How to Set Up a Ceramic Reptile Heater (for Bearded Dragons, Leopard Geckos and More)

If there’s one topic that seems to cause reptile keepers a lot of confusion it is the purchase, installation and use of ceramic heaters.

In this guide, therefore, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know to properly heat your reptile cage. By the end you’ll know exactly what kit you need, how to set it up, and keep your pet safe from harm.

lizard basking photo

Benefits of Ceramic Reptile Heaters

Ceramic heat emitters are some of the most commonly heating sources used by reptile and amphibian keepers, and for good reason. If you’re not yet sure if a ceramic heater is right for your needs then here are some of the biggest benefits of this heating system…

High Temperature Output

One of the biggest benefits of ceramic reptile heaters is the large amount of heat that they can produce. While a tarantula might be happy with a warm spot of around 25’C, many lizards prefer a much hotter basking spot.

Indeed, commonly-kept lizards like bearded dragons and Uromastyx will often appreciate a basking spot providing 30-35’C which can be difficult to create with other heating methods like heat mats.

Not only can ceramic heaters produce far more warmth for reptiles that appreciate it, but the higher power heaters can also be used to warm larger cages that otherwise would be difficult to heat.

Large Level of Control

Ceramic heaters can get very hot. When combined with a suitable thermostat this provides unrivalled levels of control as to how your reptile or amphibian will be heated. For example, it is in theory possible to provide almost any temperature for your pet.

As most ceramic heaters are also “directional” – that is the heat is produced in a reasonably focused beam – this heat can also be directed at the most suitable site. Combined, ceramics give you great levels of control which are ideal for fussier or more sensitive exotic pets.  

Don’t Affect Day/Night Cycles

Before ceramic heaters became widespread it was quite normal for lizard, tortoise and turtle keepers to use incandescent light bulbs, or specialist heat bulbs, in order to heat their reptile cage.

Such an arrangement can however offer problems when it comes to the day/night cycle. After all, reptile keepers would either need to choose between keeping their pet warm at night, but making it difficult for them to sleep, or turning off the light while trying to offer some alternative heat source.

Ceramic bulbs, in contrast, emit just infrared heat which is invisible. As a result, artificial lighting can be provided separately and is easily turned off at night. Thanks to the level of control that ceramic heaters offer, it is also possible to “turn down” the heat being producing during the night, creating a far more natural day/night cycle.

Radiant Heat is Ideal for Basking Reptiles

Most reptiles evolved to bask in the sun’s rays. This not only warms them up, but also allows them to generate vitamin D – crucial for a strong skeleton. Ceramic heaters do an excellent job of mimicking the warmth produced by the sun, radiating down heat from above. In this way your reptile can bask as they might in the wild, as opposed to using an under tank heater, where the warmth oddly radiates up from below.

Reliable & Long-Lived

Ceramic heat emitters have been used to decades by exotic pet keepers – and possibly even longer by other animal keepers such as those rearing chickens. As a result of this long pedigree ceramic heaters have become ever more reliable. The ceramic heaters available today tend to be very reliable and long-lived, representing excellent value for money.

Reasonably-Priced to Buy & Install

So common are ceramic heaters these days that the cost to set up a system is very modest indeed. Therefore, in contrast to just a few decades ago, installing a ceramic heater needn’t be a major investment for you. Even the best quality kit is within the reach of the average keeper.

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Downsides of Ceramic Heat Emitters

While ceramic heaters are deservedly popular in the exotic pet market there are also a few downsides that you should know about before making your final decision…

Ceramic Heaters Don’t Mix Well With Plastic

One of the reasons that ceramic heaters have become so popular is the level of heat they produce. This same property also means, however, that ceramic heaters and plastic don’t mix well – most ceramic heaters will rapidly melt any plastic nearby. This means two things.

Firstly if you’re considering buying a ceramic heater then you’ll want to make sure that you’re not using a plastic tank (or plastic tank decor such as artificial plants). Secondly, and just importantly, be sure that your ceramic bulb isn’t fitted into a standard plastic bulb holder; instead you’ll need to invest in a proper ceramic holder that won’t melt during use.

Ceramic Heaters Can Cause Burns

Ceramic bulbs get so hot that burns aren’t just possible – they’re positively likely – if contact is made. From the owners perspective, therefore, you’ll want to be careful when carrying out tank maintenance and you should switch off any bulbs and allow them to cool thoroughly before removing them.

Just as importantly you’ll need to consider your pet; if they can make contact with the bulb then serious injury is possible. For this reason ceramic bulbs should be placed behind a bulb guard or cover to prevent direct contact.

Ceramic Heaters Can Be Expensive to Run

Ceramic heaters may produce an awful lot of warmth, but they can use a lot of electricity to do it. Many ceramic bulbs are 100 watts in power – some are even more powerful – which is like leaving several light bulbs on all day long.

Before you choose a reptile or amphibian that requires a ceramic heater, just make sure there’s room in your budget to pay your newly-inflated utility bill when it arrives.

Ceramics are Inconvenient in Smaller Cages

Most ceramic bulbs are roughly similar in size to domestic light bulbs. However alongside this bulb you’re also going to want to buy a bulb holder/reflector which will power the bulb, and a thermostat to control the output.

Lastly, you’ll likely want to place a guard over the top of the bulb. All told, this equipment takes up a fair volume within a vivarium, so ceramic heaters can be quite inconvenient in smaller tanks, taking up valuable space unnecessarily.

What Equipment Do I Need?

When you’re shopping for a ceramic heater for your reptile or amphibian there are four pieces of equipment that you’ll need. These are:

Ceramic Bulb

The first thing you’ll be needing will be the actual “bulb” itself. I put the word “bulb” in speech marks because in actuality these won’t produce any visible light at all – just heat. Ceramic heaters are known to be very reliable indeed, soo you shouldn’t need to put too much thought into the exact model you choose.

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Ceramic Bulb Holder

The next thing you’re going to need is something to plug your ceramic bulb into – a bulb holder that is made of porcelain to prevent it melting at high temperatures. Be sure to avoid anything made of plastic. This holder will have the wiring necessary attached, so pay attention to the cord length to ensure that it will suit the reptile vivarium you have selected.

Fluker's Repta-Clamp Lamp, Heavy Duty Clamp Light For Reptile Tanks and Terrariums, UL/CUL Approved, Great for Reptile Basking, 150-Watt Maximum with On/Off Switch, 8.5"
  • Optimal Heating for Reptiles: Fluker's Repta-Clamp Lamp is a UL/CUL approved 8.5 inch heating clamp designed to create the perfect basking environment for your reptiles.
  • High Power Capacity: The clamp light fixture is rated for up to 150-watt incandescent bulbs or ceramic heat emitters, allowing for optimal heat performance for your pet. Ideal for larger enclosures.
  • Safety and Ease of Use: Integrated with a lamp clamp and an on/off switch for easy operation. Provides safe performance, and the light clamp ensures secure placement on your pet's cage or terrarium.

Also, I recommend that you pay particular attention to those models that come with a cone-shaped reflector as this will ensure that as much warmth as possible is directed down into the cage, rather than simply heating up the rest of your room.

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The Fluker Repta-Clamp is a good option that offers everything that you need in one neat package.

Bulb Guard

Ceramic bulbs get very hot, so you’ll want to ensure that neither you nor your pet can some into direct contact with it by mistake. Here are there are a couple of options. Firstly, if you’re using a cage with a wire mesh lid then you can simply position the heat lamp above the cage and shine the heat through the mesh.

Vipe Heater Guard, Reptile Heating Lamp Shade Light Heat Lamp Mesh Cover
  • Mesh lampshade made from high-grade stainless steel, strong enough to guarantee years of usage
  • Reptilesand amphibians are more likely to approach to heat source, the metallampshade can protect your turtles, lizards and other crawling pets fromhigh temperature lamp surface
  • With coil spring design, easy for installation, just clip and go

Suitable Thermostat

Lastly, and crucially, you will need a suitable thermostat to control the heat being produced by your ceramic heater. Without this there is a serious risk that your pet reptile will quickly overheat and die, so do not scrimp when it comes to choosing a reliable thermostat.

Inkbird ITC-306T Pre-Wired Electronic Heating Thermostat Temperature Controller and 24 Hours Digital Day & Night Cycle Timer Controller for Seed Germination Reptiles Hatching
  • 👏👏【Convenient Design】Plug and play, easy to use. Support reading with Centigrade or Fahrenheit.
  • 👏👏【Dual Display Window】Be able to display measured temperature and set temperature at the same time.Temperature calibration, over-temperature and sensor fault alarm. Maximum output load: 1200W (110V).
  • 👏👏【Dual Time Cycle Setting】Can be set different temperature from day and night on the basis of the physical needs of animals and plants during 24 hours.

Bonus: Thermometer

While some people would argue that it’s not absolutely necessary, I would also advise you to purchase a separate, digital thermometer with a sensing probe. The simple reason for this is that it allows you to double-check the temperature within your reptile cage to ensure that your thermostat is doing everything that it should.

Setting Up Your System

Once you’ve bought all your equipment the set-up process is quite straight-forward. All the same, I would strongly suggest that you set up your ceramic heater some days before bringing home your new reptile.

In this way you can monitor temperatures and fiddle about as much as necessary to get things “just right”. It’s a lot easier this way than trying to re-jiggle everything in with an active lizard or snake trying to escape every time you open the door!

Start off by fitting the bulb holder itself in place. Most ceramic heaters in the 75-100 watt margin will transmit their heat roughly 30-40cm at most. If your tank is taller than this, then consider piling something up below it to bring the level up. Slabs of cork bark and suchlike can be handy for this.

Next fit your bulb.

Setting up your thermostat should come next, and may take some time to get “just right”. Be sure to place the temperature sensor exactly where the “basking spot” for your reptile should be.

Turn the whole system on at a very low temperature to check that some modest heat is produced by the bulb. Then turn it off again and leave it to cool.

When you’re confident that all your hard work has paid off fit the bulb cover (don’t do it earlier, as they can be a pain to remove if something isn’t right).

Once all your hardware is in place you can program the thermostat properly, and monitor temperatures for a few days. Make any minor changes necessary until you’re confident that everything is running as it should be.

At this point you’re all ready for business.

Got questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I will do my best to get back to you 🙂

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

Photo by cliff1066™

Richard Adams

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