

As for the size and texture on the PVC, that's something I've been hemming and hawing over, as well. I'm all ears for a better solution for containing and directing the water, but I'm not experienced enough in this area to know where to start. It's helpful to know that the silicone may not be the best adherence for the stream, regardless.

I tried making it in SketchUp, but it's too unfamiliar to me and a pain in the butt. I just made it in Photoshop CS2 as I have a lot of experience with it.
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Old 07-16-2019, 02:19 AM
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Default Re: Terrarium Build Advice?

I don't have enough experience with terrariums that have visible pools of water to know whether or not the water is easily handled. Depending on how you water them and the needs of the plants, it is possible you will need to drain water. (Actually, if you have a pump for a stream, you will almost certainly need to lose water sometimes, because the water always has to be above the pump while it's running.)

I will say, having plenty of experience with false bottoms, I can certainly recommend eggcrate / PVC false bottoms for function, although they perhaps may look a little ugly on the side of the tank for some people. Rocks --- especially gravel, especially the kind of gravel that would be small enough for a 10g tank --- won't hold much water. Eggcrate-based false bottoms, on the other hand, are mostly empty. They're just a half-inch (or so) thick eggcrate plus a few PVC pillars to hold them up. The rest is water, and a lot of it, depending on the height of the false bottom layer.

The problem I meant with silicone isn't that it won't adhere to PVC, but that, after a lot of water flow, it may be the only thing that's left adhering to the PVC. I can see this from some of my early terrariums that used coco fiber / coco husk / peat moss / whatever as the background texture for the walls of the terrarium. Just watering them with a pump sprayer once every day or two wore away the texture and exposed the silicone. (That I used a pump sprayer instead of a mister is a problem, too, but the point is that water flow over time will have effects.)

That's interesting about Photoshop. I have never had the artistic talent to make things in two dimensions, but it would be useful to be able to make representations of thing.
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Old 07-16-2019, 02:54 AM
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Default Re: Terrarium Build Advice?

Oh, I know I'll have to change/refill water from time to time in the pool area. I just don't want a bunch of water stuck under the substrate area from watering plants.

I guess eggcrate is the way to go, but oof, it's such a pain in the butt to cut without good tools. Would you recommend just egg crate and substrate, then...? Eggcrate, gravel and substrate?

I understood what you meant about the PVC and silicone. It makes sense since silicone dries pretty slick and things are likely to dislodge after enough water flow.

I guess the main issue now is finding something to make the stream out of if PVC isn't practical for scale and whatnot. I honestly don't have the tools for cutting it in half, either and would have to hope that my hardware store would be keen on doing it for me.

The end idea would be something like this, just less "neat" looking:

Last edited by JackBinimbul; 07-16-2019 at 03:09 AM.
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Old 07-16-2019, 03:22 AM
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You can mold great stuff after it forms it’s skin. Or carve it out after it’s hard and apply silicone.

As far as the cracks, I had an exoterra I got with a small crack in the front. I used an RTV to reseal the cracks then went over it w black to obscure all the false bottom nonsense. Which I do to all my tanks.
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Old 07-16-2019, 03:30 AM
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Default Re: Terrarium Build Advice?

Kinstrome (added because I was typing: and DPfarr) has given lots of good advice on terrarium building.

I'll add mine: a ten gallon tank with a crack in it (especially a weird stress crack like the one you describe) is best replaced. That thin glass turns into shards when you even look at it funny (I cannot count how many 10s I've turned into shrapnel over the years). They cost, at most, twenty bucks. An ER visit is eight hundred dollars.

While you're replacing it, do consider deciding your design first, then acquiring the glass box second (or sixth, or twentieth; there's a lot to consider). Likely when you think it through, you'll want something far larger. A 10" x 20" footprint with a water race and pond has room for very few (like three) plants, and exactly zero vertebrate animals.
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Last edited by Socratic Monologue; 07-16-2019 at 03:34 AM.
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Old 07-16-2019, 11:37 AM
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Default Re: Terrarium Build Advice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JackBinimbul View Post

The end idea would be something like this, just less "neat" looking:
look like a nice clean setup
but I would add a few more branches with plants on them to give a bit of height may look a bit better
but then that's the way I would do it but then everyone is different
in the way they do thing
I was looking at thing on youtube on how to do my next build
and found this I would add a waterfall at the back of the stream and some branches over the top of the stream
keep us updated with photos which way you o it
best of luck with the biuld
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Last edited by ds51; 07-16-2019 at 12:17 PM.
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Old 07-16-2019, 12:36 PM
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Default Re: Terrarium Build Advice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JackBinimbul View Post
Oh, I know I'll have to change/refill water from time to time in the pool area. I just don't want a bunch of water stuck under the substrate area from watering plants.

I guess eggcrate is the way to go, but oof, it's such a pain in the butt to cut without good tools. Would you recommend just egg crate and substrate, then...? Eggcrate, gravel and substrate?

I understood what you meant about the PVC and silicone. It makes sense since silicone dries pretty slick and things are likely to dislodge after enough water flow.

I guess the main issue now is finding something to make the stream out of if PVC isn't practical for scale and whatnot. I honestly don't have the tools for cutting it in half, either and would have to hope that my hardware store would be keen on doing it for me.

The end idea would be something like this, just less "neat" looking:
Okay, I've got a better idea of what you're going after.

Although I can't picture which kind of PVC item you're intending to use that is small enough that a bunch of it can handle the very fine bends of a stream in a 10g tank, I will also say that I'm not a plumber, or any other specialized profession that deals with PVC. I have no objection to the use of PVC in vivariums; my only concern is that you might not find something that works without leaving gaps.

If you already have something that does that, it's a non-issue.

If you don't have a product in mind that would work, you might be able to find some kind of flexible tubing that could be cut down the line. You may not even have to halve it, instead cutting a single line down one side and creating a hollow by pulling it slightly apart. I'm not 100% on that, though, as I've never tried it. I don't offhand know a flexible enough tubing that can be pulled apart, besides perhaps MistKing 1/4" tubing, but that's probably too small even for a 10g tank. (But a product that's the right size probably exists.)

Socractic Monologue brings up fine points, especially about the limiting size of the tank if you ever want to introduce animals (especially as it already has cracks). I have often in the past been surprised, when searching for a new herp pet, how few animals I want can live in standard Exo Terra (or similar) tanks sold for the purpose of holding herp pets. That's probably not quite as keenly felt by Dendroboard users with their frogs, but for snakers like me it's very noticeable.

EDIT: On the subject of cutting eggcrate, it's really not so bad with the right tools and technique. I use a needle-nose pliers with a wire-cutting section next to the joint. You can stick it through the squares and cut them. (You may also be able to just use normal wire-cutters, but I've never actually tried.) This may hurt your wrist if you're doing it for a while.

Another very fast and very messy way to cut them, if you need to cut a bunch of them in a straight line: Clip a few squares the normal way, with the wire-cutting part, then smash the nose of the pliers down the line you've started. You will break about 5-10 of them in half a second, or more. It sends pieces of plastic flying in all directions, though, so be sure to have a vacuum or a broom.

Alternately, an intermediary between those ways, is to use the pliers part to grab and break the pieces. It will also create a mess, but less of one. It's faster than using the wire-cutting part and slower than using the smashy method, which I shall trademark as "Smashing the Gordian Knot." (History buffs will appreciate it, I guess.)

Last edited by Kinstrome; 07-16-2019 at 12:47 PM.
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Old 07-16-2019, 04:34 PM
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Default Re: Terrarium Build Advice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kinstrome View Post
EDIT: (You may also be able to just use normal wire-cutters, but I've never actually tried.) This may hurt your wrist if you're doing it for a while.
I can verify both of these points!

Wire cutters probably are the best option. I've used the needle nose snap-each-square method and while it does work, it makes a mess and is way worse on your wrist. Get some springy wire cutters and you'll fly through the eggcrate.
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Old 07-16-2019, 05:19 PM
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Default Re: Terrarium Build Advice?

Cool! I'll use wire-cutters if I'm just doing the slow and clean method from now on. I make clay models and have to cut many aluminum wires, so I have a good supply.

I think the wrist pain is partially due to the fact that, having to put half of the tool through the eggcrate, the eggcrate rests heavy on pliers, pulling down your wrist.

EDIT: I wanted to make a small note about gravel layers while I can still edit, in case you want to do them in this tank or plan to do them in future small tanks.

For the same reason that rocks are useful as a drainage layer --- they're big and don't connect like perfect tetris pieces, so there's a lot of room for water --- they are somewhat difficult to make into a thin layer. To eliminate the gaps between rocks, you have to have a lot of rocks, and rocks between those rocks, etc. And you do need to eliminate gaps, because otherwise the very fine substrate particles above them will just spill in between the rocks, making the rock layer useless.

In short, it's hard to make a bunch of different layers in limited vertical space. If you just wanted to make two basic layers --- substrate and drainage --- then rocks in the drainage don't take up so much space as to be risky in a small tank.

(Of course, you can always put a substrate barrier / filter between every layer. It may take longer for water going through the layers to get to the bottom, but if you're using a water feature [like a stream] that doesn't pass through the substrate to get back to the pump, it doesn't matter at all.)

Last edited by Kinstrome; 07-16-2019 at 06:10 PM.
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Old 07-19-2019, 05:21 AM
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Default Re: Terrarium Build Advice?

Thank you all for your advice. It seems like it's wisest to just do a plain terrarium with this tank, no water. Just plants and some invertebrates. It eliminates the risk posed by the cracks (especially after silicone) and is a much more simple thing to do.

As for the water feature/paludarium-ish idea, I've had a stroke of luck and got my hands on a cheap Exo Terra medium tall that I'll be planning out for this purpose.
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