Frequently asked (lizard cage) questions

What is the --LIST OF MATERIALS-- you use to build these fake rock projects for a lizard cage?

List of Materials

Polystyrene(styrofoam) I get mine at Home Depot.

You can use liquid nails for a glue -I've been using Loctite's power grab -it has less odor.

Caulking gun -for the liquid nails or Loctite. Here you can find a few tips for how to use a caulk gun.

Knife (dollar store)

Non-sanded grout (white is the cheapest -I use a brand called Polyblend) I've also been using "Foam Coat" from the Hot Wire Foam Factory. (

Cement color (optional)

Acrylic paint (any cheap kind will do)

A dollar store water bottle -I usually use three or four.

Non-toxic all surface sealant -I've used "Mod Podge" for dry environment lizards, and

"Shields All" for high humidity environment lizards. Shields All can be found here:

Non-toxic fine grain sand (I've been using sandtastik -internet)

Paintbrush (two inch for the grouting process) smaller ones for if I paint.

Dust mask

Rubber gloves

I got everything at home depot except the acrylic paint, the sealant and the dollar store water bottles and the fine grain sand. You should be able to find most of this stuff at an arts and crafts store. The "Shields All" can be found at this address:

For the waterfalls you will want to get aquarium grade silicone (I got mine at Home Depot)

Watch the Materials List Video below!

Are these methods for creating a fake rock reptile habitat waterproof?

The only surefire way is to seal it with aquarium grade silicone sealant. Check out this link where I create a Fake rock waterfall.

The sealant I use called Shields All is a water repellent nontoxic acrylic sealer -it's non-toxic to both vegetation and animals.

Shields all would be fine if it is sealing fake rock that will not be submerged in water, meaning it can handle splashes and misting.

You could always use a glass reservoir or ceramic reservoir to hold the water inside the lizard cage, and then build fake rock around it in attempts to hide the reservoir without the fake rock actually touching the water.

The fake rock will be sealed with shields all which can handle splashes, and I will also be able to change out the water every day very easily.

Do I really have to use a sealant? It makes the project look shiny.

You definitely want to seal the grout. You don't want the lizard ingesting particles from the grout. The sealant also makes your life much much easier, as it is the sealer that enables you to clean a pet's poop out of the reptile habitat very easily and without eroding the grout structure.

Without the sealant you would eventually wear the grout down to the polystyrene. What I do is sprinkle some fine grain sand as the last layer of sealant is drying.

This will strengthen the structure, give the pet lizard traction, and reduce the shiny look that the sealant produces. Just make sure you brush away the loose sand after it dries.

What about making fake rock for heavier lizards such as an iguana?

My goal is to make a big enough cage for my green iguana iguana, with a nice water fall/ swimming pool ..basically a pool for them to swim in (and also something easy to clean it out- not sure how i can do that if its to big to pick up by draining it [ problem i cant seem to think past] how to drain something so big easily. anyway my main question though is my iguana is about 3 feet long, and i was going to make the rocks and water fall but then i remembered they grow quite big. So how do i make something that wont lets say get crushed by their weight haha.


Check out the canyon theme waterfall page for alternative ideas to creating waterfalls. As far as larger lizards living on fake rock: you might think about creating an endoskeleton made from wood scraps you can get cheap at a hardware store. This will support the weight of an iguana. I implemented a portion of this idea in the complex fake rock structure on my site (with two pieces of thin wood to aid in the support). You could always then glue Styrofoam to that, and then the trick would be to add a lot more grout than usual to the Styrofoam. You might think about creating a very basic non-time consuming crude model of this idea to see whether or not your iguana has the ability or desire to tear through it. If you apply the grout layers in such a way where you are applying a glue layer plus a light sprinkled layer of sand -in between each layer of grout, it will help in creating a much tougher landscape.

How do you clean these fake rock projects?

I use a mixture of white vinegar and water -half and half. I will sometimes have to use a toothbrush (if it's been sitting all day) to do some scrubbing. Then I rinse the area with water.

Do I have to use liquid nails or Loctite to glue the Styrofoam pieces together? Or can I use a different type of glue?

It doesn't really matter what you use for the gluing of the Styrofoam stage, (you could use toothpicks) you're just trying to keep it together enough for the many layers of grout to be applied. It's really the grout that is holding the project together in the end.

Products like Loctite hold fairly quickly so that one can progress faster in building their project. But, like I said any type of adhesive can be used,for example with the Castle project I ended up having to use mod podge -which is essentially the same as Elmer's.

Can I just make a water dish and have that be safe for my pet?

I would recommend using ceramics for a water dish. Clay that has been fired then glazed and fired again would be completely sterile and non-toxic.

The Fake rock techniques I use don't hold up to water being on it 24/7 -365 in a lizard cage, unless you use aquarium grade silicone. They have plenty of different types of food and water dishes at pet stores for a reptile habitat.

Do you sell these fake rock creations?

I have sold a few. But unfortunately they're just too time consuming for me to be able to sell at a reasonable price. For example the Castle took around 25 to 30 hours to complete, at just $15 an hour that would get quite expensive, and then there's the cost of supplies. So at this point and time I can only entertain "offers I can't refuse".

Have you made a fake rock project that covers the entire back wall of a lizard cage?

I've seen a lot of people create rock walls that cover the back of their lizard cage. I have not done this because it seems like a safety issue.

I suppose if you do not have a tall cage than your bearded Dragon would not be able to get into too much trouble, therefore a back rock wall would be fine.

If you have a tall cage your bearded dragon is apt to want to climb it and could possibly have a fall. You have to know your pet lizard's climbing tendencies and skill level.

Will this type of project be safe under a basking light and ceramic heat bulb....temps 100F - 105F during the day, as i know polystyrene/styprofoam melts and gives off poisonous fumes at high temps..

The temps would have to be way higher than 110° F for polystyrene to even come close to melting -and that's with no grout on it. With the techniques on this web site I suggest covering the polystyrene in at least three layers of grout. If you're still concerned -do what I did for the complex structure's basking spot; which is apply a couple of layers of cheap tile to the basking spot and then cover all of that with grout.

Other answered questions that might be helpful.

Johnny writes:

I just had a couple questions and I know people have asked you this a dozen times over. I followed your instructional video for beginners. I tried building a ledge for my crested gecko. I applied 4 layers of grout. The first layer was very watery and when it dried, it was very brittle and had a couple cracks. I then applied the second layer of grout which was a little more thicker, yet still watery. The third layer had more of a thick paste texture. The last layer was very thick, it was mixed with very little water. The outcome of the ledge was very very rough with sharp points sticking out of it. Do I have to smooth out the grout before it dries? I tried sanding off the rough edges and was pretty successful. The problem though is that when I did sand off the points, I realized it sanded down into the 2 layer of grout. It also left a lot of dust from the grout and I can't seem to just wipe it off. I tried applying a sealant called "Aqua Mix Penetrating Sealant" it did get rid of some of the dust but not completely. I applied 3 more layers hoping that it would get rid of the dust but it didn't seem to have much of an effect. I just can't seem to make it free of dust. Also, do you grout the top of your projects first and then wait till it dries to grout the bottom portion of your project? When I grouted my ledges, I grouted the bottom first and then flipped it over and began grouting the top. This give me a headache because when the bottom part dried, it dried unevenly thus leading to sharp edges. I think this is because of being layed on the newspaper when the grout is literally smashed. Can you confirm this? (Response)

My first layer of grout is usually similar to that of thin pancake batter. So the first layer is never extremely watery. For the dust, you might try spraying the entire sculpture with water before you seal it. When you do seal it, are you using a cheap spray bottle instead of a brush to apply it? The old technique that some construction companies use to control dust is that of "Spraying" water on a surface -like a road before a large truck drives over it. So, spray the fake rock structure with water first, and then seal it. If that still doesn't work, try spraying the entire structure with a mixture of acrylic paint -thinned out with water, through a spray bottle. For the sharp edges, I always go over the project with a very fine sandpaper, being careful not to apply too much pressure. For the layers of grout, I always let a topside dry before I turn it over and grout the other side. Another question:

What about creating a waterfall for a bearded dragon or some other "dry environment" pet lizard?


Yeah, I did quite a bit of research concerning water in general and bearded dragons. I've heard of bearded dragons successfully being around a very shallow and small water dish, but that's pretty much the end of the line as far as water and bearded dragons -are concerned. The risk of drowning is there, plus a significant risk of raising the humidity level too far -thus potentially causing an upper respiratory infection. Bearded dragons just aren't around water very much in the wild. Even if you were to create a "tiny" waterfall, if you were to use the same pump I used, the water level has to be at least 2 1/2 inches deep. A bearded dragon could drown in less water than what I've mentioned. The main question you have to ask is are you creating a waterfall for your bearded dragon or for yourself? Every pet owner's main concern should be the safety and/or health of their pet first, and cage decorations second.

Another question:

I'm getting a pet bearded dragon soon, what size lizard cage should I get?


-It depends on if you're acquiring a baby bearded Dragon or an adult. Usually what people do is get a cage large enough for adult, which would be at least 18 inches deep by at least 18 inches tall by 48 inches long. If you are getting a baby bearded Dragon, you can block off part of the large cage until the Dragon increases in size. A lot of people use some sort of divider in order to accomplish this. Another question:

I bought all the products i need to make the fake rock structures but the polystyrene! I cant find the kind you use anywhere. Ive looked in home depot, lowes, And hobby lobby. nobody has it. I have some real good ideas for my leopard gecko cage but i need the polystyrene. Please Help!


You might have to look online. The other types of polystyrene will work, they're just thicker and not as easy to cut.

The product I use is called Cellofoam, poly panel, EPS insulation -and it comes in six pieces. The pieces measure 3/4" by 14 1/2" x 48".

Another question:

I'm wondering about price. I would like to make some pieces for my reptiles but not if by the end of the process I've spent hours constructing something that ended up being twice as expensive to make as something similar at the pet store. I would like to do this as it sounds quite fun and I like to change things up in my reptiles habitat every now and then. So I guess my question is, is it worth it money wise to construct your own pet decor? Thank you so very much!!!


I think it's worth it for a couple of reasons. One, the fake rock stuff you can find at stores is usually quite small, so those with a bearded Dragon would only be able to use it when the dragon is young and small. I could have never found (at a store) a fake rock structure like the Complex one on my website. The obvious benefit is that you can make it whatever you want, for example in the "other People's Project's page" there's someone who sent me pictures of a fake rock volcano. These projects are quite time-consuming (and a bit of a mess), and are a little more expensive to make -than one might think, but in spite of all that they can be quite fun. Another question:

What type of "mod podge" do you use? Outdoor, mat,hardcoat? My locale craft store has a lot of varieties and I do not know which to choose.Also what are the advantages/disadvantages to using "mod podge" vs. "shields-all" (besides that "shields-all" can be used in higher humidity)?


I use the matte type. It's supposed to be less shiny, but it still winds up being rather shiny. That's why I sprinkle fine grain sand as a last step to combat the shine. The benefits to mod podge are that it's cheap, it can be found in regular stores, and you don't have to let it cure (dry) for 48 hours. Shields all is pretty much the opposite. The benefit to shields all is that it's more durable and holds up to moisture very well. But, the only place I've been able to find shields all is at this site:

Another question:

I am interested in a Uromastyx, would the products you build be ok in temperatures in the 120's? Any suggestions?


A uromastyx doesn't climb much, but you could make a slight inclined fake rock project. The temperature issue is fine, if you're concerned, you can always build up the basking spot with many layers of sand and glue.

In addition, you can do what I did in the large complex fake rock project. With that, I built up the basking spot with a couple of layers of tile -which you can see in the video, then I applied several layers of grout and sand to the spot. All of these techniques will help with the durability and dealing with higher temperatures.

Another question:

My 13 old wants a Bearded Dragon and I am planning on building a vivarium for it and getting him one for Christmas. But am a little unsure of the lighting setup I need. On your care sheet you mentioned a uvb light and a heat light. Then you went on to say you liked the mercury vapor bulb and in describing it said that it also gave off heat. My question is if you use a mercury vapor bulb do you still need another kind of light.


For my bearded dragon set up I'm only using a Mercury vapor bulb. It's a"Mega-ray" UVB lamp from 100 Watt -self ballasted -USA 120v. It produces heat as well as the best type of sunlight simulant. With a glass cage you can sometimes get away with only one light, as the glass holds in the heat very well. Something to keep in mind is -depending on the wattage, the basking spot should be between 12 inches and 18 inches away from the light source. Mine is 12 inches away because I use a 100 Watt. If it was a 160 W bulb the basking spot would have to be 18 inches away. You also have to take into consideration the size of the lizard, because obviously that will add two to 4 inches to the measurement. So when I say my light is 12 inches away, I really mean it's roughly 12 inches away from the top of the head of my pet bearded Dragon. This isn't an exact science, so don't worry too much about it, just try to follow the guidelines that will be on the box of whatever UVB light you purchase. You'll also need to purchase a temp gun to monitor your temperatures, and if need be add a low wattage regular light to achieve the proper temperatures by moving it closer or further away from the basking spot.

(Follow up)

I do have some other questions if you don't mind answering them I'd appreciate it. I'm going to build this vivarium myself. It will be 4 ft long, 2 ft high, and 14 inches wide. I will put vents on the sides, sliding doors on the front, and most of the top will be screen (1/2 or 1/4 inch square mesh wire. I'll probably go with this type of bulb I've asked about (the Mercury vapor bulb) and use a reflector dome and just sit it on top of the screen like I see them do at the pet shops. How many hours a day should it be left on and will I need another type of light to provide heat when its not on? Also what size of reflector dome do you recommend for this size of bulb and vivarium? I plan on buying a smaller lizard and partition off half until it gets bigger so would put the reflector dome on one end for now and cover some of the unused portion. Also where is the best place to buy a temp gun?


I try to simulate the sunrise and sunset of the season. For example, I have my bearded dragon's light on for about 10 1/2 hours (now that it's getting into winter). As we get knee-deep in winter I'll reduce the time that the light is on a little bit more. Obviously during summertime, I'll increase the amount the light stays on -all done through a timer. As far as heat during the night, some people use what is called a ceramic heat emitter -which does not produce light. It all depends on how cool your house or apartment gets at night, for example I'm currently not using one of these because the temperature in my house does not go below 65°F. I'm currently using a ceramic-based domed reflector light that is in the neighborhood of 11 inches in diameter.

The website where I got my temp gun is
Another question:

Hey, question, how long should I wait between grouting? This I was unsure of. It looks and feels pretty dry, but it has only been an hour or two (I have a fan blowing on it).

Also, on average, how much does an object grow after applying 4-5 layers of grout. This would be helpful information for people trying to compensate.

Finally, I purchased Olympic Water-Guard Multi-Purpose at Lowes. Though I could not find it on the bottle, the Lowes salesperson claimed that it was non-toxic. I purchased a gallon (only 9 bucks). I also called Olympic and asked if it is ok to use around children and animals (if it was non-toxic). He said that it was, and that it would be ok to lick even. Should I be worried about this?


I usually wait three to four hours between layers of grout, the thicker the grout the longer it takes to dry. My projects will usually grow by about a quarter inch in each direction, all depending on the thickness of grout in each layer. Is this sealer water-based? I've never used it so I can't vouch for it, but if an individual from their website says it's non-toxic when cured, I would say you can trust him. To be on the safe side, let the project air out for about a week after you've finished your layers of sealant.

Another question:

I have been looking at your page alot lately and i just love all the projects there are on question, is that as soon as i get back from my deployment to afganastan i have a 120 gallon tank that i wanna turn into a perfect home for a few fire belly toads. i was wondering if i can use your methods on teh fake wall and water fall and will it be fine for my toads? I was also wondering if you had any ideas yourself on what would be a perfect setup for them, I am also thinking of adding an anole as well to the tank.


The only issue would be their delicate skin. As a last step I sprinkle fine grain sand all over my projects. A fire belly toad would probably be fine if you sanded with fine grain sandpaper the entire structure after you've applied sand. The other option is to not add sand as a last stage, assuming a fire belly toad has the ability to climb smooth surfaces (not vertical smooth). You basically would want to avoid creating any sharp areas or surfaces that a toad could injure their skin with. A perfect set up usually involves a 50-50 split of land and water, just make sure you use non-chlorinated water.

If you don't have a filter you can always set out a container of open chlorinated water, and the chlorine will dissipate over the course of three days -otherwise get a filter that removes chlorine from your own tapwater. The other thing about fire belly toads is you do not want any other living creature in the same cage as them. The toxins from the toads can contaminate the water and landscape in their cage, thus being a danger to a lizard such as an anole.

Another question:

I am wondering if you can buy the color that you use for your reptile habitat structures or if you mix your own using a few? i cant seem to find that desert sand color and i am having a hard time replicating it.


If you're talking about the burnt red usually found in red rock landscapes, I basically combine orange acrylic with red acrylic and then a little bit of gray (the gray is used to mute the color). The sand stone color is a combination of yellow white and brown. Sometimes I'll just go to an arts and crafts store and try to buy the specific color already mixed to the exact shade and intensity. Often times you'll find a color that's actually called burnt red or burnt Orange or sandstone.

Another question:

I completed my first fake rock project all the way up until the sealant part. I am using the Mod-podge matte finish that you used in your projects but mine dried white over 80% of the surface area. I am now re-painting the entire project before sealing again. Is there some trick to the sealant so that it dries clear?


Did you brush on the Mod Podge in an extremely thick consistency? I just re-sealed the floor section of the Grand Canyon looking structure, and I brushed on a layer of Mod Podge. I didn't thin out the Mod Podge, but I did make sure it didn't "pool up" in any areas. If you have an area where the Mod Podge is caked on (thick) it will usually dry cloudy. Try this out on a small sample piece until you see the look you want.

Another question:

I have been watching your videos. They are really great. My personal interest is in Aquariums, and just recently discovered the concept of a paludarium, where it is half land, half water. I have been looking for techniques to build an artificial rock that is sort of a river up top that ends in a waterfall, but the rock face is fully submerged in water. And in the water I would like to keep fancy goldfish. What I have seen from your videos is exactly what I am looking for. What I was wondering is that, I understand that your concept is mainly meant for terrariums, but do you think that in your opionion it could be suitable for an aquatic environment? I read the disclaimer, don't worry about me, You just have more experience than me, and if I was to find the best non toxic products, could these techniques be able to withstand being totally submerged in water, all the time? I am totally new in this whole idea of customizing what I can see in my head.


Try researching Marine epoxy, a lot of people use that for underwater sealing. There is always the option of applying two layers of aquarium grade silicone, the second layer just as a backup. What I did for the fake rock waterfall was apply four layers of non-toxic acrylic and then one layer of silicone. The silicone didn't make it look as weird as I thought it would. Just make sure you're real thorough in the application process and you should be fine.

Another question:

I have a question for u: In your vids u make a back wall for terrariums with a top sided opening. My terrarium has a front opening with 2 windows. Those windows can be taken out of course. But the problem I face is: How can I test fit the back wall and take it out again with a front opening terrarium without breaking the back wall? From the top its easy since u have space, but if u lay down the terrarium on its back and fit the back wall in to see how it looks, how would u take it out again? I thought about making the back wall in 2 pieces then, but won't crickets just love the small spaces? Because way back I once tried that and I redid the crack with tile glue but the color wasn't the same so could see exactly where the crack had been, which was not a pretty sight. It was then that I decided to just get a prefab back wall. I'm asking this cause I'm about to order a larger terrarium and I'm willing to try to make my own back wall.. But it will be a front opening one, and not a top opening one.. Any tips?


You could always create an outline of the back of your cage. I would get some cardboard or posterboard (after measuring the back of your cage) and draw out the dimensions onto the cardboard, and then keep putting the rock wall against the outline of what your cage dimensions will be. When I had a dragon I would feed him in a separate container so the crickets couldn't hide.