Where Should You Use Heat Cable for Frozen Pipe Protection?
After weathering Ontario's extreme winter weather for three-quarters of a century now, there is one fact we can state with surety.
If it can freeze, it will freeze.
However, just because your pipes can freeze doesn't mean they have to. Today we have the technology needed to guard against frozen pipes. Now, you can proactively protect your home and investments from burst winter pipes!
How Heat Cable Can Protect Your Pipes from Freezing This Winter
We recently blogged about various steps you can take to lower your risk of experiencing a frozen, burst pipe this winter. If you haven’t taken a look at that blog, we highly recommend giving it a read!
But, for the sake of saving you time, we’ll tell you the best way to protect your pipes right now!
The solution? Heat cable!
But what is heat cable and how does it work?
Heat cable, which is also sometimes called heat tape, is like pipe insulation on steroids. An electrical cable is concealed inside a special heat cable. This cable can be installed inside or outside your pipes, both inside and outside your home.
Two Main Types of Heat Cable for Protecting Pipes from Freezing
There are two different types of heat cable or heat tape:
Constant wattage heat cable
Self-regulating heat cable
Constant Wattage Heat Cable
As the name suggests, constant wattage heat cable has an inbuilt thermostat that delivers the same heat temperature to every area where it is installed. If the outside temperature increases or decreases, the heat cable temperature remains the same.
Constant wattage heat cable is the "set it and forget it" choice. It is made for homeowners who are worried about how unexpected low temperatures might impact their pipes.
Self Regulating Heat Cable
Self-regulating heat cable is responsive to changes in outside temperature. When temperatures rise, the amount of heat output falls. When temperatures fall, the amount of heat input ramps up again.
Self-regulating heat cable works similarly to how your home furnace works. It is tied to a thermostat that you can adjust as desired.
This can make self-regulating heat cable an economical choice if you are concerned about controlling energy costs.
However, you will need to actively manage the thermostat to ensure the setting is adequate for changing winter weather conditions.
Pipe Insulation Versus Heat Cable for Frozen Pipe Protection
Heat cable is commonly confused with water pipe insulation. But as we mentioned in the introduction here, these two anti-freezing aids are not identical.
Pipe insulation is primarily used to prevent heat transfer and humidity build-up. Here, humidity that leads to frozen condensation is typically the biggest concern.
Pipe insulation can prevent heat loss by blocking heat transfer but it will not add back heat to warm vulnerable pipes in extreme cold.
Heat cable is used to add heat back into vulnerable areas of piping. Constant wattage heat cable and self-regulating heat cable offer options for both:
How much heat to add back.
Where to add the heat back.
While it might feel tempting to double up by using both pipe insulation and heat tape together, experts often caution against this approach. It can actually cause excessive heat buildup in temperate climates or less-vulnerable lengths of pipe.
Where Should You Use Heat Cable to Protect Pipes in Winter?
As you might imagine, there are certain areas where pipes can be more vulnerable to freezing temperatures.
Heat cable is designed to add back protection in these areas that go beyond what pipe insulation alone can provide.
The most common areas where you might want to consider installing heat tape include:
- Pipes in crawl spaces, attics or basement areas.
- Pipes installed along exterior walls.
- Pipes that are partially exposed above ground.
- Pipes in seasonal cottages.
- Pipes installed underneath mobile or manufactured homes.
- Pipes in outbuildings such as garages and workshops.
There is one additional area where we highly recommend you consider installing heat tape. This is on the roof.
When water pools on rain handlers, gutters and downspouts and freezes, it can cause extensive roof damage. Even a collapse! Water pooling can also create water hazards on driveways and sidewalks below.
How to Install Heat Cable to Protect Pipes from Freezing
We mentioned that heat cable is often called heat tape. But it actually isn't tape at all.
There are two main methods for installing protective heat cable to protect pipes from freezing: inside the pipe or outside the pipe.
Outside the pipe heat cable.
Outside the pipe heat cable is often installed using electrical tape or cable tape at strategic points along the pipe. The tape simply holds the cable in place.
Inside the pipe heat cable.
Heat cable can also be threaded through the pipe itself to add back heat from the inside out. In this case, the heat cable is inserted into the pipe to keep the water flowing in places that might be inaccessible to outside heat tape or pipe insulation.
As we briefly mentioned in a previous section here, there is one additional area where you might consider adding heat tape. This is on the roof and along ancillary water management systems such as gutters, rain handlers and downspouts.
Heat cable used for roof, gutter and chronically wet ground locations must be rated for both indoor and outdoor use.
Gravenhurst Plumbing, Heating and Electric in Muskoka Is Your Heat Cable Expert
Our experienced, friendly service team has been serving our customers in the Muskoka area for more than 75 years. It is safe to say we know pretty much everything there is to know about preventing frozen pipes during our extreme northern Ontario winters!
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