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195 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hello everyone - I've built a number of my own vivs and for various reasons (weight, durability / shatter-proofness, ease of modification, reduced fogging, improved temperature gradients, FF-proofing, etc.) from scratch with acrylic.

The basic "design" can be scaled to practically any dimension with very minor adjustments (personally I've taken it to over 2x2x4 feet - posted a few pics here: Supplemental lighting near bottom of 3' tall vivarium?).

I recently added a smaller viv to my collection and figured I'd use that to post a build-log of the general design in case that's helpful and in case anyone has any feedback / thoughts / suggestions.

Some of these builds have been up and running for several years now - early iterations obviously for longer and I've made small adjustments over time in the general design to reflect what I've learned. The below is my latest and greatest design.

Few key things on using / working with acrylic (the 101s), just in case anyone else is planning to work with acrylic:
  • It is rather easy to work with (can be drilled, cut, etc. like wood); very easy to drill / cut with a router as well (important when building larger customizations like square hatches larger fans, etc.)
    • Similar to glass, acrylic edges are SHARP - sand them
  • Gluing - with acrylic it is called cementing or welding. This is because the acrylic "cement" literally dissolves the acrylic on both pieces and then it bonds together, leaving you with one solid piece with very strong joints
    • Make sure to do this in a well ventilated area / ideally with an appropriate mask
  • Screws & sealing - very simple to do and unlike glass acrylic can be subjected to quite a bit of pressure
  • Silicone - does not adhere nearly as well to acrylic as it does to glass. BUT there are options, e.g. see this youtube video - NOT MINE, but I found it helpful:
  • Scratches easy, but can be polished with flame or regular polishing tools; leave the protective film on it as long as possible
    • Best way to clean is with a microfiber cloth - and if you have algae use a very very diluted H2O2 mix (and then wipe / rinse off)
  • Acrylic can bend / warp (so does not crack, but need to reinforce or use thicker pieces where that is not permissible)
  • Does not crack / disintegrate like glass; any damages can be replaced / cemented or cut out / replaced / polished
  • Clearer and lighter than glass
  • Certain (very specific) kinds also let through UV light - important if you want to use your build for geckos or anything needing UV
Ok, now on to the actual viv - a lot of thought has gone into that design and it has evolved, but it's been anchored around the following criteria:
  • Maximize usable space for the inhabitants / interior
    • No hollow bottom for "infrastructure" - drainage, pumps, etc.
    • No stand-offs on the bottom or against the back - e.g. a drainage port, so it can be flush with (i) a stand, (ii) a wall to the rear and (iii) if desired, another viv to the side)
  • Ease of maintenance
    • Easy access to all pass-throughs (drainage port, vents, holes for any electronics, lid)
      • Drainage port accessible from the side (vs. underneath)
    • Removable / replaceable electronics in case of any issues
    • Misting nozzles easily accessible from the top
    • Space for a light panel at the top
    • Completely replaceable "life support" (lights, ventilation, sensors, etc.) if need be for deep-cleaning / replacement in case of severe breakage with minimal disturbance to inhabitants
  • Ease of monitoring
    • Temp / humidity sensor (replaceable if need be)
    • Visible water levels in drainage layer
  • Space for broad LED coverage with sufficient heat-removal
  • Passive ventilation below doors and at the top (FF proof and adjustable)
  • Adjustable active ventilation (ambient humidities range between 20-80% here)
  • FF proofing (according to my SO who frequently sits next to these in our living room, this design is significantly more FF proof than any other viv I've had - exos, insitus)
So, with all these, here is the general (annotated) design plan:

Some Notes:
  • Height, length and width can be adjusted as needed and are the INTERIOR measurements once assembled
    • The actual joints will be connected via acrylic right-trangle bars (with the vertices the same length as the thickness of the acrylic panes - so 1/4 in this case)
    • Therefore, add 1/2 inch for the exterior measurements
  • There is a drainage port in the bottom right corner (could also be bottom left if you wanted). It is recessed to allow the viv to sit flush with the floor / stand as well as the wall behind it AND a viv next to it (if so desired)
  • ALL the infrastructure / electrical equipment is incorporated into the lid. You could unscrew the lid and lift it out, repair it, replace it, modify it, etc. - you name it
  • Ventilation holes (drilled into panes or in vents) are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide - small enough to prevent any FF from coming through. All other holes are sealed
Parts & Equipment:
  • Acrylic panes per the plan / your desired dimensions. The pictures of the build below were 20 long x 15 wide x 20 high
  • 90 degree acrylic right-angled triangular "bars" of 1/4 width on each vertex - these will be corner reinforcements / help support the door rails to add an extra 1/4 width to the acrylic where needed
  • Door panes - glass or acrylic panes of appropriate sizing (half the width of the viv + 1/4 inch)
  • Power adapters for fans
  • Lighting
  • Misting equipment / nozzles
  • Remaining items:


So let's get started!

195 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Step 1: Cementing the Right-Angled Triangular Rods to the Edge of the Panes and Drilling Ventilation Holes in the Below-Door Pane

Before anyone asks - the reason why I use the right angled triangle rods on the corners instead of just gluing the panes together is that I wanted rounded corners without having to sand / polish a bunch and thin-out the material. You could do that and just have to add 1/4 or 1/2 inch to the width of the panes as appropriate. You will still however need the triangular rods for above / below the door rails as well as the lid (if screwing it in).

Here you can see where in the schematic (as well as the final product). The Rods may need to be cut to length.

Viv Build Log.003.jpeg

And some pictures during the assembly. On the ventilation holes, I used a 1mm (0.04 inch drill with a dremel to drill these at 1/4 inch intervals). Make sure to keep the protective foil on the panes until the viv is complete.

Step 2: After the Cement has Dried from Step 1 Cement the Sides and Back Together

Important - the three panes will be very unstable / prone to breaking apart at this stage. It is critical to support them at all times (and if need be ask someone to help). It also helps to tape in the floor, lid and below / above door strips for added support. Once the floor is cemented in and dried it will start to have some structural integrity, but key is to keep measuring and making sure that everything is aligned at this stage.

In terms of alignment, I focused on perfectly aligning the inside of the corners (any "overhang" on the outside can be sanded off later; the inside is much much harder).

Also - use the floor, lid and below / above door strips to help achieve a perfect fit with 90° angles.

Again pictures of the schematic and the work in progress.



195 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Step 3: Adding Some Structural Integrity - Installing Below and Above-Door Wedges.

Mostly there for structural integrity, keeping drainage water in.

Also key to glue-in the triangular reinforcements on the inside (see red lines in the diagram) to provide extra support for the door-rails. The triangular reinforcements should be flush with the existing sides of the panes, effectively just extending the 1/4 width to a 1/2 width for the rails. I took great care not to re-seal my drainage holes below the door when installing these.

Again, diagram and pictures:



Step 4: Cementing in the Door Rails

The "taller" one should be towards the top. The sides / bottom can be the same height.

I usually start with the bottom one - then the top and finally the sides. You can miter-cut the corners at 45°. All rails should be flush with the outside of the viv.

Again, schematic and pictures. The pictures here are of my first attempt where the cementing didn't come out so clean because of some bubbles (I later figured out that the key is to turn it flat / the surfaces should be horizontal vs. try to cement vertically).


More will come later - next steps are preparing the lid and building all the infrastructure into this.

195 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Step 5 - Preparing The Lid

All the infrastructure is built into this - fans, vents (one active with fan, one passive), holes for misting bulkheads, holes for temp / humidity sensors. Again, goal here is to build modular with ease of replacement / repair / maintenance.

Here is the schematic. I've learned it's important to leave about 1.5-2 inches of space for the background (for the fan openings / vents). Same on the front for the misting port holes (to help swivel). Then also some space in the middle for the lighting.

The minimum "width" I've built here was around 12.5 inches. If you're for some reason building less than that (not recommended), you could probably add more clearance via 90° angles on the misting and cutting off / out some of the background.

Cut out the holes as per the below (black = pass-through holes; the large vents are drilled via hole-saws, the others via regular drills that go up to 1-1.25 inches). Fine-tuning is done via a router.

You will also need another hole for the fan wiring (one pink hole) as well as screw-holes to attach the fan / filter mesh (other pink holes). Personally I recommend M3 or M4 stainless screws.

Prepping the fan (water, ff-proofing and dart-proofing):
  • Cover both sides with fine mesh
  • Silicone any exposed wires (making sure to not glue any parts of the fan)
  • Also silicone any extra gaps in the fan. Only way to enter / exit the fan should be via the mesh
    • This will also help it stay clean. I did NOT want to clean dead FFs out of this every other month...
    • Make sure to use a high-quality SILENT fan; don't want to disturb the darts. I recommend thin, lower RPM ones or Noctuas if you are tight on space
  • Add stand-offs
    • Vent should be pulling air downwards (away from the side with stand-offs)
    • Standoffs will help you regulate amount of outside vs. viv air that is being circulated through the fan. You can cover up the vent with the fan during periods of lower ambient humidity if you'd like to circulate less outside air. Uncover during periods of higher ambient humidity.
      • This will help prevent over-watering and help control humidity
      • You can even automate the vents here (I've done this in some of my larger builds and am able to maintain a nice humidity "curve" throughout the day
      • Key here is to over-build vents and fans. It is easy to cover up a vent - compared to drilling / sawing holes for a new vent once the viv is up and running; even with the modular design
    • Make sure to TEST the fan in all orientations to make sure it runs silently / without obstructions - learned this the hard way, but fortunately easy to remove and fix
The fan should look like this:

Installing the vent covers (on the outside) as below images. You can see the hole cutouts that I use to cover up the vents if needed. Fan is on the left side, passive vent on the right side.

For some reason one of my thumbs likes to use the fan as a bathroom... nothing a swipe with a long paintbrush once a month won't fix, but it would make collecting samples easy. They don't seen to be worried about the fan / drier air at all...

I've also plugged the sensor hole with a grommet with a small slit cut into it (drilled bigger than just the cable to allow the actual sensor-head / enclosure to pass through). Easily removable if need be but 100% FF proof.

At the bottom you can see a SD LED panel.


Here is another view (including one from the front - you'll see its very slim.

If for whatever reason temps are too high you can build your own LED assembly using an aluminum heatsink (available by the inch), fan and neoprene seal (to avoid LED reflections).


195 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Step 6 - Cutting out the Drain Port

Now to create the recess for the drain nozzle. I went with a 1/4 wide bulkhead (the actual hoses are 1/4 wide). Some like to use wider ones, so just need to scale up. The key is that the top of the recess should sit below your substrate.

The recess should be sized to allow the bulkhead to be roughly oriented in a 45 degree downward angle, but with enough wiggle room to allow a straight down and straight back position as well (so it can change depending on how I rack and stack the vivs).

Like I mentioned before, the reason to recessing this is to maximize usable space by having your viv be flush with the wall, stand / floor and an adjacent viv.

First, I glued in pieces of acrylic to the inside of the viv to "invert" the corner and create the recess. Doing this first will help contain the mess of the next step and also provide nice cutting / routing guides.

Here are the pictures of the various stages (top with the pieces just glued in, bottom after cutting away the outside / drilling and installing the bulkhead.

Here is cut-out in a finished viv / earlier prototypes (I was lazy and didn't polish the cuts on this one as well as I could have).


Step 7 - Installing the Lid

There are really two options:
A - cement the lid into place; big con is lost ability to remove / replace it. Pros are ease of first installation and potentially better structural integrity. I was very happy with structural integrity at this point and have had no issues with even my very large builds.

B - add weight-bearing ledges (out of our good old triangular rods) and screw in the corners with M2 screws. Will also prevent warping. I went with option 2. Big con is it's more difficult to install at first and requires precision drilling.

Here are the schematics:


And pictures (you can also see the rod at the side holding the edge panes together):

From the inside, here is how the two vents / the fan will look like:

195 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
At this point the "box" is fundamentally complete - depending on your size / overall design you can add gimmicks (extra in-viv lights, water feature plumbing, etc. - but only recommended in very large builds if at all).

Final steps are the hardscape. I like providing lots of climbing areas and tunnels to maximize usable area.

For example a hollow cork tube with a bit of a bend in it (so only two points touch the substrate) can function as an excellent way to provide a hide, double / triple the usable area (floor + interior + top of cork + additional space from the non-straight parts).

Same concept with providing visual barriers (all darts are somewhat territorial - that just helps de-fuse things). All darts also like to climb - some more than others, but they will easily and happily climb to the height of any of our vivs.

Installing wood - key points are NOT to take up excess floor space but rather to create / add new usable area:
  • That means the wood will only have a larger footprint against the background / walls but NOT the substrate
  • Substrate "touch points" are ideally thinner branches and vertically oriented
  • If you do add horizontal pieces of wood, it's important to add hiding spaces / partially underneath (but special care to be sure they cannot fill in / collapse and the wood is sturdy)
  • The extra "vertical" space also makes me not "want" to add moss / accents to the substrate - leaving it clear for leaf litter
    • If you are working with larger darts, just scale up. Leucs like this kind of set-up too (maybe less dense planting / wood than with Ranitomeya given they are larger); Tincs / Terribs / Auratus etc. will prefer more gradually sloping "ramps" and layers
  • I also like to keep most of my larger wood pieces removable - in the event of emergency / having to chase down a dart for medical reasons / catch a juvenile I missed during breeding season / maintenance - you name it
    • I've found these to be very sturdy if working around anchor points (corners, using skewers in the background, "planting" wood in the substrate, attach faster-growing rooting plants to the "joints", attach "footholds" to the side of the viv)
    • All the benefits of a breeder setup while also having a nice pretty display-quality viv
    • Note about working with acrylic - I found that great stuff actually does stick to it quite well if applied properly (i.e. with a firm continuous surface / no bubbles) and not pulled / pushed with excessive force
Here is one hardscape (the books are old and just there as a placeholder for the substrate). You can also see the "ledge" the lid will be placed on here. Note how the wood is positioned to create more usable space / mount plants to. I also added a Y-shaped bent cork tube where the 45° cut off vertical cork tube is here (again, more usable space). All-in (with plants and wood) this viv has well over 2.5x usable space when compared to it's "footprint" - and of course more leaf litter on the floor.

Here it is right after planting (you can see the fan and one of the entrances to to the cork tube - my Ranitomeya have had no issues getting lost in it; just make sure it is spacious and has a couple small strategic holes):

And here it is grown in

Bonus pics of the inhabitants (+ the cork tube again):


Here is another viv hardscape layout (again I added a Y-shaped cork tube under the big piece running from top right to bottom left):

Planted and grown-in (you can see the big cork tube - bit of an "inverted hand shape" with the fingers touching the substrate and then running up behind the big piece of wood):

Some close ups:


195 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
And that's it - thanks to everyone for reading and hope this was helpful.

There are also a few notes around how to build super FF-proof sliding doors / easy and cheap hand-grips / knobs with super-clear silicone strips that I'll share another time.

If you have any suggestions / constructive criticisms or "what if" questions, I'd love to know about them and think about how to incorporate those into the next viv I build!
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