Sunday, March 15, 2009

Convert a Shelving Unit to a Rack System

I am raising a small collection of Green Tree Pythons and will only acquire 2 or 3 more animals over the next year. After doing my research, I quickly learned that rack-tub systems are ideal for keeping the neonate and small juvenile snakes until they are large enough for their display cages. The plastic tubs retain moisture and temperature much better than glass or acrylic aquariums, are very easy to clean, and are economically heated by the rack. For me the only downside to racks is that they tend to too big (10 tub minimum) and the custom built one’s were quite expensive and would take weeks to deliver.

I am not a carpenter, nor do I have access to good carpentry tools, nor do I have the carpentry skills to operate those tools. So rather than building my own rack-system, I opted to convert an Ikea shelving unit into a custom snake rack. I chose Ikea because it sells shelving units that measure 15 ¾” deep, perfect for 3 gallon tubs!

All in all, I spent about 3 hours of labor and less than $80 on the rack and tubs.

  • 1x BESTA shelving unit (23 5/8 " x 15 3/4 " x 15”) - $50(Ikea)
  • 4x SAMLA clear plastic box ( 11 " x 15 ¼ " x 5 ½ ", 3 gallon) - $2.99
  • 4x SAMLA clear plastic lid - $1.00
  • 4x SAMLA locking clips for lid (pack of 4) - $ .50
  • 8’ of 3” wide, 10 watt, Flexwatt Heat Tape – $16.80 (
  • Herp Power Proportional Thermostat – $119.00 (
  • 16x Plastic Hangers - $3.99 (CVS)
  • 1 regular extension cord - $2.99 (CVS)
  • Small handsaw
  • Drill
  • Soldering Iron
  • Solder
  • Wire Cutter/Stripper
  • Duck tape
  • Electrical tape

1. Assemble the shelving unit following the manufacturer instructions. The BESTA unit I purchased was very easy to assemble and took me roughly 20 minutes. These backs of these units come with a board that slides into pre-made grooves. I did not put the backboard into these grooves. Instead I nailed it to the back edges of the unit adding another ½” of depth to the unit to allow room for wires and cables.

2. Cut the flexwatt heat tape into four 23 inch strips, and wire the flexwatt as shown in the diagram. General information on wiring flexwatt can be found here. This link provides instruction on wiring flexwat in parallel. I chose to solder my connections and insulate with electrical tape.

I put two strips side-by-side on the base and two strips on the shelf. I keep my house relatively cool (68° - 70° F), the two rows of the 3"/10 watt flexwatt provides enough wattage to heat the back 6 inches of each tub up to an ambient basking temp of 88° F while the front half stays at 79°F. There is plenty of extra wattage so the thermostat can easily maintain the temperatures.

3. Secure the flexwatt to the shelving unit. I used the hand saw to cut a "v" shaped notch in the shelf to allow the wiring to pass to the base and secured the heat tape to the shelving unit using duct tape (foil tape would work well too). At this stage, the rack is complete.

4. Prep the tubs: Ventilation. There are two considerations that must be taken for converting the tubs into suitable habitats for GTPs: 1. ventilation, 2. perches. I used the soldering iron to melt ventilation holes into the plastic tubs along the rim spaced about 1" apart. I also made appropriate sized holes for the thermostat probe and thermometer/hygrometer probes.

I found that soldering holes is a fast and smooth process that does not leave jagged or sharp edges as can happen when the rpm of the drill used is not high enough. I also found that melted plastic smells like shit. Do this in a well ventilated area!

5. Prep the tubs: Perches. For perches I used plastic hangers I bought from CVS. With the handsaw, I cut the long ends off and then sized them so as to provide one long perch running down the depth of the container and two smaller perches cutting across. I made small perch-holes along the tub walls to secure the perches. This setup is stable enough to provide a secure perch for juvenile GTPs, while making the perches easily removable for cleaning and other husbandry needs.

That is pretty much it. Plug the flexwatt into the thermostat, set up your probes, and add substrate, decoration, and a water bowl and your set.


  1. Why did you go with 2 3" strips side by side instead of say 11" strip?

    Is under the tub heat better than heat tape on the back wall?

  2. Hi my name is Dan and this is all pretty new to me but am wondering what wires and sizes and connectors did you use to connect to the 4 23" flex watt? and what piece did you run your cord to the thermostat? and any other tips would be very help full thanks Dan feel free to also email me at cuz i dont do google that much?

  3. Snakes and specially Pythons are dangerous reptiles, one should read this just in order to avoid them. Stay safe, be safe then sorry, right.