Before you head south to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with the extended family, it’s a good idea to first secure your home’s plumbing against any late spring snow and ice storms. The Farmer’s Almanac refers to these weather singularities as Dogwood Winters. Farmers knew the weather could still throw them icy curveballs even into early May when the Dogwood trees start blooming. To ensure they wouldn’t lose their crops to a late freeze, farmers didn’t begin planting until the Dogwoods were fully in bloom. Today, with global climate change turning the weather upside down all over the world, it’s a good rule of thumb to always be prepared. After all, you don’t want to come home to a flooded basement or worse.
You may think heat cable, also known as heat tape or heat trace, is just something to help melt the snow and ice on your roof, but it also has other uses. One of them is to protect your water pipes from freezing and bursting. Our DIY experts here at HeatCable.com offer these three suggestions on how to keep your water lines from freezing and the materials you’ll need for the job:
Heat trace cable (measured to the length of your pipe)
Heat trace cable thermostat
Pipe insulation kit (recommended pipe thickness is 1 inch)
1. Choose the Right Heat Cable
The best way to start your project is to get a quality heat cable that is self-regulating. As opposed to constant-wattage heat wire, the self-regulating kind has a unique conductive core that will increase or decrease its power output, or wattage per square foot, in response to the temperature outside. As the system is technically always ‘on,’ it’s essential to install a thermostat with the cable to regulate the heat output properly. Otherwise, you could be saddled with an enormous heating bill if the line continues to heat when it isn’t necessary.
Our heat cable professionals can help you find the best heat cable options for your pipes and show you how to install them correctly.
2. Wrap Your Pipes with Heat Cable and Insulate
You’ll want to thoroughly wipe down your pipe and use a box cutter to shave off any metal burrs or other types of sharp protrusions on the surface. Now that the exterior of your pipe is smooth and dry, imagine its circumference is a clock face. Attach the heat cable at either the 4 o’clock or 8 o’clock position, depending on which side of the pipe is closest to the outside wall. For example, if the 4 o’clock position is on the wall side, run the cable along that side.
Next, secure the cable in position with fiberglass tape wrapped around the pipe and placed about a foot or so apart. Your aluminum tape will then go on lengthwise over the cable itself, further securing it to the pipe. Finally, it’s time to wrap the insulation around the pipe with the attached heat cable. Overlap wrapping (roughly the same way you wrap a bandage around your arm) is your best bet, as each section will then have two layers of insulation. Wrap your water-resistant clear sheeting the same way, which will protect the insulation from outside moisture. The plastic sheeting usually is included with the pipe insulation kit you can purchase at any home improvement store. Your final step will be to stick warning labels on the pipe at 10-foot intervals. The last thing you want is someone cutting through the insulation for any reason and inadvertently hitting a live electrical cable.
3. Keep Your Home Thermostat Set to a Consistent Temperature
It’s natural for you to lower your thermostat in the evening or whenever you leave the house to keep heating bills down. However, the benefits of keeping your home at a consistent temperature far outweigh the extra heating costs, especially in the winter and spring.
Depending on your location, weather can fluctuate from mild to freezing in a heartbeat, even well into May and June. You want to keep vulnerable areas like the basement and the attic warm enough that they won’t succumb to sudden frigid temperatures outside. Today, keeping on top of your thermostat is even easier with gadgets like Nest and Alexa, which allow you to control your home temperature wherever you are.
By installing a great heat trace cable system, insulating your pipes, and keeping an eye on your thermostat, you’ll be prepared for any winter weather Mother Nature can throw at you. And these are things you can definitely do yourself with a bit of professional heat cable guidance. Whether you’re in your home or away on vacation, that kind of preparation will give you peace of mind, and it may even lower your home insurance premiums. As Mom always said, “It’s better to prevent problems than to fix them.”