Glass 40 gallon breeder tanks (roughly 36″x18″x18″) used to be the standard for popular reptiles like bearded dragons and blue tongue skinks, but as we better understand the needs of these animals, the hobby is shifting to a higher standard. The result? 4’x’2’x2′ (120 gallon) enclosures are storming the reptile housing market.
But this new trend in reptile enclosures comes with its own set of challenges: Manufactured by small brands, they’re not yet available in pet stores (get with the times, Zoo Med et al!) and so they have to be shipped. Shipping a large, heavy reptile enclosure across the country is ridiculously expensive. So you get lightweight DIY enclosures that ship flat, must be assembled by the reptile keeper, and must be durable enough to survive the shipping process without shattering.
Zen Habitat’s 4’x2’x2′ Reptile Enclosure With Substrate Shield is one such product, so when Zen Habitats reached out to us asking if we would test out their new product, we said yes!
- $329 for a Zen Habitat Reptile Enclosure with Substrate Shield
- 4’x2’x2′ = 120 gallon capacity, but not watertight
- Lightweight bamboo and aluminum construction
- Opaque walls designed to reduce reptile anxiety
- Removable acrylic sliding doors with door knobs for easy access
- 6″ acrylic substrate shield
- Galvanized steel screen top (“cat-proof”)
- Rubber grommet wire port
- Stackable if used with spacer
- Suitable for environments less than 140°F and resists up to 70% humidity
- Ships flat
- Requires no tools for assembly
- 30-day money back guarantee
- FREE shipping
- Designed primarily for bearded dragons, but also advertised as compatible with ball pythons, boa constrictors, blue tongue skinks, box turtles, hognose snakes, king snakes, uromastyx, and other reptiles that thrive in mid- to low-humidity environments.
Zen Habitat reptile enclosures are shipped flat, and the first thing we noticed (aside from an attractively-designed package that would probably sell by itself in a pet store) was how neatly everything was arranged inside. There was a good amount of cushioning to prevent damage during transport, the acrylic doors were protected with an easily removable film, and all of the space was used efficiently.
As we (and by ‘we’, I mean my husband, because he loves putting things together) started to take things out of the box, we noticed that the wood panels appeared slightly bowed, although that could have been a natural flex due to the fact that they’re made from bamboo. The instructions were not easy to find at first, but later we found them tucked inside of a smaller box with the corner pieces.
Putting it Together
The actual process of putting the enclosure together was a breeze. As my husband put it, “A grandma could do it.” If we were being picky, the instructions were overcomplicated. Chad actually stopped reading them about halfway through and just put the thing together based on the pieces available and what the final result should look like. (It should be noted here that Chad is quite handy.)
My complaints are that the substrate shield’s edges were a little sharp (enough to create a draw blood on a careless human), so we had to sand that down. We also noticed that the mesh top was a little loosely fitted on its frame so the edges of the mesh poked up in some places rather than being securely fastened to the frame.
However, the materials were overall very well made and fitted. The corner connections in particular are tight and secure, but not so tight as to prevent backpedaling if you make a mistake.
Double-sided tape was provided to secure the substrate shield in place, but we needed something a little more waterproof for a ball python enclosure, so we installed it with silicone sealant. Other measures we took for waterproofing were sealing all corners with silicone and painting the walls with a few coats of Kennel Seal.
The Final Product
While a little dense in the box, the final product is an impossibly lightweight enclosure. Seriously. It’s big enough to take two people, but compared to our other enclosures, it’s like lifting a feather.
Quite possibly my favorite aspect of this enclosure is the substrate shield. Most front-opening enclosures on the current market (if not all) don’t permit using more than a couple inches of substrate before you’re at risk of overflowing. Deep substrate is important for maintaining humidity and facilitating natural burrowing/digging behaviors in reptiles, but often causes problems by getting into sliding door tracks and causes a horrible squealing grinding sound. The Zen Habitats substrate shield is a lovely 6″ tall, permitting a nice deep substrate layer while protecting the doors.
Another feature of note is the sliding doors. The bottom track is “genius” (per Chad) because the surface that the door weighs on is rounded, creating very little friction, and as a result making them very easy to open and close. They can also be quickly popped out of the frame for cleaning as needed. However they do tend to rattle in their track whenever we walk by.
As a sidenote, it’s very clear that this enclosure is designed to house bearded dragons. 4’x2’x2′ is the minimum enclosure size recommended by experts for this species, additional humidity is not necessary, and standard practice is to use solid substrate. That’s a fairly minimalistic take on bearded dragon husbandry — and you can see that practice in application with the many bearded dragon keepers who have already converted to a Zen Habitat. ReptiFiles promotes a higher husbandry standard than this, but looking at the product you can see how it was designed to fulfill those minimum requirements. However it would be reasonably easy to upgrade this enclosure to a more enriched environment up to par with the ReptiFiles standard.
Things I Liked About the Zen Habitats 4'x2'x2' Enclosure with Substrate Shield
- Very affordable price
- Free shipping
- Excellent size for many popular reptile species
- Very easy to put together
- Easy to take apart
- Quite attractive even before decor is added (photogenic)
- Bamboo and aluminum construction is extremely lightweight
- Bamboo and aluminum are very eco-friendly materials
- Mesh top permits excellent ventilation
- Sliding doors are easily removable
- Knobs help prevent fingerprint marks on the doors
- Wire port is conveniently placed and a good idea
- UVB lighting can be mounted inside the enclosure using zip ties if needed
Things I Didn't Like About the Zen Habitats 4'x2'x2' Enclosure with Substrate Shield
- Doors are made of acrylic, which is easily scratched
- Mesh top make it difficult to maintain consistent humidity
- Installing a full heat lamp inside the enclosure is difficult, unattractive, and potentially dangerous to occupants
- Unable to stack enclosures on top without mounting the entire lamp inside
- Seems flimsy — I’m worried about it collapsing if stacked 3 high, each with a thick substrate layer and lots of decor
- Transparent front is likely to be stressful to tortoise or box turtle occupants
Most importantly, the grommet used as a wire port creates an escape opportunity for snakes, which is a big issue. We fixed it by covering the grommet’s opening from the back with some duct tape, but not all owners who wish to use this enclosure for their snake will notice this vulnerability, so we can’t recommend any Zen Habitats enclosure for use with snakes until this issue is fixed.
(UPDATE: Zen Habitats has since adjusted their product to offer both a wire grommet and solid plug options. When the solid plug is used, the enclosure becomes perfectly suitable for use with snakes.)
Conclusion: Awesome product for an awesome price.
ReptiFiles Rating: 4.5 stars
Most of the the complaints voiced in this review are fairly insignificant issues. We really had to reach to find things that we didn’t like about the Zen Habitats Reptile Enclosure with Substrate Shield. It’s arguably one of the best reptile enclosures on the market at this price point, making it an accessible upgrade for reptile owners who are looking to improve their pet’s quality of life. I look forward to seeing Zen Habitats continue to expand and improve their selection of products.
The Zen Habitats 4’x2’x2′ Reptile Enclosure with Substrate Shield is suitable for mid-sized arid and semi-arid lizards such as:
Advice for reptile keepers:
- If you wish to keep a snake in this enclosure, block the wire grommet from behind with a sturdy material like duct tape (make sure the sticky surface is not exposed where the snake could touch it). You will also need to keep heat lamps on top of the mesh to prevent the snake from coming into direct contact with a hot surface.
- Use the money that you saved from buying this enclosure on filling it with enrichment items. Don’t leave it bare!
- If you’re worried about the bamboo warping in humidity or plan to regularly mix water into the substrate, seal the panels with Kennel Seal (or purchase a Zen Habitats enclosure with high-humidity PVC panels) and use 100% silicone on the corners and edges.
It’s been almost 6 months since I started using the Zen Habitats 4’x2’x2′ Reptile Enclosure with Substrate Shield, and here’s how it’s held up:
- Not a speck of damage on any of the bamboo surfaces. Although I think this can be mostly attributed to the generous application of Kennel Seal, I’m pleased nonetheless. Water can do a real number on natural wood.
- The mesh screen on top is so strong! For the amount of area that it has to cover, it’s definitely less flimsy than the screen lids I’ve used for tanks, and MUCH less flimsy than Exo Terra or Zoo Med mesh. I can stack multiple light fixtures and a full humidifier on top of the mesh, and it barely sags. I don’t have a cat, but I can certainly believe the “cat-proof” claim that Zen Habitats makes.
- The substrate guard does a great job. Very little substrate has gotten into the door track, and the wide track is very easy to vacuum out or clean as needed. No awful scraping/squealing or getting stuck here, which I’ve dealt with before in other enclosures and I never want to deal with ever again.
- I love how this enclosure ventilates. Not enough front-opening enclosures facilitate air flow, which is so important to the health and hygiene of any reptile. In fact, I’m seriously considering busting out some DIY skills to add more ventilation to my other front-opening snake enclosure.
- One of the great things about glass enclosures is that they allow heat to escape, creating larger (and better) temperature gradients for reptile thermoregulation. Of course, a glass 4’x2’x2′ isn’t practical, and the more commonly-used PVC is well-known for its heat-retentive properties, which can be a problem when housing reptiles that require high basking temperatures. Although not quite as good as glass, the thin bamboo walls of this enclosure do an excellent job of allowing excess heat to escape and facilitating a healthy temperature gradient.
- Due to the placement of the knobs on the sliding doors, I can’t open the enclosure as wide as I would like for routine maintenance or animal access without having to remove the doors entirely. The easy door removal feature is very nice for big maintenance tasks like substrate replacement, cleaning, and rearranging, but it’s a bit of a hassle to do frequently. I’m aware that the knobs can be removed to mostly resolve this problem, but I also dislike fingerprints on the doors.
- Although I sealed the substrate barrier to the enclosure with silicone to prevent substrate and water leakage to the best of my ability, it still leaks water into the door track during heavy misting due to the substrate guard having arrived bowed.
Overall, the enclosure is performing great and I would definitely purchase more for future additions to my collection. As a reptile care coach and member of the Bearded Dragons Network admin team, Zen Habitats’ enclosures are always my first recommendation to all new bearded dragon owners.