How To Use Heat Tape

When your water is off for any length of time, it becomes a minor inconvenience, but if your water pipe freezes and the water turns to ice, it can burst any type of water pipe, causing large amounts of damage to your property. Heat Tape is the answer for many people that have been exposed outside water Pipelines that supply water. What is the proper way to use Heat Tape?

  • Measure length & diameter of pipe
  • Use electrical tape to attach Heat tape to the pipe
  • Never use Heat Tape with an extension cord
  • Attach the Thermostat directly to the cold end of pipe
  • Loop heat tape around the pipe without overlapping
  • Wrap tape around Elbows
  • Test Heat tape by plugging it in & pushing test button


Even though we have been taught for many years that water and electricity don’t mix well, sometimes they do, and Heat Tape used properly can keep your property’s water supply running and roof gutters’ downspouts free of ice through the worst of cold weather.


How Does Heat Tape Work


Heat Tape comes in 2 types, Constant Wattage & Self Regulation Tape, which is mainly designed to produce heat & keep metal or plastic PVC-type H2O pipe from freezing. It is wrapped around the diameter of the pipe & usually contains a thermostat that will turn the Heat Tape on & off at around 40 °F.

Heat tapes look like a long (6ft-100ft) flat electrical extension cord. This shape makes it easier to wrap the tape around pipes that are exposed to freezing tight against the surface of the pipe. Different than all other wirings that can become hazardous and shouldn’t get hot, this tape-like wire is specifically designed to produce heat. They are made to attach to plastic or metal piping up to 1.5 inches in diameter.

They are used mainly to keep water pipes from freezing, but they also prevent ice dams at gutters, downspouts, and roof edges. Heat tapes are useful as well in many other situations, including exposed fuel supply lines on mobile homes and refrigeration piping on commercial fishing boats and swimming pools.

Modern Heat tapes have a built-in thermostat that automatically calls for power and the resulting heat as the surrounding temperature drops to near freezing and cuts power off as the temperature rises. Those tapes do not draw electricity all the time, even though they remain plugged in. They should be used with power through ground fault circuit interrupter (GCFI) outlets. 

There are two types of Heat Tape Constant Wattage and Self Regulation Tape. Both do the same, but Self Regulation Tape can last longer, save energy, and be used on other applications for roofs and gutters.

Homeowners who live in seasonally cold climates must be aware of vulnerable pipes freezing, which can be a nightmare causing expensive damages. At the very least, a frozen pipe can block water flow through the house; at worst, it can burst open and leak gallons upon gallons of water. 

  • Measure the length and diameter of your pipe
  • You can use electrical tape to attach the Heat tape to the pipe
  • Never use Heat Tape with an extension cord
  • Make sure if the Heat Tape has a thermostat, you attach it directly to the pipe with the tape.
  • Lopping the tape around the pipe- spread out, so it’s not overlapping-which can cause a fire.
  • Wrap tape on Elbows
  • Test the Heat tape by plugging it in and pushing the test button (it should light up with indicator lights)




How to Use Heat Tape on PVC Pipe



Heat Tape can also be used safely on the PVC water pipe that is exposed to outside temperatures in RVs, under homes in crawl spaces, or anywhere the PVC piping has a water flow in service. It’s wrapped the same way as copper-to-brass piping in garages and basements, with some extra precautions added.

New types of smart heating tape provide safer and more efficient ways to wrap PVC pipes without the threat of melting or freezing. This type of heating tape is called Self Regulation Heat Tape and is used by professionals daily. The new technology decreases its energy output, preventing overheating and melting the plastic pipe. This kind of technology adds life and saves energy when using heat tape. It does this by adjusting to outside temperatures along the length of the heat tape.

After you apply the tape to outside exposed PVC water, you need to wrap the exposed pipe in insulation which can be found along with the Heat Tape at any Home Improvement or Plumbing Supply store. The insulation is made from polyethylene or a rubber base material, depending on region and temperatures, that are easy to install.

It will keep hot water pipes from losing heat and keep pipes from unheated spaces from freezing. Some insulation has a higher degree of resistance to temperatures than others. For better heat distribution on plastic PVC pipe, use Aluminum tape BEFORE applying the Heat Tape to the pipe. Place the thermostat on the coldest end of the PVC pipe.




Can You Leave Heat Tape Plugged In


Many folks do, depending on the thermostat to do the task. The key to any type of water freeze protection, like Heat Tape, is the thermostat control and its position on the pipe. These heat cables are made to turn on when the temperatures drop below 3 degrees Celsius, which is 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most Heat Tape is made to last up to 3 years. But they do wear and should be inspected annually. 

Typical heat tape burns electricity at six to nine watts per foot per hour. That means each 100 feet of heat tape operating 24/7 can translate to an added monthly cost of $41 to $62 to operate heat tape, and leaving it powered up may just be a small waste of energy. If you turn off your heat tape in the dog days of summer, you could use that time to inspect the cable or tape for any cracks or breaks that could lead to a safety hazard. Never use Heat Tape with an extension cord. Power the cord or tape to a Ground fault receptacle (GCFI) in case of any physical wear.

Heat tape meets all safety requirements that are set by UL (Underwriters Laboratories) standards but has a history of danger in some applications. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), heat tapes cause approximately 2,000 fires, ten deaths, and 100 injuries every year. Some figures for deaths and injuries are higher and include estimates of property damage exceeding $25 million a year. A regular inspection of any electrical device that is exposed to the weather is the best approach. Always be Careful!

Winters Coming!


Read about my successful attempt to stop rainwater from getting into my old house with help from my friends here at MyWaterEarth&Sky called 10 Steps For waterproofing an Existing Outside Wall.


JimGalloway Author/Editor



References: A Safety Alert on Heat Tapes

OnTopRoofing-Self Regulating vs Constant Wattage Heat Tape



Recent Posts