The IkeHaus is upon us – designing and building a portable and Internet-connected bearded dragon enclosure from scratch

Icarus eunt domus

As followers of this blog know, I have put lots of time and money into building a rather lovely initial home and hearth for Icarus the bearded dragon.  But time, as we know, goes on… and Ike has this tendency to grow on. And on and on.  So, between his needing more space to flourish, and the fact that an all-glass aquarium 1) leaks heat and thus forces me to spend a lot of money on those heat lamps (like 650 watts during the day time); 2) scares Ike by showing him his own reflection (he is fun, but dumb… so very dumb); and 3) having to reach down into the tank to get him out FREAKS him out due to my hand looking like a predator… it is time for something Very Different.  How different, you might ask?  Read on.

Planning it out.

Planning the enclosure out at work

Planning the enclosure out at work

After doing some careful professional research, I found a handful of useful posts about ideal enclosure materials, the notion of building a custom enclosure (though that specific terrarium was not exactly what I was looking to make, as it is super heavy and non-portable), and then a specific clever design, which I realized would easily and effectively commend itself to making some portable and easily dismantled/reconnected when I eventually move out of Winchester House.  These percolated in my brain and helped me consider the dimensions and other particulars that are important to me, culminating in something like this list:

1) needs to neither melt nor burn down
2) needs to use less than the 650 watts of daytime lighting of the current, heat-leaking design
3) needs to incorporate both passive vents, and active fans, which will use 120mm computer fans to simulate wind
3b) the rear of the case exterior needs space to hold the various electronic components and wiring
4) the case will need to include small basking platforms, perhaps a hammock, and other accoutrements for Ike
5) the entire design will need to be simple yet strong; secure yet easy to take apart for transportation

As one can see, even from the above early photo (I ended up with something like 12 sheets of planning lists and drawings), I have put a great deal of thought into this, and am looking forward to it being QUITE the nice condo for our scaly friend.  When combined with the fact that the setup will include sensors to a computer, which will control the lights and fans… over the network, I would like to think I have a snazzy, malarkey-free construction project ahead of me this weekend.

Buying the materials

An unexpected benefit of my lovely new Passat - ideal for transporting bearded dragon enclosure supplies from Home Depot

An unexpected benefit of my lovely new Passat – ideal for transporting bearded dragon enclosure supplies from Home Depot

So with plans in hand, it was again that time again.  Specifically, the time when I further bankrupt myself on behalf of Ike, my dumb but loveable friend.  To some degree, I think my childhood spent reading and loving Foxtrot with Jason and his pet iguana Quincy was instrumental in my interest in eventually having a pet lizard, and then involving the little herp in all manner of technological projects and improvements to his living conditions… when all he wants is a LOT of sun, and a LOT of bugs.

This week has seen several trips to the Home Depot nearest me, each time grabbing a few more of the supplies so I would be able to parse out with certainty whether or not I had planned for everything.  My intention is to build nearly the entire enclosure (save for the roof with its light fixtures, and the software side of the computer) this weekend on Saturday… meaning I will start at 5am tomorrow down at the CEID to avoid the rush, get the first pick of workspace and tools, and to have some blessed quiet.

Building the damned thing Part 1: everything but the lighting, internal Ziggurat and computer control

So, after another long week of school and so forth, I went to CEID and unloaded the car, and then parked it around the corner on Grove Street (and paid a good $18 worth of quarters to park there for the day).  Got all the components inside, claimed several worktables (being there first, being mean, and having a LARGE project, when combined with my physical size and krav threat level, means I wasn’t going to easily brook argument for those spaces 😡  ).  Did a great deal of thinking to start after setting the tiles out onto the plywood base, and realized that the Home Depot employee I spoke with was right – I should just use the small wooden dowels to make slotted spaces in the base (and eventual roof) and avoid actually bolting/affixing the walls to the verticals.  So, I started off by putting the rubber feet on the bottom of the plywood, and then the steel carrying handles – this meant I could set it down on either side with a screw sticking through the other side and NOT scratch the tables.  The next step was to trace out the various poplar boards onto the plywood base, and then trim them to size.  This was followed by a GREAT deal of time sizing out the whiteboard side and back walls and making sure they were going to fit.  This assured, I affixed the base’s boards and dowels, and then began construction on the vertical L’s.

Lunch break happened, involving DELICIOUS Peruvian burrito and plaintains.  Then, back to the grind.  The verticals and notches in the base held the walls up without a problem AND with the tile laid out.  This meant I got to go ahead and cut the damned Lexan by hand… which, by the way, I would STRONGLY advise against ever doing.  Ever.  That said, got it cut to size, and taped the outside edges with professional grade gaffer’s tape, then got to installing the hinges and latches.

This was eventually followed by sizing out the top for the roof materials, and traveling (again) to Home Depot to buy the plywood piece as well as the GIGANTOR 114mm drill bit I needed to cut out the vent and fan holes into the walls.  More money spent on this damned thing, I returned and delved back into the project.  12 vent holes later, I got to building the roof with its notches for holding the walls in place.  Installed the vent covers and then the 120mm computer fans and their mesh covers, and those looked pretty good to me.  The roof was all that remained… I had to drill through 28 gauge steel plating, because its 2500 degree melting point means I wanted it between the HOT lights and the plywood roof… but it turns out that was a PAIN to drill with the tools at the CEID.  But I did it, and the lights stay in place.

All told, I was in the CEID from approximately 7:00am until 12:45am, though I had to drive to Home Depot in the evening.  A long day, but a damned good one.

One photo in big, for the last thing I did Saturday night before passing out:

Progress as of 1:30am, 4/7/2013

Progress as of 1:30am, 4/7/2013


Finally, here is a slideshow of the build in progress, from 4/6/2013

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