Heat mats are the ideal heating source for smaller less heavy bodied snake such as Corn snakes, kings, milks, hog noses etc. But not as good for heavy bodied snakes such as Boas, Royals / Ball pythons etc.
Why chose a Heat mat over a ceramic bulb or heat bulb?
(1) They are cheaper and more efficient to run
(2) They do not need guards etc
(3) If cared for will last longer than ceramic bulbs, heat bulbs etc
(4) Better carbon footprint
What is a heat mat?
A heat mat is a flameproof cloth strip which is inter bound with copper wire and produces an Ultra long wavelength infrared heat in lay mans terms this basically means the heat mat warms the area around it and any furnishings it is in contact with it does not warm the air around it, so it is warm to the touch like a warm rock. The heat mat is water resistant however care should be exercised when placing water on or near the item as is the case for ANY electrical equipment in your home.
What vivs can you use a heat mat with?
Heat mats come in a huge array of shapes and sizes from very long thin strips for heating multiple baby snake tubs to large sheet mats for placing in larger vivs.
Heat mats can be used with plastic Faunariums, glass vivs, plastic and wooden vivs of all sizes.
What size heat mat do I need for my viv?
The basic rule of thumb for a heat mat in a viv is no more than 1/3 of the floor space should be covered by the heat mat some sites recommend no more than half the viv to be covered however this seems a little excessive, your snake is going to find the area it is most comfortable in and settle there in my opinion 1/3 is fine.
Where do I place the heat mat in the viv?
This depends on the viv however, all need to be floor mounted there are some sites that show you placing a heat mat on the wall of the viv in MY opinion this is just silly! As I said above, the heat mats do not heat the air but what they are in contact with like the snake, substrate etc. some vivs need the heat mat inside others outside I will go into detail below. Ideally the heat mat will be placed at one end of the viv not the middle, this creates a warm end and a cool end and allows for a gradual change from warm to cool giving your snake the maximum chance to thermo regulate to the temperature it wants.
Do I need anything else to run a heat mat?
Technically no- however, it is highly recommended that the heat mat is used in conjunction with a thermostat which will control the heat mat. There are a few on the market the most popular ones being the type you can plug the heat mat into set the temperature and a thermostat probe will check the heat mat. There are loads of good reasons to use thermostats
(1) They will maintain your heat mat at the optimal temperature for your snake / reptile.
(2) Will reduce overall running costs
(3) Safety If the heat mat overheats for any reason then the automatic cut off will kick in and prevent your vivarium catching fire (worst case scenario)
(4) Health of your animal, Snakes are susceptible to large changes in temp too hot or too cold then all sorts of ailments can kick in for an initial extra outlay you COULD save a lot of money in vet bills.
The Thermostat probe should always be placed on top of the substrate over the heat mat substrate wants to be no more than inch thick on top of the heat mat
Buy new or second hand?
Entirely up to you! I would recommend new, as you have some come back from the shop / site you bought it from If you do go down the second hand route through sites such as EBay etc then pay via papal but ensure you have asked that the item is in good working and electrical order if something is wrong with it when you receive it then there could be a chance for refund etc.
Second hands ideally should be inspected for tears in the plastic sheeting, that the wire is in sound condition with no exposed wires and that the plug has not been tampered with if in doubt then seek advice from an electrician this is why I recommend buying new the cost of getting an item inspected could be almost as much as buying new.
Checking the viv daily for waste fluid and solids is essential, the substrate where any waste should removed immediately this prolongs the life of the heat mat and maintains your snakes health urine when kept warm creates ammonia as well as nasty bacteria and the less said about warm poop the better! If you are going away for a few days you could consider a few sheets of newspaper of a few layers of kitchen roll over the heat mat and under the substrate this will absorb most off the wee.
There appears to be some confusion as to whether the heat mat should be placed on the inside or the outside of a wooden vivarium here is a simple test to prove to you my theory Younger people get an adult to assist you in this.
Boil some water in a pan, now get a wooden spoon or similar and place the spoon end in the water leave for a few minutes. Now touch the handle. Still cool to the touch isn’t it! The heat has not travelled along the spoon handle.
Why? Wood is a poor conductor of heat.
So this should mean that the heat mat should go on the inside of the vivarium otherwise you are just heating the bottom and wasting electricity.
The heat mat is ideally situated covering 1/3 of the end of the vivarium with any lighting this can then be taped into place using some duct tape if you wish, just make sure the tape is securely firmed down and that none of the sticky side is showing because your snake will find it and get stuck.
There is no real reason to cover the heat mat with anything other than your substrate of choice. Although I am aware that some people use ceramic tiles or card board, this means that the heat mat works harder costing a little more, but benefits from the snake not urinating directly onto the heat mat. I do not use tiles or card etc and have had no problems to date the choice is entirely yours I wont slate (see what I did there!!) the idea
All cables should be poked through a convenient hole one for the power cable and one for the temp gauge if you decide to use one the use of grommets of sealant should be considered to ensure that there is no room for escape for smaller snakes (they can get out of surprisingly small areas.
most glass tanks are made from toughened glass so should be fairly crack resistant from heat unless you are using an old aquarium. The advice I give here will hopefully reduce the chance of cracking for most glass.
Basic rule of thumb here is to have the heat mat on the outside, as most glass vivariums do not have pre drilled holes for heat mats etc (if you do then you can probably treat this as a wooden viv and see above). Hopefully your glass enclosure will have little rubber feet to raise the base off the surface a few millimetres. If not a good DIY store should have something for this if not then some blobs of blue tac, plasticine or play doh should suffice.
If the heat mat is under the glass you need a few mm for the warmth to dissipate otherwise the glass may crack this is probably the safe thing to do with modern safety glass again the heat mat needs to be one end under the glass with around 5 mm gap, the thermostat probe can be taped to the end of the viv on the outside around the level where the substrate is unless you are able to place the probe inside the viv from the top.
Care must be taken as to what surface you are placing the heat mat and glass viv onto you don’t want to potentially ruin the Chippendale table that has been in the family for the past 100 yrs and is worth more than the house itself! And you don’t want to place a glass viv with a heat mat on a glass table or glass top which could fracture due to the heat of the mat or break if the glass viv is placed on it a little hard.
Smaller enclosures such as Faunariums should be treated as glass vivariums, larger ones such as Rhino vivariums can be treated as wooden vivariums it depends on style, size and construction... there are so many coming on the market.
Various sizes and watts... not an exhaustive list
4" x 5" = 3 Watts - Suitable for Faunariums etc
6" x 11" = 7 Watts - suitable for smaller vivs
11" x 11" = 12 Watts - suitable for 2 ft - 3 ft vivs
11" x 17" = 20 Watts - suitable for 3 ft vivs
11" x 29" = 35 Watts - suitable for 3 - 4 ft vivs
Ceramic bulbs are far superior in heating a host of environments.
The benefits of using a Ceramic over a light bulb include…
(1) Longer life.
(2) No light, light ‘could’ stress the snake or cause visual problems in reptiles.
(3) Cheaper to run in the long term.
(4) Better at creating a basking spot
What you need
(1) A thermostat
(2) A ceramic bulb
(3) A ceramic ES Light fitting
(4) High quality heat resistant cable
(5) A plug
(6) A guard or a reflector and guard
Ceramic bulbs work much the same way as a ceramic heater, a filament glows within the ceramic shell and the ceramic part absorbs the heat, the shape of the bulb directs the heat downwards. This form of bulb is more cost effective than heat bulbs be it red bulbs or moon glow bulbs.
This method of heating is good for larger snakes but as with most methods of heating you need a separate thermostat to regulate the temperature. There are a range of thermostats on the market some specifically designed for heat mats - Mat Stats, others for bulbs - Dimmer Stats. Whenever buying any thermostat, always ensure it is the right thermostat for your heating source.
These bulbs get incredibly hot and with any bulb type heating they must be used with bulb guards to prevent your snake from touching the bulb and getting burnt.
Advanced Heat Systems (AHS)
AHS’ are an all in one solution to most heating scenarios, they are ideally suited to larger snakes housed in larger vivariums and they come in different wattages for various sized vivariums.
These can be screwed to the inside of the vivarium and they have a built in thermostat and probe, so that you can place it on the basking area.
These heaters are more expensive to buy initially, but are quick to install and get going.
They generally come with a one year guarantee, but after that if it goes wrong you will need to buy a complete new set.
AHS’s work much the same way as a ceramic bulb, just encased in a metal box. There are now guards which are made for these heaters and it is my opinion that these are a recommended buy as the casing can get really hot especially after the electric goes off for a period of time.
When setting one of these up, experimentation is needing in placement, so that you get the perfect basking spot and ambient temperature. For very large enclosures 72” + you may want to consider using the AHS as a ambient temperature control and use a ceramic bulb to create a hot spot.
Wattage and viv sizes
100 watt up to 24" long x 24" wide x 24" high
150 watt up to 36" long x 24" wide x 24" high
250 watt up to 48" long x 24" wide x 24" high
350 watt up to 60" long x 24" wide x 24" high
500 watt up to 72" long x 24" wide x 24" high