What is Heat Tape and Why Would You Need It?

Heat Tape

Weather changes and every season has its ups and downs; while summer is perfect for showing off your body in a bathing suit, the heat can get uncomfortably high, and you have to walk around with sunscreen. On the other hand, a Christmas without snow does not feel right because it drains the fun away from making the snowman and snowballs; but have you ever considered the downside of having too much snow and ice building up on the roof of your house? If not, it is time to think about getting heat tape and here is everything you need to know about it.

What is heat tape?

American Hill Country Gutters describes heat tape as a protected electrical cord that protects gutters and pipes from freezing. Some refer to heat tape as gutter heaters or gutter heat cables. The heat tapes are instrumental; during winter, when the pipes are exposed to freezing temperatures, it can cause them to break. As for the gutters, during winter, snow and ice will accumulate, causing ice dams to build up on your roof and result in lots of damage.

Why should you install a heat tape?

Prevents ice dams

Ice dams form when snow in the warmer areas of your roof melts, and the water trickles down to cold areas that cause it to refreeze. If the process continues for some time, the colder areas will have accumulated too much ice in the roof, causing a dam. The ice dams result in mildew and mold formation, rotting, destruction of insulation of the drywall and siding as well as poor quality of air indoors. Mostly, the ice dams form in the valleys of the roof, on the eaves of the roof, around the chimneys and on low-angled roofs. By installing heat tape on the roof, you will minimize the buildup of water hence little chances of ice dams forming, and consequently, protecting your roof. However, it is essential to note that heat cables or tape do not eliminate ice dams or stop them from forming. Instead, they present a way to prevent buildup by melting the ice as it develops.

Prevents injuries

Large buildups of ice hanging from the roof of your house are likely to get too heavy for the roof to support and fall on a passerby. Besides, if it keeps melting down and refreezing in the walkway, it will create a thin sheet of ice that can cause people to slip as they walk. By installing a heat tape, you will have created a channel for the melting ice to follow the intended path, away from property and people.

Protect your roof

According to knockoutroofing.com, winter can wreak havoc on your home if you are not adequately prepared for it. A good roof can support 20 pounds of snow for every square foot and since 12 inches of snow is equivalent to five pounds, then if you have a quality roof, it should comfortably support four feet of the snow without caving in. However, the more the area you live in experiences cold temperatures, the higher the chances that you will be dealing with lots of snow on your roof. As a result, unless you invest in heat cable to melt the snow as it forms, it is most probable that your roof will have a short lifespan under the weight of the snow.

Improve gutter efficiency

When you installed rain gutters in your home, you were aiming at funneling rainwater away from the house and maybe to a tank or other preferred place. However, the minute the gutters are stuck with frozen water, the gutters will be damaged, and the exterior walls of your homes will be destroyed. Besides, if the gutter is not clear, any melting ice will trickle throughout the night and cause a disturbing noise, as chicoer.com explains. Heat tape, therefore, ensures that any ice finding its way on to the roof melts continuously and keeps the gutters running efficiently.

Do heat tapes have their disadvantages?

Unfortunately, as much as you need heat tape to guarantee that your roof lasts longer and you never run out of hot running water in your home, it comes with a few disadvantages which are:

High electricity bill

Nothing is for free, and while sources of energy have continued to increase, during winter, it is impossible to rely on solar energy for your power needs. You will have to dig deeper into your pockets if the freezing temperatures continue for long because then it is better to have an electricity bill than repair an entire roof. However, if there is a power failure, then you will have to fork out even more money to thaw out the frozen pipes before they cause further damage.

Require constant monitoring

The same way you do not buy your car and never look at how it is functioning to make sure it is at its optimal efficiency, you cannot install heat tape and relax; you need to check on it regularly. Even if the seller advertises that the heat tape can be overlapped, it should not be overlapped onto itself because then you will create a fire hazard by overheating the tape. Moreover, if the heat tape is on combustible materials such as woods, it is important to keep checking that it is not at risk of starting a fire because the more it heats, the further it decreases the ignition point of the wood or other material. Additionally, you should monitor the pipes to make sure that they are not leaking because heat tape installed on a leaking pipe will cause an electrical short on the heat tape.

Not an ideal solution

We have to agree that heat tapes save us from broken pipes and unnecessary costs, but as discussed earlier, they will not prevent the formation of ice dams completely. They are mitigation against damage from the inevitable. The best way you can avoid the need for heat tape is to install your water pipes in the interior of your home away from the risk of freezing temperatures, and ensuring that your water pipes are properly insulated.

Types of heat tape

Heat tapes are available in four main options, and with the following information regarding each one, you can choose the one that most suits your needs.

1. Self-regulating heat cable

This option is the one relatively new in the market and offers homeowners the advantage of not having to monitor it regularly. You do not have to control the temperature because it changes its heat output as the surrounding temperature varies. It also offers the benefit of a custom fit meaning whichever size you want; the seller will cut it to your preferred length. You can buy it as a roll or by foot, but you will need to also purchase a connection kit with an outlet and end plug. Although it can be safely overlapped, it is advisable to take precaution to prevent the risk of starting a fire, by following the manufacturer’s instructions.

2. Non-regulating heat cable

As the name suggests, it does not regulate itself and instead uses a thermostat to do so. It is however similar to the self-regulating heat cable since it also requires a connecting kit with an outlet and ends plug to operate. Another similarity is that it can be customized to whichever size you prefer, and is available in a roll or by foot.

3. Heated water hoses

If you are an economist looking to save on every penny that accompanies power bills, then this is the perfect solution. Heated water hoses are available from different manufacturers and come in multiple lengths, and they provide you with an excellent way of having running water throughout the winter. The hoses can provide hot water since when you plug them in, the wires inside the hose will heat the water along the pipes so that whenever you turn on the taps, you will have hot running water. However, when summer comes, or temperatures are a bit higher, the hoses shut themselves off automatically, so you do not have to worry about overheating, and consequently the electricity bill remains reasonable.

4. Automatic electric heat cable kit

The automatic electric heat cable kits protect your pipes from freezing and work at temperatures going as low as -38 degrees Fahrenheit. They have the advantage of being available in whichever length you might prefer and have a power indicator light, so you are always sure when it is on or off. Besides, the thermostat installed in the kits prevents you from spending too much money on electricity bills by automatically switching it on or off, depending on the temperatures.

How to choose the right type of heat tape based on the material

The rubber coating type

If you are looking for a heat tape that will serve you for a long time, then the rubber-coated type is what you need; it lasts longer since it resists moisture. It should not overlap itself when you install it, and it must lie flat along the pipe. You should also ensure that the coldest end is the one where the thermostat touches the pipe.

Silver- braided type

This type of heat tape can be a headache determining the exact length you need because it wraps around the pipe, and you must purchase two ends. While most buyers prefer that they can buy it in a roll and cut whichever length they need and save the rest for another time, it does not last long since it does not resist moisture and rusts after a while.

How do you install the heat tape?

Now that you know the importance of heat tape, you must be wondering how to get it in your pipes or roof, properly. After choosing the heat tape that is best suited for the pipes you have, bearing in mind that if you have PVC pipes but pick heat tape intended for metal pipes, you will melt your PVC, here is a quick installation guide:

1. Clean your pipes

Remove any insulation and dirt in the pipe, whether it is cobwebs or other debris because leaving them on makes them a fire hazard when you turn on the heat.

2. Attach or wrap the tape

Some heat tapes are designed to wrap around the pipe, such as the silver-braided heat tapes, while some need an electrical tape for attachment. Whichever heat tape you have, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to install it in the pipe, taking care not to overlap.

3. Insulate the pipe

It would make no sense to have a thermostat help you reduce your electricity bill, but your pipes keep dissipating energy whenever you turn them on. You should, therefore, insulate them with the proper material; for instance, if the pipes are in an area prone to get wet, then the insulation must be waterproof. Wrap the insulation starting from one end until you reach the other end then also use a vapor barrier for further protection. However, as you wrap the vapor barrier, go around the pipe in the opposite direction you used while wrapping the insulation and ensure that both the vapor barrier and insulation are snug but not too tight, just like Mobile Home Repair explains.

4. Plug in your tape

Once you are done with insulation, plug in the tape to the power source and the thermostat will start monitoring the temperature and turn on the heat when the need arises.

Final Verdict

From the discussion above, it is clear that you can never go wrong with having heat tape on your pipes and your roof. It may not offer a permanent solution to your ice dam problem, but it will go a long way in ensuring hot running water whenever you need it.


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