Why Construct A Tortoise House?
Building a tortoise house for your pet has nothing to do with the fact that it seems to carry its own house around with it. A tortoise, especially one removed from its native habitat, needs more than its shell for housing and protection. Depending upon the species, and somewhat upon the climate you live in, a choice may need to be made as to whether an indoor or an outdoor house would be most appropriate.
To make your choice the right one, its best to start with the species of tortoise involved. Different species have different needs, in some instances, vastly different needs. What is the climate like where the species comes from, and how different is that climate from the one the tortoise will be living in now? How large is the tortoise expected to get? Although tortoises grow slowly, having one that potentially will reach monster size, in an apartment, won't work forever. Also, the size the tortoise will reach as it matures will influence the size required of the house, and the size requirement for its enclosure as well. In addition, it should be taken into account that a large tortoise is a strong tortoise, plus, being active, needs plenty of room to roam, and the tortoise house must be well secured unless the plan is for the house to be constantly moving around like an RV.
Outdoor Considerations - Some species are small enough and otherwise well adapted to living indoors, even though most would probably opt for living outdoors, given a vote on the matter. As one begins to look at outdoor housing, considerations of security, heating and lighting start to surface. One is going to want to construct or purchase a tortoise house and enclosure that not only keeps the tortoise at home, but keeps other animals, especially potential predators out. Younger, smaller tortoises can be especially vulnerable to predators so having a safe little house may not be enough. The entire enclosure, including the top, may have to be protected by chain-link fencing.
If the tortoise house is to be outdoors, a couple of other things need to be taken into account. Number one, is the species one which likes to burrow? Some species do while others do not. If you have a burrowing species it may be a good idea to build a floor into the turtle house, to avoid tunneling and the potential for a "Great Escape". Burying the surrounding fencing a foot or 18 inches beneath the surface will help also in taking care of that possibility. Number two, does the species you own or plan to own hibernate? A tortoise hibernating outdoors is going to need some very special conditions, such that not only are temperatures properly controlled, but the location of the tortoise house is such that the reptile won't be unduly disturbed. A highly stressed tortoise can easily become a sick tortoise, so those who need to hibernate require a little special attention.
Basic Needs - Irrespective as to whether the tortoise house will be indoors or out, made out of wood (sometimes referred to a 'Tortoise, or Turtle Table" when indoors), plastic, or whatever material, it must be plenty large enough, provide the correct range of temperature, provide fresh air, be adequately ventilated, and in some cases, provide either an opening to natural light or have controlled artificial lighting. The tortoise needs not only adequate light, but also a dark spot where it can hide away from the worries of the world.
Summary - Building an adequate turtle house, while not involving rocket science, can nevertheless be a challenge. You obviously want to do the best you can for a companion that is going to live a good long time. Just remember in designing the house, or the entire enclosure for that matter, that tortoises are for the most part, large, very strong, inquisitive, need room to roam, do best in an environment close to their native environment, need security, and may enjoy digging and burrowing. Take all of these things into account and your tortoise may well end up living in the tortoise house of its dreams.