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LFBP-NEIL 20-09-2013 11:43 AM

Exo terra Heat Mat holder - review
Viv exotic heat mat holder review.

Neil Reed Ė

Safely attach a heat mat to a wooden vivarium is the sales pitch for Viv exotics latest creation I have been sent to test, Its a heat mat holder for wooden vivariums. And to look at its basically a sheet of glass sandwiched in some glass runners that effectively creates a glass platform about 1 cm above floor level with some sticky pads around the base for attaching the holder to the vivarium.

Now immediately this product has got me scratching my head, I have been using heat mats for many years, I have been using heat mats in vivariums for many years so whatís the safety issue? As long as your heat mat is on a thermostat (to prevent it overheating) and you follow the instructions and only place the advised depth of substrate on top of the mat (to prevent thermal blocking and potentially dangerous heat build up) then using a heat mat inside a wooden vivarium should be a perfectly safe thing to do, so what have vivexotic discovered that we donít know? I was hoping the product packaging could enlighten me somewhat..

Unfortunately the packaging offered up no reasons as to why the holder would make using a heat mat inside a wooden vivarium ultimately safer so i had to resort to some basic detective work. The heat mat supplied with the holder to test is the Exo Terra Heatwave Desert mat unsurprisingly as exo terra and viv exotic are both brands of Hagen. Upon reading the heat mat instructions things start to become a bit clearer, these mats are designed to be stuck onto the outside of a glass terrarium and the instructions explicitly state there must be an air gap underneath the mat if used beneath a glass tank, such is the importance of this they have included four rubber spacers to ensure any flat bottomed tanks can be raised so that the mat can be used underneath it.

So using my powers of assumption, I am assuming the heat mat is supposed to be stuck underneath the glass plate on the holder and then the holder placed inside the vivarium, However i am slightly thrown at this point as on the holders packaging it clearly shows the heat mat face down with the holder sitting over the top of it (only one side of the heat mat is adhesive). So do i go with instinct and stick the mat underneath the glass panel or follow the picture and stick it face down onto the vivarium and put the holder over the top of it?

The heat mat instructions were pretty adamant that it could only be stuck outside of glass so I opted to go with instinct and ignored the picture on the packaging and attached the heat mat to the underneath of the glass panel.

Now this creates even more questions than answers as donít forget iím still struggling to get to grips with what problem this product is actually solving at this point. First problem, the holder is open at one end with the heat mat cable coming out that end so itís effectively creating a 1cm high glass cave in the base of your vivarium, so my first question is Ė is that right? surely as soon as sand, aspen, wood chip etc is placed on top of the holder it is going to work its way down into the gap and fill the void beneath the heat mat, which surely defeats the point of raising it off the vivarium floor? , My other immediate concern is what an excellent hiding place for crickets, roaches, etc, and then what if poo gets squirted into there? the only solution would be to not stick it down or try and fix it somehow with silicone or similar so that nothing can get into the void. But then that immediately raises another question Ė if you do seal the void then surely that stops airflow and defeats the point of the holder? which then brings another question Ė placing a layer of substrate over the holder will also fill the void and prevent airflow, so what exactly is the point of the holder? are you not supposed to use it with any substrate? or does having no air flow around the underneath of the mat not really matter? in which case why not just stick the mat to a piece of glass and have it flush with the floor of the vivarium, or even why not just stick the heat mat directly to the inside of the vivarium? Do exo terra heat mats only emit heat in one direction (unlike any other heat mat)?

So by this point of the review iím well and truly puzzled, am i using this thing correctly? is there something I am not getting, something so obvious i have completely overlooked it? But anyway we crack on regardless, first test, how hot does this mat get to on full power. Well left running without a thermostat and without any substrate around the holder the glass surface reaches 45.c easily, with a little bit of substrate on top i would imagine it would be a tad warmer and if thermal blocking were allowed to occur potentially dangerous temps could be achieved. That is nothing specific to this mat though, all heat mats can reach dangerous temperature if run without a thermostat and if they are thermally blocked.

By now, I am a little perplexed, its a product that raises more questions than it answers, yes it allows you to install an exo terra heatwave mat into a wooden vivarium, as long as you donít mind it becoming a trap for substrate, insects, and other debris. We are not sure if it matters or not if the void fills up with substrate and if it doesnít matter Ė why is it there?,

I canít see any advantage to using this holder in combination with a exo terra heatwave mat that canít be achieved a lot easier by using any other brand of heat mat that can be safely stuck to the floor of a vivarium?

Call me cynical (most do) but at this stage the only advantage I can see is that it will enable retailers who donít have access to the entire range of reptile products on the market such as the large multi store retailers to be able to include an Exo Terra heat mat inside a Viv exotic Based starter kit.

I am obviously missing something, Cue a quick email to Hagens marketing department for some answers to these burning questions, I fire off an e-mail and wait (and wait..sorry Paul couldnít resist ;) )

The answers come back, first of all we have highlighted a bit of a flaw with the packaging, it wasnt clear enough how to install the holder, and I know i wasnít going mad as I quizzed a few other testers on who had also received a holder to test, when asked how they had installed it I got a variety of answers. But wait a second put down the pitchforks lets not lynch Hagen Just yet. After all this is a pre launch tester and this was the idea behind releasing some for us all to test so we can pick holes in it now rather than when there are thousands of them sitting on the shelves. So what are they doing about the lack of installation instructions.. Additional labels are being added to the packaging as I type so no one else will have to ponder where to stick their mat ever again.

So now weíve gotten past that hang up, heres what I asked of Hagen..What exactly is the point of the Holder? (Answers provided in italics)

First reason is safety, its stops animals having direct contact with the mat and damaging it, this can happen with some lizards.

Fair enough point, placing the heat mat under glass will protect the heat mat from being scratched around by those lizards big enough to cause damage, some might say however that large lizards should not be heated with a mat but we will concede this point so far.

Perhaps the most important feature is it lifts the mat off the melamine, the major advantage of this is it prevents water damage. Snakes particularly can spill water which in time can cause the mat to delaminate and fail. The terminal block on any heat mat is not waterproof, only water resistant and they will fail in time. This method prevents that.

Like it, yep good point didnít even think of that one, definite good idea.

One of the big problems with heat mats is thermal blocking, this is caused when too much substrate is placed on top of the mat. This system has two advantages, one the space below the mat allows sufficient air space to stop this occurring in the first place, and secondly it lifts the mat nearly an inch of the ground which to some extent reduces the substrate on top of the mat.

Thats a good point, if you had a 2 cm layer of sand in the bottom of your viv and used the holder you would only have a 1 cm of sand on top of the mat, thus reducing the risk of thermal blocking.. providing you can keep the space underneath the mat clear of sand.

Ps, the correct placement is pushed against the rear of the viv, which will effectively close off the void underneath, retaining the air space. Again this will be made clear on the pack.

ah right, that answers that question.

Finally the glass also helps to create a more even heat source by distributing heat more evenly, all heat mats are uneven in terms of temperature (they have hot spots) the glass gives better heat distribution

One day I am going to test the claims that some mats have hot spots and some donít but for now that seems logical, again nice idea.

So springers final thoughts on the Viv exotic Heat Mat holder..

Now i know what it does and how to install it, i canít knock it, its going to stop the mat from sitting in spilled water, its going to act as a heat sink and spread the warmth of the mat over its surface and in theory as long as you keep that void underneath clear its going to go someway towards preventing thermal blocking. I am still concerned that if you stick this holder in situ its going to be a trap for substrate and debris and the ultimate safe haven for that one remaining noisy black cricket, so my advice - donít stick it down. And for those of you wondering yes the Habistat adhesive 11 x 11ís will fit into it.

LFBP-NEIL 20-09-2013 01:17 PM

A few safety points to consider...
  1. Never use a heatmat without a thermostat
  2. Whatever brand of heatmat you decide to use make sure it complies to current legislation and is double insulated
  3. Only use it with a species that actually needs a heatmat
  4. make sure when you position the holder inside the vivarium small lizards, snakes etc can not become trapped underneath it

GeckoHome 20-09-2013 01:52 PM

I received mine today also and after a couple of similar tests I would've written my own but contacting them is exactly what I planned to do after opening my box,

I have to say after reading their response it does appeal to me to try this product out (in an unused viv for a period of time) and see if their claims are true,

Now that I understand where Hagen are coming from with this design and so far my queries have all flown out the window, however one thing has stuck in my head...

Where the heat mat is now raised, and as you said, leaves a gap underneath for any substrate, feed and bio waste to sit in, surely it would be much more beneficial to (where it is sat off the ground) instead of putting the sticky pads provided possibly add a customised venting system of fine mesh around the base, housed in a sold plastic frame (we're only talking 1cm but in theory it would be beneficial).

This way it's not only being lifted to provide ventilation but it's also covering it's back by stopping that ventilation area being filled... Just a thought.

Couple of pics of the unboxing...

Well wrapped I have to say!

After roughly 5m of bubble wrap I got there! (thankful it was well wrapped, care and attention surrounding their product clearly)

MORE bubble wrap... I have to admit my son will have some fun with all this later!

Just in case people don't know what packaging the substrate heater is in...

And finally the product we're testing, as you can see from the comments above (it's not too clear but it can be made out) the picture on the packaging shows the heat mat sitting on top of the holder, of course they're addressing the issue which is always good to see feedback used! Just a final note on this too, you'll see in the top left a gap between the runners, this will let substrate through easily if it's sand so I'm going to have to fill this with some HA6 before continuing tests (it's going to let out concentrated heat too if I don't, it's only fair), other than that... Tests begin properly.

mrkeda 20-09-2013 01:56 PM

Could you not make this yourself with a couple sheets of glass, a length of glass runners and some kind of adhesive?

GeckoHome 20-09-2013 01:59 PM


Originally Posted by mrkeda (Post 11523598)
Could you not make this yourself with a couple sheets of glass, a length of glass runners and some kind of adhesive?

I suppose you could but as there is no indication to a price yet it could turn out beneficial to buy from a retailer, however if the price is ridiculous then I suppose in turn yes, you could make your own.

GeckoHome 20-09-2013 06:14 PM

Okay so I've been testing for a few hours now after sealing up the gap I had in mine. This is a test for a BD.

5cm desert sand substrate on top of the heat cover and leveled off surrounding.

I've been taking half hourly readings with an IR laser thermometer, in the 4 corners of the cover and 2 central (to see if the even heat spread is true). In the results below, the figures match to the diagram below (done on paint, it's a masterpiece, don't diss.) in order, so point 1 being the first number, 2 being the second and so on.

I have a 100w prorep day heat bulb in the hot end, and a prorep 75w day heat bulb in the cool end, then the test pieces centre. All thermostats placed on the substrate to get best reading.

Here's the figures in deg celcius that I've been aiming for:

30 deg mid viv surface temp, basking end is at a constant 40 +/- 1, cool end 25 +/- 1.

And here's the results thus far (temps taken on top of substrate) :

12:00 - 24 all over (this is when it first went in so room temp, it's my rep room so naturally warm)

12:30 - 26.7 - 26.8 - 26.8 - 26.9 - 28.1 - 28.2 (so reasonably consistent and starting to heat the substrate with effect)

13:00 - 29.8 - 29.9 - 29.8 - 29.7 - 30.3 - 30.4 (hitting the temperatures and reasonably even +/- a degree... Impressive so far)

13:30 - 30.3 - 30.2 - 29.8 - 29.9 - 31.1 - 30.9 (the fluctuation from left to right is obviously due to the hot/cold gradient which is expected so I'm pleased with this after 1.5hrs, as for the centre I'm guessing the time it takes the heat to get though the glass and substrate into the thermostat is the reason it's going above the temp I've set it to)

14:00 - 30.2 - 30.2 - 29.9 - 30.0 - 30.9 - 31.00 (I may as well stop here because since then it's been pretty much the same temps +/- 0.1 degree)

I'll be honest, it's an extremely simple design for protecting the mats from wear and tear, but at the same time it's simply effective. It's now 17:00 and the temps have been within that 0.1 gradient all over the sand substrate, if I notice any drastic changes I'll update again, I'm going to leave this running for a week and then do their survey as requested, however as it stands *touch wood* it looks like it does the job intended!

Just a side note, the back of the heat cover was flush against the back of the viv so no heat could escape, I did have to put some little stoppers (purple) aside each of the front corners to hold it in place though due the edges not being flush with the bottom (see diagram below), so the tape was basically rendered useless (green). As with larger reptiles I can imagine a lot of shuffling around being done and in turn this would disrupt the heat cover, so either the edge design needs a rethink or the stoppers should be included.

Hagen UK 20-09-2013 07:17 PM

Thank you for your positive comments and suggestions, it will all be taken on board! This has been such a useful exercise, it's certainly something we'll do more often.

All the best,


iwantacrestie 20-09-2013 07:44 PM

Product works great for my BDs nighttime sleeping spot :thumbs:

Only thing i could say is make the holder to a more suitable size for each size mat and maybe have the mat enclosed, if required to be watertight for any humid setups

- John

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