I have been approached by a local animal clinic, who also boards cats and dogs, to construct some cat condos for the boarding cats. These are essentially 2.5' x 2.5' x 7' tall multilevel cabinets. Actually they are just a single tall box with multiple fixed shelves of various depths and widths. The full shelves have openings in them (8" x 8") so the cats can climb from one level to another. The bottom of the cabinet houses the litter box and has a vent on the back where the air is exhausted by a remote fan serving multiple condos. The front has a door to change the litter box, a big door with glass for access to the cats, and a plastic grate near the top for air intake.
Would you consider building this out of melamine? With PVC edgebanding? The unit needs to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected in between cats to prevent the transfer of disease. Will melamine stand up to the cleaning process?
My other thought was to use laminate on 3/4" shop maple plywood (lighter than particleboard and holds screws better). But I am not sure what type of laminate I would use. (My years of experience do not include much laminate work at all.) There is horizontal grade, vertical grade, post-formable, etc. And what type of glue would I use? I have a large flip-top vacuum press table, so laminating large sheets is not an issue. Selecting the appropriate materials for the project is.
From contributor J:
Not sure about material choice, but I'd have a couple of cat-related concerns with this design. For one, I'd be concerned about cats' abilities to climb between levels if the shelves are hard and slick like laminate or melamine; they don't have sticky spider feet. Cat condos sold in pet stores are typically covered in carpet.
Second, having only one door for multiple cats might be problematic. Some cats will resist being shut into the cabinet, while others will hide in the back, so opening the door to extract or introduce one cat when others are present could be difficult. I'd build one unit and let them try it out before settling on a final design for many such condos.
The change in levels is about 18" maximum. There is a step about halfway. The cats have no problem with the current laminate surface. Also, the only time multiple cats are in a single condo is if they are from the same family. Cats that do not know each other are never placed together. Most often there is only one cat per condo. If there are more than two cats, or the two are large cats, they have a couple of double-wide condos that afford more space. They essentially look like a duplex with an adjoining door/opening at one of the levels.
I would suggest looking into products such as Azek or King Starboard. These are solid plastic sheets that would be impervious to liquids. As for the slick issue, you could apply grip tape/tread to key areas. You will pay considerably more for these products than you will melamine and edgetape.
You probably should advise your customer of the pros and cons of each product and let them decide. You can always sell your product with no warranty included.