DIY - "Floating", removable foam wall for glass terrarium

broderp

Avid Member
Styrofoam backings that come with may terrariums is a good basic starter, but eventually they break, melt under the heat lamp or just plain don't seem as appealing as when you first got it.

Newer ideas for enclosures using black foam to create very attractive walls seem fairly popular, but I never liked the fact that the vast majority of what I found instructed the maker to apply the foam directly into the terrarium. This for me provided a few problems that I didn't like.
  • Non removable means cleaning can be harder
  • Removing the background is labor intensive should you want to change it
  • Many designs have the wall go all the way to the bottom, and the conventional thought is that could interfere with drainage or pose other issues with cleaning and access.
  • Installation on a large heavy terrarium is difficult, as the terrarium must be on it's back to install.
  • Larger terrariums have large glass doors that are not removable, and can be prone to accidental breakage when laid on their back.
  • The large doors may also interfere with the installation and removal.
So I set to make a nice looking foam wall that was removable for cleaning, easily installed at different heights and provided an aesthetically appealing visual.

Below is the outline of how I did it. Hopefully it will help someone else who also doesn't want the hassle of moving and maneuvering a large glass terrarium.


SUPPLIES USED (Quantities listed are what I used, your project may take more or less)

RECOMMENDED TOOLS
  • Miter Saw - to cut Vinyl frame work squarely and quickly
  • Wire tie tool - apply high tension and automatically cut tire ties
  • Tape Measure - to measure prior to cutting
  • Marker - to mark parts prior to cutting
  • Vinyl drop cloth - to protect work area from foam
  • Hot glue & gun - used to seal and firm frame after using wire ties

MOUNTING CRITERIA
Mounting stuff in a glass terrarium is always a challenge. Items have to be either free standing or rigged in some way. Unlike screen cages, we can not just push a pin thru a mesh side to secure stuff. The best option I have found is the use of suction cups. For this project, I decided to go with this. I purchased some fairly large suction cups at the local hobby store. To best support the wall, 4 suction cups will be used to evenly carry the weight of the wall. The suction cup placement also makes adjustment of the height possible. The wall simply hangs on the suction cups hooks. Kind of like a picture on a wall.

THE GRID
I decided to use a strong flexible plastic grid that I found in the local Lowe's (link above) that is part of an AC filter replacement. The grid design had to be strong (I tried to break it by pulling fairly hard on it simulating weight) and light weight. The grid design meant I could measure and and or cut fairly precisely as well. I was very surprised that the size fit the terrarium perfectly, so no cutting or additions were required.

THE FRAME
Using the Vinyl moulding (link above), I measures , marked and cut 4 pieces to frame the plastic grid. This provided rigidity (wit low weight) as well as a shallow bed to hold in the foam when it would be sprayed in later.
NOTE: Make sure you space it down one row from the top to allow the suction cup hooks something to latch on to! Also space in one row on the sides so that there is an edge for the foam to adhere to later.

I then used wire ties and my wire tie gun to securely attach the frame to the grid. I then applied a decent bead of hot glue on the backside all the way around where the frame meets the grid. I also applied hot glue very liberally to the 4 corners. (sorry I forgot to take a picture of this). At the point the wall should be very rigid, but still very light weight.

Here is a close up of the hanging, wire ties and general assembly of the frame and grid:


This shot shows my first test fit in the terrarium: The fact that the grid was smaller than the ID of the terrarium really helped here. Had I made it the same size of the terrarium width, it would not have fit! The foam will take up much of the side gaps.


ADDING OBJECTS
Now you add the objects you will embed in the foam wall. I chose a large piece of bark with the intent to have a live plant in it as well as several other pieces of fairly light weight grapewood and drift wood that I purchased from the local pet store and off of Amazon. These items were all in the "pet section" and sold by popular companies, so I hope they are Cham safe.

I used them small clear plastic mini cups as spacers to prop up the parts in the position I wanted. You can use just about anything, but remember to try and keep it as light as possible. Once I knew where I wanted the stuff (this took a long time to decide!) I marked the location then hot glued the cups to the grid. I found it easiest to just glue all around the bottom of the cup even though the cup ill not make 360 degree contact due to the fact it is being placed on a grid and not a solid surface. I then put a huge blob of hot glue on the top of the clear mini cups and set the object down on it. Use an object to go under the grid and press the hot glue to the object to make a good bond.

NOTE: DON'T USE YOUR FINGERS! The glue is very hot and partially melts the cup!

This image shows the objects I selected glued on to the grid and fame:


This image shows that the hot glue and cup design DOES support the weight of the objects. The idea is starting to take shape!



ADDING THE FOAM

There are many decent videos on this, so I wont go into a lot of detail. I will offer a few tips on this part though,
DO WEAR GLOVES! This stuff gets tacky and sticky very quick. If it sticks to your fingers and you let id cure on your hand, when you go to take it off, it WILL take skin with it.
The most important thing here that I didn't know that I want to share is that contrary to popular belief, it doesn't stick to everything. I was concerned that if I laid this down on a plastic surface that I would not be able to remove the surface. You can't really test anything first, because once you start to use the can, if you stop and the foam cures in the nozzle, your done. I draped an old vinyl table cloth proctor between two large trash cans in on the drive way. Here is the one I had. It had a hole in it, but I was saving it for a drop cloth for projects in the house. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Mainstays-Table-Protector-Clear/15093339 The goal was to catch any foam that dropped, but not have the drop cloth contact the back of the grid. The foam when it expanded pushed out the bottom of the grid. Some of it fell onto the drop cloth. After about 20 minutes, the foam can be touched and is not sticky, but don't poke it, the inside is a gooey mess still! To my surprise, the foam that stuck to the vinyl drop cloth PEELED RIGHT OFF. Had I known this, I would have laid it flat on the ground on the vinyl drop cloth and done it that way instead. Why? Because the way I did it made me have to take a long blade/ razor and shave off all the foam that had bulged thru the grip.

Here's a shot of the foam drying:


I then installed the wall back in the terrarium to check the fit:


A little bit of trimming here and there and a few plants....




Before I get called out, yes I know I need branches and sticks etc.. for a Cham..This is a work in progress for my new little buddy.;)

So at the end of the day, I believe I have succeeded in in my goal. I like this much better than the generic "styro" background and it still maintains the clean-ability thru removal.


Cheers :coffee:
 

Angelwolf

Chameleon Enthusiast
Wow! That looks great! Sounds pretty easy and inexpensive, too. What was the total budget? Cant wait to see the finished product with the vines, etc.
 

broderp

Avid Member
Wow! That looks great! Sounds pretty easy and inexpensive, too. What was the total budget? Cant wait to see the finished product with the vines, etc.

So far the budget has set me back (rounded to the nearest dollar) - $75 If you have some of the items or are reusing items, the cost can be quite less. I also bought a ton of stuff that I wound up not using. I wasn't sure how I was going to make it or what would work so I probably spent over $150. I will be returning most of the stuff I don't use.

What I used:
  • 1 AC Filter - $10
  • 1 Vinyl trim moulding (0.0625" square) - $7
  • 3 Great Stuff Pond and Stone - $24 (three cans, but I realize how I could have made this size with only 2. I had a lot of waste.)
  • 50+ Wire ties - $3 (I already had these so this is a guess)
  • Clear plastic mini cups - $2 (I already had these so this is a guess, $2 buys about 50 cups I used like 8)
  • 4 Suction cups (Large w/ hooks) - $5 (I already had these, bought them from Hobby Lobby a years or so ago)
  • Cork wood, drift wood or other decorations as desired - $24 (this cost can easily vary based on the size and items used)

Well done!

Thanks! It exceeded my expectations as well.
 
Last edited:

ZacharyLeesWife

Avid Member
It's beautiful! The only problem with the floating walls that I have, are feeders getting behind them. I used tape and moss, but I have holes through my foam from the damn crickets.
 

broderp

Avid Member
Just a quick update. I'm trying a new way to install branches in the terrarium. I didn't want ant suction cups on the sides, as the smaller ones would from time to time come loose and they looked ugly. I went shopping and came across some clear 3M hangers and some "ook" small D-ring hangers.

After measuring and cutting the stick to fit the desired area, screw in an Ook D-ring hanger. They screwed in tight, but I also wrapped a wire tie around it as well to add more strength. The 3M hangers can each hold 1/2 pound, so each pair should be good for about a pound. This should work. Here is what it looks like:


I only had one branch start to split. I stopped as soon as I heard and saw the wood start to creak and drilled a pilot hole to prevent further damage, The wire tie also helped to secure it.
 

broderp

Avid Member
I ended up tonight with only putting three main branches..... I'm not sure where else to put things as I don't want to block or hide all the live plants. Any suggestions?

full

full

full
 
Last edited:

broderp

Avid Member
Almost done: I just need to re-pot the plants, and set up my controllers for temp and humidity.

I also need to invest in a Mister as my humidifier will not be able to water the plants or provide the feedback needed for a cham to drink off the leaves.
full
 

broderp

Avid Member
Wow! That looks so lush! Can't wait to see your Chams reaction when he gets inside there.

Neither can I :)! My hope are he will slowly crawl into it (looking all nice and pretty colored of course) look around for a few seconds then turn and look back at me with a smile on his cute little face to say thank you. A Kodak moment...:rolleyes:

The reality is the little dude will probably be stressed from his shipping journey across a few states and be all dark and pissed. He will scrample into the cage and hide under the first leaf. lol o_O

I never realized it, but those plants have filled in quite a bit from when I first put them in. I haven't added anything. I'm going to have a jungle in there..

It's absolutely beautiful! Great build, I'm really impressed.

Thank you. I appreciate the comments.
 

Spyro

Avid Member
Site Sponsor
the pothos that is in the left center. How did you go about putting that in the cage? Is it in a cup in the foam wall or ? Looking for ideas.
 

broderp

Avid Member
the pothos that is in the left center. How did you go about putting that in the cage? Is it in a cup in the foam wall or ? Looking for ideas.
Yes, it was designed into the wall. I used a piece of cork bark, hot glue and some cheap salsa cups to space it out to hold the plant I purchased:
full


I then used the foam to fill it all in:
full


I did have to go back and carve out the excess foam. I then added a drain hose by drilling a hole from the inside to thru to the bottom. Finally I lined that cavity with silicone (keeping the drain hole open) so that any overflow can drain out. I then just put in the plant in the small pot. (After repotting the soil af course)

Cheers
 
Top Bottom