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Simple Rack System Ideas - Plans

A Breakdown Of Building A Rack System

Simple Rack System Ideas

What exactly is a rack system? In the simplest of terms, it is a heated shelving unit that hold plastic containers opposed to books or knick-knacks. This article is geared toward helping the first time rack user plan their way through a rack design. It offers a few areas to think about and offers several approaches to ensure your rack will work when it comes to actually build it.

Pre-planning Your Rack

The actual construction of the rack itself will require some thought and pre-planning. The first thing you need to know is what size containers you are going to use. The containers, which are normally Sterilites or Rubbermaid tubs, will determine the height of your shelves as well as the width of the unit and how deep each shelf will need to be. You can't build a practical rack without this information.

The second thing to consider is the height of the rack, which will be determined by how many units you will be incorporating. If your rack is going to hold 6 tubs, the height needs to accommodate the 6 tubs. Keep in mind that the taller you go, the harder the top shelves will be to access.

The third thing to think about is the space you have. it isn't practical to design a rack that you don't have a space to place it in. You should have a designated area already chosen for where you will be placing the rack itself. Your design will need to be able to fit the rack in this space while also accommodating the size you wish to build your rack at.


Your tubs will or should be chosen based on the species you will be housing, as well as the age in which they will be housed. Baby leopard geckos do not require the same amount of space as an adult leopard gecko. Ball pythons require more space than a leopard gecko and will require larger tubs. Arboreal species need taller tubs and this needs to be a serious consideration when designing the rack you will be building.

Rack Tubs - Containers

Once you know what tubs you will be using and for which species they will be housing, you should buy them. The tubs should be in your possession before you start the actual build. There have been many instances where certain size tubs end up being discontinued or become extremely difficult to acquire. Imagine building your rack and then finding out that the tubs it was designed for are no longer being made or are difficult to locate. Having the tubs on hand will also ensure that your shelves have been built properly before you construct the entire unit because you can use them to space the shelves as well as test one once the first shelf is in place.

Heating Your Rack

How you intend on heating your rack is another important decision that should be made before you begin construction. Most racks systems are heated using either heat tape or heat cable. Installation of the heat tape or cable is much easier to do before the shelves are installed. How you install the heat tape or cable will also be a factor. In most cases where the heating will be provided as "belly heat", meaning the tape or cable will be beneath the tubs, you will want to recess them into the shelf. This will require you to create a notch or a channel that can accept the heat tape or cable and is the ideal method of installation, though alternative methods can be utilized, such as adding a spacer between the tubs and heating element so that rubbing does not occur. If you will simply be heating the back of the units, which means the heating will be attached to the back wall opposed to the shelves, a notch or groove may be required on each shelf to allow the heating to pass by without being pinched. You can also cut the shelves slightly shorted than the depth needed and this too will create a natural space to pass the heating element through. It is preferable to have the heating elements purchased before you begin construction.

Building Materials - Tools

What type of building materials you do want to use? Melamine, a popular choice among DIY racks, can make a rack very heavy and difficult to move. Heavy duty casters can be added to the bottom of these units to make them easier to maneuver around. You can also purchase sheets of PVC, which is lighter but much more expensive. Cabinet grade plywood can make nice racks but is also costly. The materials you choose will affect the cost of the project.

Prefabricated Shelving

This is the simplest method for creating a rack. Many stores carry shelving that simply needs to be assembled. In most cases, the shelves won't be perfectly spaced for your tubs. If you have purchased locking tubs however, these types of units can still be used by simply keeping the tops on the containers locked. Most racks don't use the lids that come with the containers but prefabricated shelves allow for their usage. (Purchase lockable containers if you go this route!) The only modifications that will need to be made to units like this is the heating elements.


Everything listed is worth thinking about before you start working on your design. I have added a breeding rack plan page that shows how I built one of my racks years ago. It is a great way to see how you can assemble your rack and can even be modified for most species. You can view the breeding rack plans here: Breeding Rack Plans

I used this rack for baby leopard geckos.


Author: Richard Brooks