Careful Use of ‘Heat Tape’ Can Prevent Frozen Pipes

This month’s weather has reminded us that winter is indeed coming.

Sub-zero temperatures can cause pipes to freeze and burst, creating a major mess and expensive repairs. One way to prevent pipes from bursting is by using thermal tape, a product that uses electricity to generate heat.

Although not adhesive, the heat tape acts as a heating pad for exposed pipes. There are two installation methods. The first, and less common, method is when the tape is securely connected to a home’s electrical system and has its own breaker. In this case, the tape should be installed by a licensed contractor.

The second installation method uses a thermal tape that plugs directly into a GFCI (earth leakage breaker) socket. This type of tape usually allows you to control the temperature.

If you are considering installing a heat tape, you should be extra careful. Because of the risk of overheating and fire, do not use heating tape on pipes behind walls or ceilings. It should only be used on exposed pipes such as those in your crawl space or outside of your home.

Choose the right tape for your pipes. If you use tape designed for PVC on metal pipes, it will not be as effective. If you use heat tape for metal on PVC pipe, it can melt.

Always purchase a heating tape that is endorsed by a reputable testing laboratory such as UL (Underwriter Laboratories) and do not use any damaged or worn tape, cord, or connector.

Unplug the heating tape in spring.

Once you have the right tape for the job, installation is easy, according to Hunker.com:

Clean the pipe. Remove the insulation and brush off any dirt or cobwebs with a stiff brush. This is an important step as dirt could smolder on the pipes or catch fire.

Wrap the ribbon. Many brands are designed to be simply wrapped around the pipe, but some require electrical tape to be secured in place. Follow the instructions on the packaging or insert. When wrapping, avoid crossing / doubling the heating tape as this can create areas of excessive heat.

Isolate the pipe. Cover the pipe with foam insulation after you have wrapped the heat tape around the pipe. This prevents heat dissipation and saves energy. If the pipes are outdoors or in a location that could get damp, use waterproof insulation.

Leave enough slack at the end of the tape to reach a GFCI outlet without the need for an extension cord. If the tape isn’t long enough to cover the entire pipe, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Sometimes the “strands” of tape are designed to be joined together, but make sure that it is recommended beforehand. Some are available in different lengths.

Let the heating tape work for you. As soon as the tape is inserted, the thermostat monitors the pipe temperature and switches on the heating if necessary.

Heat tape isn’t a must for everyone, but if you’ve had a problem with freezing exposed pipes in the past, it might be worth considering.

Because thermal tape must be attached to something in an area that could get wet, never go into a flooded or humid area where electrical current could flow. In other words, always be careful with heating tape as it runs on electricity. When installing the special cover to prevent pipes from freezing, always follow the instructions provided for installation and use.

For more information on how to use electricity safely, visit SafeElectricity.org.

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