Tank temperature is one of the most critical things to get right in a bearded dragon’s enclosure. Without it, your bearded dragon cannot digest their food, among other things.
Typically, a basking lamp and the correct bulb are all most people need to regulate temperature. But what happens when your temps aren’t cooperating? And how do you create heat for your beardie at night when no lights are supposed to be on?
This is where a supplemental heat source comes in, and the only additional heat source we recommend for bearded dragons is a CHE (ceramic heating element). You can see the one we use here on Amazon.
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What is a CHE bulb?
A CHE (ceramic heat emitter) is a bulb that gives off heat but no light. They are made from a coil of wire encased in ceramic housing and screw into a standard light bulb fixture. CHEs are a safe way to add heat to a reptile enclosure without additional light, making them perfect for nighttime heat.
They are safe to use and present no opportunity for injury to your bearded dragon (unlike under-tank heating elements, which we NEVER recommend).
When turned on, the inner wire coil heats up, and that heat is gently emitted from the ceramic housing. Ceramic conducts and holds heat at the perfect rate for this application.
CHEs get hot to the touch, so be careful. You cannot tell they are on or hot by looking at them as they give off no light.
When To Use A CHE In Your Bearded Dragon’s Tank
Your bearded dragon’s tank should have two distinct temperature zones: A hot side and a cool side. (source) Just like a McDLT!!! (Bonus points for recognizing my old man reference!)
The hot side is hot because that’s where the basking spot is. The temperature of your basking area should vary based on the age of your beardie, but in general, it should be kept at or above 105℉ (41℃).
The cool side of your enclosure should be kept at 75℉ (24℃) and never get below 70℉ (21℃). When temps dip below 70℉ (21℃), bearded dragons become quite susceptible to respiratory infections.
While keeping this side above 70℉ (21℃) is fairly easy in the daytime (you can do this by adjusting the location of your basking spot), it can get tricky at night.
*If you set your home’s thermostat below 70℉ (21℃) at night, you need a nighttime CHE. With the basking light off and room temps below 70℉ (21℃), your beardie’s tank will also dip below 70℉ (21℃).
If your daytime (while the basking lamp is on) temps are inadequate, you will probably want your CHE on all the time.
If only your nighttime temps are off, put the CHE on a timer like this one and have it go on when the other lights go out.
How to Use a CHE to Heat Your Bearded Dragon’s Tank
Like any other bulb, a CHE should be placed in a directional light hood like this. This allows you freedom of placement, which is critical in getting your tank temps correct.
If you have a dual domed light hood for your basking bulb, you can also try installing the CHE in the second bay of that fixture.
We do both as our heating needs change with the seasons (see an explanation of these seasonal changes below). If you don’t have a dual dome, you don’t need one. Just get a second single dome, and you’ll be set to go.
Once you’ve got your fixture set, it’s time to figure out where to place it and how long it should be on.
Where To Place A CHE in Your Bearded Dragon’s Tank
All lights, including a CHE, should be placed in UL-approved fixtures above the screen top of your beardie’s enclosure. Do not put any lights inside the enclosure; they represent a burn risk to your scaly little friend.
If your basking spot is at the correct temperature, you don’t want to place the CHE in a position that adds heat to that spot. It’s better to place it towards the middle of the tank or even directly over the cool side.
The specific placement will be determined by what each location does to your tank’s temperatures. It will take some trial and error to get this right.
Your goal is to get your basking spot to the correct temp and the cool side as close to 75℉ (24℃) as you can. Do this by moving the CHE a few inches at a time, waiting an hour or two for temps to normalize. Check and adjust again if needed.
Since you can’t control the amount of heat coming from a CHE, you change your tank temps via the bulb’s location.
Change Your CHE Use Based on the Seasons
We recommend all bearded dragon parents own three thermometers: A temp gun to measure your basking spot, an in-tank thermometer near the basking location, and an in-tank thermometer placed low on the cool side.
These three tools are all that you need to maintain ideal tank temperatures for your pet. But they aren’t a set it and forget it type of thing.
As the seasons change, so does the ambient temperature of your home. This happens for two reasons.
First, most of us change our HVAC use and preferred in-home temperatures as the year progresses. Those changes affect not only the temps in our home but also your bearded dragon’s habitat.
Second, the location of sunrise and sunset in the sky changes drastically over the year. A room with direct sun in the summer may get none in the winter. That room will have two different temps at those two times of the year!
Third, and this has less to do with weather but is still crucial. Your bulbs age over time, and the amount of heat they emit decreases.
This is why we recommend changing out all bulbs (including your CHE – with no light output, it’s hard to know if it’s stopped working!) every six months.
We recommend monitoring your in-tank thermometers daily and a precise temp gun check of your basking spot weekly. We also recommend a thorough temperature audit once every quarter (checking during the day and night).
We do ours on the solstices and equinoxes. That makes it easy to remember, especially since those days signify a change in the amount of light the world gets.
Why Use A CHE and Not An Undertank Heating Element?
If you’ve been getting your bearded dragon information on forums, Facebook pages, or YouTube videos, there’s a good chance you’ve seen someone recommending an under-tank heating element (like this one).
These plastic heating pads stick to the glass bottom of your enclosure, and you should never use them!
They are ineffective (you cannot precisely control the heat as you can with over-tank mounted light domes) and dangerous!
This type of heating element has severely burned more than a few bearded dragons. While you would think your beardie would know not to lay directly above them, they don’t.
Bearded dragons have been known to lay directly on top of these pads long enough to sustain serious burns.
So, don’t use them. And take zero advice from anyone who says you should!
While some bearded dragon owners will never see the need for a CHE, most others will need one, even if it’s only seasonally. We typically only use ours in winter when the thermostat is set at 67-69℉ (19-20℃).
So, take a few minutes today to check both your daytime and nighttime temps. If they are off, it might be time to add a CHE.