DIY: 10 Gallon Vertical Vivarium


The first vivarium that will be placed on the right will be a vertical design. This will be a smaller, yet more complicated build process and will hopefully show how with more time and commitment, a few dollars can be saved. Once this method is perfected, it can be done to almost any size terrarium. The only real setback to this process is you have to have special tools to cut acrylic accurately. A table saw is best. Below is a build log that shows a time line for this part of the project. 

What we will end up with:

10 gallon vertical

The finished product


This is an image of the overall project. You can find the build log for the left side (26 gallon bow front) vivarium here: 26 Gallon Bow Front Vivarium 

Step One: Silicone Base

This is a very important step due to the fact that if your silicone job is not done tightly, water will leak and defeat the purpose. There is no way to know if it will leak until the vivarium is being set up so it’s better to use too much silicone and be safe. I not only use it on the seam but on the inside and on the outside to guarantee a watertight seal. 

Silicone base

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Step Two: Screen Top

The screen top is cut specifically to fit the top piece of the aquarium. This is made from screen, screen framing, and corner pieces that you can buy as a kit at Home Depot. Choose the size of the screen based on the type of vivarium you are planning for. A smaller screen will produce higher humidity and less airflow. A larger screen will produce more airflow and a drier habitat. Once completed, just silicone in place. 

Installing the screen top

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Step Three:The Door

The door is the last piece made for the vertical vivarium because the base and the screen are variable in size so the door must be made last to insure a proper fit. The most important part is the living hinge purchased from Aquarium Hoods & Canopies: All-Glass Versa-Top Replacement Pieces. They also sell the handles used in the far left picture. I placed a door spacer where the screen lock meets the door to make sure the door is tight fitting to the tank. I don’t want any frog escaping. 

Installing the door

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Step Four: Rocks

This is the original design with rocks siliconed to the back wall. For the 10 gallon I wanted to design it using rocks as my other vivarium for this project will be made with wood. There is no proper way to do this. Just lay the rocks down in the way you would like them and once everything fits, start taking them out one by one and siliconing them back into place. Let it sit for several days before you continue. Rocks with moss growing on them can create a very beautiful scene due to the contrast between the darkness of the rocks and the green of the moss. 

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Step Five: Drain Hole

This next part set me back several weeks. My initial design was to use a 1/8” carbon fiber drill bit and a small plastic tubing cap as the drain. The more I read about it the more I realized that I needed at least a ½” hole. I attempted making the whole bigger with the ½” black and decker carbon fiber bit. The drainage hole went ok (although it cracked slightly). It just so happens that rio pumps come with a nozzle piece that fits just right in a ½” hole. After I had this hole made, I went to drill the hole on top for the misting system that is later on in the build. During the drilling, the bit caught, and the glass cracked. The tank was ruined. I had to take everything out and start over. Every problem is an opportunity in disguise and this turned out to be good because it motivated me to buy a real, diamond coated drilling bit from the internet. Drilling Glass Block was the website I used for a ½” drill bit. 

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Step Six: Black Out Poster

Instead of using spray paint, and taping off the tank, and letting it dry, I prefer to use black poster paper from Staples or Office Depot. I simply measure and cut to produce a nice blacked out background and right side. Having this will help the animals with stress by not having the whole world passing by their view at all times. Notice the back is only blacked out a couple inches from the bottom due to the drainage hole. 

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Step Seven: False Bottom

Now that the terrarium construction is complete, the next step is getting the terrarium up and running. The first layer of interior is the 2 inches of hydroton as a false bottom. This product was purchased at a local hydroponics store and can be found in garden stores. The purpose of a false bottom is to provide space for the water to sit below the dirt so as to keep it humid but not soggy. Hydroton is not the only product that can be used for this; rocks work just as well. The nice thing about hydroton is that they are expanded clay balls so they are quite light in weight and are inert so they will not change the pH of the water. The third photo shows the level of hydroton in relation to the drainage hole. Add an extra ½” to 1” of hydroton above the drainage hole to make sure the water does not get close to the dirt layer. 

Adding the False Bottom using  Hydroton

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Step Eight: Cover Layer

The top of the false bottom should be covered in with a nice layer of screen. This screen is uncoated and nontoxic. I cut two pieces just to help keep dirt from falling into the hydroton. I also bend the screen in the back because that is where you have to be most careful about the drilling falling through and clogging the drain. This would be a problem because the water would start filling up if it has no where to go and you would have a flood. 

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Step Nine: Terrarium Moss

This Terrarium moss is dehydrated and sterile. It can be bought at almost any pet store. I soak it in clean water for about a minute, squeeze the water out and then place a thin layer on top of the screen. This moss will help bridge the distance from the water level to the dirt, keeping it moisture in check. It also provides a good medium for beneficial life such as springtails to breed and assist in terrarium maintenance. 

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Step Ten: The Dirt

The last layer of the interior is the dirt. Discussed earlier, through trial and error I found Eco-Earth dehydrated bricks to be the best suited for the job. The dirt is clean and easy to spread about. I add about 1” on top of the moss. This does not have to be thick enough to plant large plants because I mostly grow plants on the rocks and walls of the terrarium. Dirt merely acts as a medium for moss to grow on top of or roots to grow through. The terrarium is now ready for plants. 

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Finished Product:

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This is a shot of the finished product on the 10 gallon. the riccia has grown in on the bottom a little and the arrowheads have established some good roots. 

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Turned the macro feature on with my camera and got in there for some close up shots. I call this a frog’s eye view.