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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hi everyone! I’m new to the hobby and am planning to make a custom bioactive vivarium in the coming weeks. I’m looking into purchasing a used 29gal (30x12x18) tank that I’m hoping to scape into something resembling tropical forests of Southeastern Asia.

I’ve done a fair amount of research about viv making (a lot of Serpadesign videos and scanning this forum) but it would be fantastic if I could have some personalized advice/comments about my vivarium plan before I actually start building.

Background-
I plan on making the traditional great stuff background with great stuff foam, GE Silicone I, and ABG mix over top. I recently have read that people prefer using Great Stuff Pond and Stone Foam because you don’t need to silicone over it? Thoughts about that would be great because I’ve heard mixed things on that.

Hardscape-
I have some small sections of driftwood I’m hoping to attach to the background. I don’t have a concrete idea of how to shape it as of right now but I’m aiming towards having a lot of 3-dimensionality in that the wood will likely jut towards the front of the enclosure. I don’t have any stones for the enclosure because, to be quite honest, I am not really sure where to get naturalistic looking stone. If you all have any ideas on where to find them, that would be appreciated!

Bottom-
I plan on making a PVC false bottom. It consists of gravel for drainage layer, mesh, and ABG substrate. The back corner will have an appropriately cut PVC pipe that I can use to drain the bottom of the tank using an airline tube. In text, this sounds very confusing but Serpadesign made a video about it that’s a lot more clear. If others have used this method, please let me know your thoughts on it. I was also considering doing the Matala mat/ pond filter bottom instead. Note that I'm not going to add any type of water feature to this, just constant misting.
I’ll be adding in my own leaf litter (I have a lot of dead magnolia leaves out back that I’m hoping to boil and use).

Plants-
I don’t have a lot of experience with plant care so my list is not extensive but I plan to put in golden pothos, creeping fig, and boston ferns. I picked those mainly because of accessibility and affordability. I’m also going to place some java moss on the wood and background and sheet moss for the bottom. Plant suggestions appreciated!

Lighting-
Again, not an experienced plant person so I am not sure my best option for this. I was thinking a typical daylight LED would be ok until the viv is stocked (then I'll add a UVB).

Bioactive Elements-
This is where I’m frankly lost. Where do you all get your springtails and isopods from normally? I was thinking about finding and cultivating my own but I’m sure there’s a lot of risk with using wild-caught bugs. Not to mention I don’t tend to find isopods around here. I see a lot of etsy shops selling them but the majority are a bit too expensive for me.


Any constructive feedback and advice you all could give me would be so greatly appreciated! :)


Edit: Will likely scrap the pothos and boston fern! Forgot to mention this will be stocked with either a Phelsuma dubia (dull day gecko) or Phelsuma laticauda (gold dust day gecko)!
 

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Sounds like you are on the right track.

Those plants will look very large in that small space when they grow in. Planning hardscape and then choosing plants is a good idea to get the look right.

But first, plan for animal inhabitants. What does a day gecko need, viv-wise (that's what this viv is being designed for, yes?)? It isn't going to be what a dart frog needs, so be cautious not to build a dart viv (or worse, a generic one size fits all viv). Thinking about the animal's requirements first is always a good idea.
 

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Is this a horizontal 29 gallon or a vertical?

A regular freshwater aquarium light will work fine for the plants or normal screw in light bulbs. I like Socratic monologue am assuming this is not for dart frogs? If it is, then dump the uvb as it tends to do more harm then good for dart frogs.

As for your background, I didn't use great stuff for my background but I have seen way too many on facebook peeling off the glass not to use silicone on the glass first ( preferably with egg crate as well) as opposed to using just great stuff alone. That said, Troy Goldberg on youtube has a bunch of videos up on vivariums and he just uses straight window and glass great stuff on glass walls without a silicone layer and I believe hasn't had an issue yet so clearly mileage will vary.

For plants, I would dump the pathos. They are big to start with and will just fill up your Viv very quickly but not in an attractive way. Go to vivarium plant websites and look for plants you like the look of. Glassboxtropicals and black jungle are two good options.
 

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Welcome!

Neat plan you have going on, but I always am hesitant on Aquarium conversions. As @minorhero asked, is this a horizontal 29 gallon or vertical 29 gallon? I've seen some immaculate setups that were Aquarium conversions, but honestly I don't know how some people can get them scaped so well, especially when going with a top loading design. Enclosures on the market today allow for so much accessible space (top and front) when it comes to setting up your enclosure, as well as providing you multiple paths for access during maintenance.

Regardless, I look forward to seeing what you come up with. My previous rant was just a bit of caution as I've read enough threads over the years with top loading display issues with smaller Aquariums (by small, I mean anything that doesn't have a 48"x18" access at the top.)
 

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You mention wanting to scape into something like Southeast Asia. Your plants are probably one of the biggest places where you can make it look like one region in particular. You might look into plants more specific for your design goal with that in mind.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Wow you all are so helpful and responsive! This is great!

Yes, this is my plan for housing a day gecko (Phelsuma dubia if I can find one, if not then likely a Phelsuma laticauda)! Now that you all mention pothos looking too large for the enclosure, I’ll likely scrap that then! I didn’t realize how fast and large they grow. Might do the same with the Boston fern but I love the way ficus grows so I’m planning to keep the creeping fig. I’ll definitely take a look at those sites! I’ve been considering maybe some small philodendrons and begonia glabra (though that may take over the tank too...).

It is a 29 gallon standard aquarium so it’s horizontal and top access. It’s going for cheap on FB marketplace but perhaps it would be smarter to save up and purchase a vertical front-opening enclosure! The ones I’ve seen at reptile and pet stores seem so small so I’m just unsure where to look for a better enclosure. I was also looking into horizontal to vertical conversion kits for aquariums along with how to DIY that. I’m willing to give that a try too, I enjoy building things but I’m not the best at it!

I’ve seen a few of Troy Goldberg’s videos, those are some spectacular vivs! I saw his tutorial on background making from a while ago and his tip about adding a bit of silicone to the tank before adding the foam! Didn’t realize he was using window foam now instead so I will look into that!

As far as basing the viv off of a Southeast Asian rainforest, I might scrap that idea especially since day geckos are native to Madagascar. Works out since I'm scrapping pothos anyway and that plant isn't native to Madagascar I believe. I'll look into the flora of that region and hope to find more suitable plants!

Again, thank you all for the advice!
 

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It is a 29 gallon standard aquarium so it’s horizontal and top access. It’s going for cheap on FB marketplace but perhaps it would be smarter to save up and purchase a vertical front-opening enclosure! The ones I’ve seen at reptile and pet stores seem so small so I’m just unsure where to look for a better enclosure.
An ExoTerra 18 x 18 x 24 is about the same volume. I suspect a longer viv (24 x 18 x 24) might be more suited to a basking species; this is a question for day gecko keepers on a gecko forum, though. Anyway, ExoTerras are ubiquitous and available in a range of sizes, up to 36 x 18 x 36.
 
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Went to respond to this lastnight, but the thread seemed to have disappeared when I hit submit on my response... Here it is though.

Ok, so I have some comments in regards to the Phelsuma as I've kept a various species over the years. First off, you're not looking at putting Darts with them correct? Just the gecko(s)? If it's just a Gecko, you're fine, if you're looking to do a mixed species enclosure you're going to have to rethink this as the two have different requirements. As for Phelsuma housing, I would HIGHLY recommend a front opening Viv. If you're not experienced with any of the subspecies, you need to know one thing. These guys are FAST! Having a front opening, preferably double door enclosure would be best so you can open one door at a time when you need to go in. As they get older and more accustomed to you digging around their enclosure, and/or just offering prey, they will be less likely to shoot out of the enclosure when the door opens. Having a big 12x30" open top lid just means you're going to have to play a big juggling game when trying to get in there and not spending a handful of time trying to catch an escapee. Being that you'll have to use a screen top on the aquarium, you're more than likely going to have to remove the lid to get in the enclosure, so keep that in mind. On top of that, Aquariums are not suitable for Phelsuma. They require substantial ventilation or you're going to run into issues with infection and sores. Both of these are problematic with a display species like the majority of Phelsuma as handling them to apply medical ointment is going to be tough. Specifically with P. Laticauda, you're going to have to worry about skin sloughing if they are handled incorrectly. Going with an Aquarium with a screen top will not provide ideal airflow unless you're going to drill the glass and add vents to the front or sides, which in turn is going to take away from the display.

With the availability of Vivarium enclosures on the market you're going to want to find something suitable for the species and then plant around it. For a pair the minimum I would go with is 18x18x24", but ideally with something planted, you'd want to look into something that is more like 24x18x24" so you have space to actually design the enclosure and plant. The additional space will not allow you to be able to plant the Viv and still have space, you're going to be able to put larger plants in that will be able to support the weight of the Gecko since they are going to want to bask. You can also use 1-2" diameter pieces of bamboo and mount them horizontally and at an angle to also provide these climbing and basking spots, but I'm not sure if that's the look you're going for.

I can understand wanting to use an Aquarium to save some money, but in the long run I believe you're going to run into more issues that are going to cost you. Starting with a suitable enclosure platform is going to save you a lot in the long run and provide a habitat for a healthier animal.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I think because I edited the original post, it decided to hide the post until approval for some reason.

Yes, I am planning to keep just the Phelsuma in the tank and no mixing animals! Thank you both so much for your advice! Maybe I’ll buy the 29 gallon to use later for a different animal. My pet store only seems to have the nano ExoTerras in stock so I’ll probably buy the 24x18x24 ExoTerra from online or see if I could find a used one somewhere!

I’ll be sure to update this thread when I’m able to find the ExoTerra! There’s a reptile con coming by in a few weeks so maybe I’ll wait for that to see if they’ll have cheaper front-opening enclosures!
 

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Discussion Starter #11
I'm central Florida (between Tampa and Orlando)! I would definitely be down with getting a used one. Most on FB marketplace and Craigslist right now are the smaller variety (the 12x12x18). The ones that are the right size are being priced the same as a new tank for some reason. I might just need to play the waiting game
 

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I'm central Florida (between Tampa and Orlando)! I would definitely be down with getting a used one. Most on FB marketplace and Craigslist right now are the smaller variety (the 12x12x18). The ones that are the right size are being priced the same as a new tank for some reason. I might just need to play the waiting game
Keep waiting and watching.
 

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Most on FB marketplace and Craigslist right now are the smaller variety (the 12x12x18). The ones that are the right size are being priced the same as a new tank for some reason.
I'd speculate that more people buy the smaller ones and then realize how limited they are, sell them and move up to a better size. The larger sizes are more in demand, and thus bring higher prices.

Personally, if I can't get something used for between 50% and 65% of new cost, I'll usually buy new. Maybe some of your sellers might be willing to accept an offer...
 

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Keep in mind when buying used there are always risks. There might be damage that is hidden or not obviously visible. When it comes to these enclosures damage could either be torn or worn silicon joints, cracks or chips in glass, or even a broken lock on the doors. Regardless of the rest is on, the screen tops will be rusted to hell, but this will happen on most/all ExoTerra and ZooMed enclosures over the time your own it. Personally, I replace my screen lids with custom cut and siliconed glass panes. Don't let the word 'custom' allow you to believe this conversion to be expensive. You can purchase tubes (non caulk gun style) of aquarium silicon for about $10 and buy a sheet of glass at Lowes and have them to cut it for free to the size you need for about $15. So for $25 you can have a glass lid.

I agree with E.Shell, if the prices are not significantly less than buying new, it makes more sense to buy it new. I prefer this option for a few reasons, first I have a manufacturers warranty. If there are any problems I can contact the manufacturer and they generally send replacement parts fast and at no cost. Besides that I don't have to worry about contamination issues. When it comes to the world of Herps and Amphibians we want to be aware of what you're possibly bringing into your home. Anything that has been exposed to other animals needs to be kept out of the area of your current pets until it's able to be sanitized. Purchasing an enclosure that has not been exposed to any inhabitants is a big convenience.
 

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Besides that I don't have to worry about contamination issues. When it comes to the world of Herps and Amphibians we want to be aware of what you're possibly bringing into your home. Anything that has been exposed to other animals needs to be kept out of the area of your current pets until it's able to be sanitized. Purchasing an enclosure that has not been exposed to any inhabitants is a big convenience.
This risk still exists with a new tank. Pet stores aren't exactly bastions of cleanliness and disinfection. All it takes is an employee to have been dealing with another animal then touch the tank and it could have been exposed to any number of bacteria, virus, etc.

I disinfect even brand new tanks. It's a risk I can do things to minimize easily, so I disinfect new tanks just to be safe.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Have any of you had experience with horizontal to vertical conversions of aquariums? I was reading some previous threads about it and it seems like that's not too bad of an idea and relatively cheap (I live a few miles away from an Ace hardware). I could also add ventilation holes to the front of the glass. From my understanding, the only downside would be time and effort. If there's more downsides I'm not seeing, let me know! In that case, I'll just take everyone's advice about buying a new Exo Terra because I feel like I'll be able to find one for a little bit cheaper at Repticon!
 

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Vertical conversions can work, but again, you're going to be limited to aquarium specs and the door conversions are not ideal for a flighty species. You're not going to find a floor print suitable unless you're going with a 40 gallon tank that's setup vertical, but even then the door options are not going to be as ideal.

You should be able to find what you want at Repticon, especially since it's the Florida based location. You'll also probably find some better solutions for Gecko's for sale there that are made out of PVC. They won't be 360 degree viewable like a glass viv, but they are much lighter and can be less than a glass viv.
 

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Vertical conversions can work, but again, you're going to be limited to aquarium specs and the door conversions are not ideal for a flighty species. You're not going to find a floor print suitable unless you're going with a 40 gallon tank that's setup vertical, but even then the door options are not going to be as ideal.

You should be able to find what you want at Repticon, especially since it's the Florida based location. You'll also probably find some better solutions for Gecko's for sale there that are made out of PVC. They won't be 360 degree viewable like a glass viv, but they are much lighter and can be less than a glass viv.
Some of us obscure the sides of our vivs anyways, do the PVC enclosures aren't an issue. I don't use any yet but have no reason not to. 2 of my favorite tanks have painted sides so the frogs don't see other frogs and get riled up
 
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