The Iguana Den





Wiring a Cage

Originally posted by Larry Anderson on the IguanaDen Group

Hi everyone-
We have gotten several questions about how to wire an ig cage. I am not an electrician, but I have done some wiring. I believe that I understand these fairly simple steps, but if there is anyone out there that knows more than me, please feel free to jump in and correct anything that I may misstate. Believe me, my feelings will not be hurt, and I would be much happier knowing that things are done properly. With that said, I will try to discuss several different options.

First, the basics - when you do wiring, the black wire is "hot" and the white wire is "neutral". There is usually a bare wire (or sometimes it is green) which is the ground. When you want to put in a switch, it goes into the black side, and the neutral side goes directly to the fixture. Please be sure to preserve the ground circuit. Your fixtures will work without it, but it is what protects you and your pets from electrocution if something shorts out. Basically, it connects any metal in your fixture down literally to the ground. So, if a not wire accidentally touches the metal, the circuit goes straight to the ground, and the breaker pops. Fix the short, reset the breaker, and you are back in business. But (and this is a very big BUT), without that ground connection, if a hot wire touches metal, it may just sit there with live electricity, waiting for you or your ig to complete the circuit. When you touch the metal, you become part of the circuit, and your hair gets very curly (or much worse). That said, if you are careful, this should not be a problem.

Now, let's assume that you want to hook up a light to a timer, and a CHE with a dimmer. It is possible to just run one heavy cord to your wall outlet, and build a "box" on your cage to split the circuits. But I would prefer to keep it simple, and just talk the basics. The light and timer are pieces of cake because you do what you are already doing - just buy a plug-in or desktop timer, plug your light into it, and you are done.

The dimmer is different story. You are going to need a work box for this, and a heavy power cord to hook it to the wall. Home Depot, or somewhere like that will have everything you need. There are plastic boxes made just for this, typically called a work box. They are just like the boxes behind all the switches and outlets in your walls, but without the connectors to fasten them to the wall. They come in a bunch of different lengths, based on how many things you want to put in them, with screw holes to mount switches or outlets. You will probably want a single or double box - single if you want to wire the dimmer directly to the CHE, and a double if you want to have the dimmer control an outlet, and then plug the CHE into the outlet.

Figure out how much wire you need to get from the wall outlet, up to the dimmer, then from the dimmer to the CHE, and add some extra. You need flexible (stranded) type of wire. The romex type wire in the walls bends, but is too rigid for this work, especially for plugging into the wall. Since we need to plug into the wall, and also need to plug in the CHE, an easy choice here is to get a decent extension cord (the type for tools, not for lamps) - make sure it is at least 16 gauge - the higher the gauge, the lighter the cord. Get 16, or maybe even 14 gauge (14 is overkill for a single CHE), but it doesn't hurt. You are going to cut the cord somewhere in the middle. Leave plenty of slack to get from the wall outlet to your work box, the other end will go toward the CHE.

Buy your choice of dimmers - just be sure it is "Single Pole" (as opposed to 3-way, which means you have 2 switches). Also, buy some wire nuts, which are the little things that sort of look like thimbles, but have a little spring inside them, sized for your wire.
* Single Pole dimmer
* Decent Extension cord long enough to go wall to box, box to CHE
* Wire nuts
* Work box
* Box clamp (goes in the box to clamp the wires so they don't get pulled out) Ask the guy which type of box clamp is appropriate for the box you are getting.
* Box cover (switch plate appropriate to your dimmer - get the right one)

To fasten two wires together, strip back about half to three-quarters of an inch of insulation from each wire, twist the strands together in each wire in a clockwise direction (like threading on a nut). Next, twist the wires together, also clockwise, then screw on the wire nut (guess what direction?). Always keep the colors together, black to black, and white to white.

OK - got everything?

The box will have some holes in it, perhaps just scribed, so you need to knock out what you need - probably just one hole for both wires. Push the wires through the hole and out the front of the box, with plenty of extra. Slide on the wire clamp, but don't tighten it until everything is ready to go. It's easy to skip this, but it has a major purpose - it fastens the wire to the box, so if something pulls the cord, it won't pull your connections inside the box. Please be sure to put it in.

Depending on your cord, you may have black and white wires, or you may not. If not, one of two primary wires will probably have a ridge along the outside of it - call this one "Black" or "hot". The wire that goes to the little round plug below the two flat ones is the ground. The last one is obviously the "White" or "Neutral"

Inside the box, connect the two neutrals right back together, so the wire goes straight from the wall to the CHE. Your dimmer will probably have three wires on it - more than likely it will have two blacks and a ground. Obviously, the ground goes to the ground - actually to the ground wire from both ends of the cord, so you will be putting 3 ground wires together. Twist them together clockwise, then screw on the wire nut.

Next, read the instructions for your dimmer. It will probably say to connect either of its wires to the other two in the cord. So, wall cord "hot" wire goes to one side of the dimmer - nut them tightly together. Other side of dimmer goes to the "hot" wire toward the CHE,

Pull the wires back into the box, leaving some slack inside. Tighten up the clamp on the wires, so that if you pull the cord, the wires inside the box don't move. Screw the dimmer to the box, then put on the plate.

You have now created an extension cord with a dimmer in it. Plug your CHE fixture into it, then plug it into the wall, and you are in business.

You can just let your work box sit on top of your cage, or it can be mounted to it. There are many different kinds of boxes - some have tabs on the sides so that you can cut out a hole in the side of the cage (well away from the ig, of course), and then the tabs will grab the inside of the cage to hold the box in place. Figure out if, how and where you are going to locate the box BEFORE you cut your cord. Be sure to leave some slack in the cord, so you can move the cage without pulling the plug.

Want to consider some options? There are tons of them. You can buy boxes with 4 or 5 bays in them, so you can install your dimmer, then put in the controlled outlet right next to it (instead of going on with the cord). You can also split the power inside the box, so that you could wire the dimmer, and a timer for the lights (with a second outlet for the lights), etc, etc, etc.

If you want to wire more than one thing (where a dimmer-controlled outlet is one thing - even though it has two parts, and a timer-controlled outlet is a second thing, etc.) you need to split both the hot and neutral to both "things". In other words, twist 3 wires together on the "hot" side, and another 3 for the neutral. Finally, all the ground wires get twisted together. In essence, just pretend that each of the things is the only one - connect it to hot and neutral.

See, piece of cake? Not exactly - you need to pay attention, and be careful. DON'T EVER WORK WITH ANY OF IT WHEN IT IS PLUGGED IN. Did I yell that loud enough? I hate to admit it, but I have made "adjustments" when the power was on, because I knew how to be careful. Let me tell you - being careful hurts like hell! Unplug it, or shut off the breaker if you are working with an outlet or switch in the wall.

One final thing to consider, and this is not just concerning this cage. Always remember to think about the total power load on any circuit. A typical circuit contains a 15 amp breaker. This roughly equates to 1500 watts of power. A 20 amp circuit cleverly equates to 2000 watts of power. These are really the maximum sustainable loads the circuits can carry without overloading. When they overload, they overheat. Hopefully, this will blow the breaker, and you are safe. If the breaker doesn't blow, buy hot dogs and marshmallows, because you are going to have a fire.

Keep in mind that the circuit isn't just the one outlet that you are using, it is all the outlets on that circuit - everything that goes off when you flip the breaker. So, if you have:
CHE 150
Basking bulb 100
2-40 watt fluorescents 80
UVHeat bulb 160
Total Cage 490

Now, what else is on the circuit, and what does it pull? Computer & monitor? TV? Stereo? Toaster? Hair dryer? Be sure to check. Hair dryers and toasters can use 1500 watts EACH (which explains why hair dryers often blow fuses in old houses - light circuits with a bunch of stuff on them....). Make sure that you have enough capacity before you get everything in place, or you will need an electrician to run a new circuit.

If you aren't sure about something, try asking the guys at the home center, or send me a note.

If you are better qualified than me, and see an error in my ways, contact me immediately, and I will post corrections.

Larry Anderson



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