Halogen heat lamps and ceramic heat emitters have long existed outside the reptile-keeping community. But with the ever-growing push towards the use of halogens in leopard gecko tanks in recent years, ceramic heaters have steadily lost their popularity―even becoming infamous. So are halogens really better than ceramics and do ceramics deserve such a bad reputation?
In general, a halogen lamp is a better choice of heating element for leopard gecko tanks compared to a ceramic heat emitter. This is based on the following factors:
- Heat produced
- Temperature control
- Safety of use
- Power rating
- Usage time
- Life span
- Overall Cost
- Set-up compatibility
Ceramic heat emitters last considerably longer than halogen heat lamps. Yet when all other factors are taken into consideration, halogens definitely outperform ceramic heaters. Why is that? Continued reading until the very end to find out!
Are Halogens Better Than Ceramic Heaters for Leopard Geckos?
To find out whether the average halogen heat lamp is actually the better heating element for your leopard gecko when compared to a regular ceramic heat emitter (CHE) bulb, we need to take many factors into account―both differences and similarities.
In certain aspects, halogens clearly come ahead of ceramic heaters. On other aspects, the CHE surpasses the halogen. So to find out which heating element is better for your specific needs, let’s look closely at the 8 major differences between a halogen heat lamp and a ceramic heat emitter bulb.
Ceramic heat emitters primarily function as a supplemental heating element in reptile husbandry. In comparison, halogen heat lamps function as both a primary heating element and a sun-like lighting element for the enclosures of leopard geckos and other exotic animals kept in captivity.
Some leopard gecko keepers and breeders have continuously put down other pet parents for still using ceramic heat emitters in their pets’ tanks for heating even though newer products are now available in the market. They also claim that ceramic heaters are simply ineffective heat sources, regardless of the specific reptile they are used for.
However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Technically speaking, ceramic heaters are, in fact, highly efficient when it comes to raising ambient temperatures―they can raise the air temperature by about 20°F. So the actual problem actually comes not from the heating device itself but from the wrong usage of CHEs .
I have personally met a few people who thought that CHEs were useless because they were using them to provide basking spots for their leopard geckos. However, once I explained to them that halogens are the appropriate choice for basking while ceramic heaters are for ambient, they actually held on to their ceramics for when the colder months come.
Nevertheless, both halogen heat lamps and ceramic heat emitters are not sufficient to give your leopard gecko a naturalistic environment when either is used on its own. More specifically, although halogens produce visible light it does not perfectly replicate sunlight which also includes ultraviolet (UV). In the same manner, a light source that provides visible light and/or UV will also be necessary alongside the use of a ceramic heater.
So in terms of overall function, a halogen, which is a light-emitting heat source, is better than a ceramic heater, which is a non-light-emitting heat source, for your leopard gecko. This is also related to the specific type of heat―or more correctly, infrared radiation (IR)― they produce, which I will be discussing next.
When fully powered, a ceramic infrared emitter will mostly produce type C infrared radiation (IR-C) which is superficial heat, and a negligible amount of IR-B. By contrast, a halogen lamp will produce all three types of infrared radiation―a nearly equal amount of IR-A and IR-B, as well as a considerable amount of IR-C.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning that not all heat is equal. More precisely speaking, different types of infrared radiation have different properties.
|Near-infrared radiation (IR-A)||740-1400||Significant|
|Mid-infrared radiation (IR-B)||1400-3000||Moderate|
|Far-infrared radiation (IR-C)||3000+||Superficial|
The sun and other luminous heating bodies such as a halogen lamp typically produce all types of infrared radiation. Heating and/or heated bodies which do not emit any light whatsoever (e.g., CHEs, sun-heated rocks), in contrast, normally produce and reradiate mostly IR-C.
Infrared radiation with shorter wavelengths is technically closer to light than it is to heat and has an orange-red glow [1, 2]. Near-infrared radiation gives off more like a tingling sensation on the skin than it does warmth but it is actually deep-penetrating. Meanwhile, far-infrared radiation―which comes right before microwaves on the electromagnetic spectrum―is invisible to human eyes and is readily felt as immense heat although it doesn’t penetrate the topmost layer of the skin. Mid-infrared radiation falls somewhere between the two.
Which light should you use for gecko basking?
For proper basking heat, all three types of infrared radiation must be present. However, for ambient or background heat, IR-C alone will suffice. In short, the heat (IR-A, IR-B, and IR-C) produced by a halogen bulb is perfect for basking while the heat a ceramic bulb emits is great for ambient heating.
Even so, you should keep in mind that when halogens are dimmed, they will emit less IR-A and more IR-C.
by a Halogen
by a Ceramic Heater
When to use a halogen lamp? If you have already been able to provide a good thermal gradient within your leopard gecko’s vivarium―from a cool 70-80°F (21-27°C) to a warm 85-90°F (29-32°C)―but you’re still struggling to provide a basking spot that’s warm enough, you will need a halogen.
When to use a ceramic heater? If you have a basking spot that’s toasty enough at the 95-100°F (35-38°C) range but you are still having trouble with boosting your overall enclosure temperatures, you may need to add a ceramic heater to your pet’s set-up for supplemental heating.
Our tip. Always remember: the ambient temperature is read using a regular room thermometer, regardless of whether or not it has a probe, whereas the surface temperature of the basking spot or tile is determined using an infrared thermometer gun.
The heat output of a ceramic heater is sufficiently regulated by most leopard gecko keepers using a pulse-proportional thermostat, while a dimming thermostat is necessary for a halogen heat bulb. Nonetheless, it is much easier to determine whether a halogen is properly temperature-controlled as it emits light which can serve as a visual cue.
Try approaching any experienced reptile pet keeper or breeder and ask them whether you can use a heating device on its own. You will surely be told a hard “NO!”
If you’re unsure as to why, the simple reason is that operating a heating element, regardless of the specific device, would pose a serious fire hazard not only for your cold-bellied leo but you and everyone else with you at home too. So yeah, you should always have a thermostat to regulate such products. However, you should also make sure that the type of thermostat you have is compatible with your heat source.
A pulse-proportional thermostat controls the heat output of a heat source by either increasing or decreasing the frequency by which it sends pulses of electrical power to the device. It will allow for rapid pulses of current (no worries, all is safe) to pass through the heater producing spikes in power that raises the temperatures when they are lower than needed and vice versa.
Why do heat lamps flicker in a gecko tank?
Pulses of electrical power from a pulse-proportional thermostat cause flickering in light-emitting heat sources such as heat lamps which could be disruptive and confusing for our soft-scaled babies. Hence, they should only be used non-light-emitting heat sources such as ceramic infrared emitters.
How does a dimming thermostat work? Conversely, a dimming thermostat works by either raising or reducing the steady flow of electrical power supplied to a heating element. Unlike pulse-proportional types though, temperature control using dimming thermostats will not result in flashing of light. Instead, light is either dimmed or intensified accordingly. As such, dimming thermostats are well-suited for all heating elements whether or not they emit visible light alongside infrared radiation.
Last but not the least, solely using on/off thermostats for temperature control on any overhead heat device (e.g., halogen, CHE) will significantly reduce its life span.
But many other pet parents working on a tight budget have found that using a plug-in dimmer or a fixture with a dimmer switch together with a regular on/off or mat-type thermostat will serve as an affordable and effective alternative. All the same, the light emitted by halogens makes them easier to monitor manually.
Theoretically speaking, all heating devices―even halogens―pose the risk of burns and fires. However, providing leopard geckos with heat by using a single heating device that predominantly produces IR-C, like ceramic emitters, poses a greater risk of thermal burns.
Although your leopard gecko cannot get in direct contact with a ceramic heater as it can with a heat mat placed on the floor of a wooden tank, experts reveal that they pose a relatively equal risk of causing thermal burns due to the heat they produce .
Because the IR-C from ceramic heat emitter only gives leopard geckos skin-deep heat, they tend to overstay under the emitter and overexpose themselves in an attempt to warm themselves up to their very core. Unfortunately, as I have already explained earlier, this is impossible to achieve if IR-A and IR-B are not present as well (and they are not in ceramic heat emitters).
You see, although IR-C helps their surrounding environment stay warm it is not enough to significantly let leos thermoregulate throughout the day. Direct sunlight―or a halogen flood bulb during the day in captivity―is essential for optimal thermoregulation. Again, this is why ceramic infrared emitters are only used for supplemental heating and not primary heating.
Aside from all these, all pet parents must make sure that neither the ceramic heater nor the halogen comes into contact with any flammable material within the enclosure. This includes wood furnishings and decors, as well as live plants.
Overall, ceramic infrared-emitting bulbs have a power rating of 25 to 250 watts, and halogens range from 30 to 100 watts. Although higher-wattage options for both products are also available, those are typically too powerful for most adult leopard gecko set-ups.
Despite the considerable difference between the ranges of wattage ratings for both products―in terms of leopard gecko husbandry, at least―the most basic principle in choosing the right rating remains the same.
Bigger leopard gecko tanks require heat sources with higher power ratings. You can refer to the simple table below for the recommended power rating for CHEs and halogens depending on the enclosure’s capacity.
|Ceramic Heat Emitter|
Power Rating (watts)
|Halogen Heat Lamp|
Power Rating (watts)
With the comparison table, you can clearly see that ceramic heat emitters with higher power ratings than halogen bulbs are generally necessary to heat up a vivarium of the same size. For example, a 50-gallon glass tank with a mesh top would need either a 100W CHE or a 75W halogen lamp.
This difference is not astronomical but it still directly impacts the electrical consumption of your little companion’s overall vivarium set-up―a higher power rating equates to higher consumption of electricity, lower wattage equals lower consumption.
If you’re interested in learning about how much your leopard gecko’s power consumption actually is, you can check our article for a more detailed discussion on the computation of your reptile pet’s electricity bill.
A ceramic infrared bulb may be used for supplemental nighttime heating for 10 to 12 hours, or as an all-day (24-hour) supplemental heat source as it is a dark emitter. However, a halogen heat lamp must only be used during the day for 12 to 14 hours to provide naturalistic day-night cycling for leopard geckos.
Wild leopard geckos inhabit the South Asian region―Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal. In these parts of the world, summer days may be as long as 14 hours, and nights could be as short as 10 hours . But during colder months, the day and night can be equally divided, with 12 hours each.
For our precious leopard geckos raised in captivity, such a natural day-night cycle should be imitated as closely as possible. Daylight, in particular, is experienced from approximately 5 AM to 7 PM during summer and 6 AM to & 6 PM in winter.
Thus, a heat source that produces light such as a halogen, should never be in operation for more than 12 or 14 hours depending on the season. Doing otherwise will disrupt a leopard gecko’s circadian rhythm or biological clock.
Since ceramic heaters produce no visible light at all―even when fully powered―it can be turned on continuously, provided that your leopard gecko is still given a nighttime drop of 70-75°F (21-24°C). That said, heat sources are normally unnecessary from dusk to dawn unless temperatures drop way below 65°F (18°C) for weeks on end.
Can you use a ceramic heat emitter and a halogen heat lamp at the same time?
Yes, ceramic heat emitters and halogen bulbs can be used simultaneously during the day to obtain and maintain optimal temperature levels (basking and ambient gradient) in a leopard gecko’s tank.
The average rated life (ARL) range of ceramic heat bulbs ranges from 9000 to 25000 hours (up to 6 years). Contrarily, the ARL of halogen bulbs ranges from 1000 to 2500 hours (roughly half a year). All in all, ceramic heat emitters last approximately 10 times longer than halogen lamps.
Ultimately, the time it will take before any heat source burns out is determined by how many hours it is used daily. To find out how many years your leopard gecko’s heat source will last, use the formula below:
Life span (years) = Life span (hours) [÷] usage time (hours/day) [÷] 365 (days/year)
Now, let’s compare the expected life span of a ceramic heat emitter and a halogen heat lamp which are both operated for 12 hours each day. Just keep in mind that the figures we will get from these computations are conservative because we are not accounting for heat regulation via thermostats.
From the comparison above, you will realize that others constantly bring up issues with their halogens because these commonly need to be replaced at least once a year―and yes, that includes the pricier branded halogen reptile-basking bulbs.
So if I were to give you a piece of advice, I’d say that you should definitely have at least one low or mid-wattage CHE per reptile in your care so that you can keep them warm in times of winter power outages―even if your only source of electricity is a portable power bank. (Check our article on choosing the perfect power bank if you are interested.)
Good quality ceramic heaters typically cost roughly 10 USD or more per bulb while a single halogen lamp ordinarily costs less than that. However, once life span is taken into account, a single ceramic heat emitter bulb that lasts 6 years costs much cheaper than buying several halogen bulbs over the same period.
To be completely frank with you, the price range I came up with for either heating element is primarily based on regular products which are easily available but aren’t made by big reptile supplies companies. I honestly think that most of those, if not all, are way too overpriced for what they’re worth.
On the other hand, you also need to think about not just the up-front cost but the long-term cost of buying one as well.
For some people, spending about 120 for a total of 12 halogen flood lamps in a span of 6 years is well worth the price tag. However, others think that much money is too exorbitant because a single 10-dollar ceramic infrared heater could easily last 6 or more years of usage.
Either way, settling for dirt-cheap heating devices from dubious stores and websites may easily end up with you throwing it in the trash after only a few days―even hours―of use because of poor quality and safety concerns.
Overall, you need to decide whether a halogen bulb or a ceramic heater is more cost-efficient in terms of meeting your current needs. But if overall cost alone is used as the sole basis, many will agree with me in saying that a CHE is more affordable in the long run compared to a halogen.
Since we are now done with the discussion on what sets ceramic heaters and halogens apart based on 8 aspects, let’s go through the 3 aspects they share.
Overhead heating elements, including ceramic heaters and halogen lamps, are meant to be positioned by the warm side of a leopard gecko’s enclosure. Doing so ensures that the ambient temperature by the tank’s cool side remains relatively lower―to allow for optimal thermoregulation.
As a general rule, CHEs and halogen bulbs should be away from the topmost layer of the substrate in the warm side or basking spot by at least 12 inches (30 centimeters). This is so that the heating element stays out of your leo’s reach even if it tries to jump for it.
If you have a tall vivarium―more than 18 inches or 46 centimeters in height―you might have trouble getting your leopard gecko’s basking tile warm enough.
Tip: To resolve the aforementioned issue, you could opt to add a few more inches of substrate material to the warm side of your pet’s tank. Then leave the rest of the substrate as thick as before.
Elevating the warm side of the enclosure lets your gecko travel up and down when it wants to warm up or cool off. Basically, it uses the same idea as burrowing.
You could also choose to replace your flat basking tile with a hot hide that has a basking tile on top instead. If you want to, you could do this as an easy DIY project or you could simply buy one (here on Zen Habitats).
Both ceramic infrared bulbs and halogens bulbs are available in designs with standard Edison screw bases (E26 or E27) which are compatible with most light fixtures and accessories. They can be installed internally or externally.
Thus, installation is fairly easy especially if you already know how to install and change regular household light bulbs.
Internal installation of overhead heating devices require the following materials:
- Ceramic/porcelain lamp holder (here on Amazon)
- Mounting bracket
- Wire guard/cage
- Power cable with on/off switch or dimming dial
External installation of overhead heating devices require the following materials:
- Lamp dome with a ceramic/porcelain socket
- Dome spring clips (here on Amazon)
Ideally, a ceramic heat bulb and a halogen floodlight bulb should be fitted into separate fixtures and each one must be regulated with their own thermostat and probe if used alongside one another. They could also be regulated by a thermostat that can handle multiple devices, one that can be programmed and has several probes as well.
What’s more, is that some keepers have had their halogens explode due to the extremely high operating temperature of the ceramic heater itself. Plus, using a single thermostat with only one probe for both heating devices interferes with their heat output.
Ceramic heat emitters and halogen heat lamps can be used in temporary and permanent set-ups―basic, naturalistic, bioactive―regardless of the primary material (e.g., glass, PVC, wood) used in the leopard gecko tank provided that it does not come in direct contact with it.
Because both CHEs and halogen lamps are overhead heat sources, you can lay on the substrate as thick as you would like and the whole vivarium will still be efficiently heated.
Glass won’t crack, PVC won’t melt, and wood won’t burn unless you place a working―or recently shut off―ceramic infrared emitter or a halogen heat lamp right on top of such materials.
Do remember though, you should let these heat sources cool off for 1 hour before directly touching them if you need to replace the bulbs or change the fixture it is fitted into. Also, never wet or mist these while they are hot to avoid thermal shock which can destroy such units.
Should You Choose Ceramic Heaters or Halogens for Your Gecko Tank?
In total, ceramic heat emitters and halogen heat lamps are highly comparable in terms of:
- Position: they are both overhead heat sources ideally placed at least 12 inches (30 centimeters)
- Installation: they are both compatible with most light fixtures and accessories
- Set-up compatibility: they are both compatible with almost any set-up
It is worth noting, though, that common ceramic heaters are better than halogens on:
- Usage time: ceramic heaters can be used as supplemental heat sources 24/7
- Life span: ceramic heat emitters last about 10 times more
- Overall cost: ceramic heaters are more require fewer replacement bulbs
However, halogen bulbs are definitely superior to ceramic infrared bulbs in the following fundamental aspects:
- Function: a halogen serves as both a primary heat source and a light source
- Heat produced: halogen heat lamps produce 38% IR-A, 39% IR-B, and 12% IR-C
- Temperature control: halogens emit light that serves as a reliable cue of heat control
- Safety of use: halogen bulbs are far less likely to cause thermal burns
- Power rating: halogens have lower wattage but effectively heat up tanks with less power consumption
So when all these 11 factors are taken into account, a halogen heat bulb is the better heating element for your leopard gecko on the whole. It also mimics sunlight more closely.
A halogen is better than a ceramic heat emitter for leopard gecko tanks because it functions as both a light and heat source, it produces all types of infrared radiation (or heat), it’s easier to tell whether or not its temperature is properly controlled, it is less likely to cause thermal burns in leopard geckos, and low and mid-wattage bulbs are sufficient for most tanks.
However, ceramic heaters can be used for longer periods each day, have a remarkably longer life span, and it is overall more cost-efficient than halogens.
Nonetheless, both ceramic infrared emitters and halogen flood lamps share common aspects: Both must be placed overhead by 12 inches (30 centimeters) on the warm side of the tank. They have an E26/27 base which makes for easy internal and external installation. Lastly, the two are compatible with virtually all kinds of setups.