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They Heat Cable: Everything You Didn't Want to Know But Should

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that improperly installed and low-quality heat tape causes more than a thousand fires every year, as well as several injuries and deaths. CPSC also estimates the annual property damage from those fires exceeds $25 million. The only area of your home designed for a roaring fire is the fireplace – NOT your roof, attic, or crawlspace.

Heat cable can be a fantastic addition to your home as long as it is set up correctly. In this article, we’ll help you understand more about heat trace products and their proper installation.

An Introduction

Heat cable is an electric wire cable that produces heat, and it is used for many residential and industrial purposes. These include keeping snow and ice off the eaves of your roof, heating your indoor pipes, or keeping the concrete in your office building’s parking garage warm enough not to ice over. The two main types of residential heat cabling are constant wattage and self-regulating.

Constant wattage heat cable will always put out a specific wattage per linear foot according to its voltage. Unlike self-regulating cable, it does not adjust its output according to the ambient temperature around the pipe or roof. Constant wattage cable has the potential to overheat and burn itself out, damaging your roof or other areas of your home. It is also more susceptible to cracks and shorts.

On the other hand, the conductive polymer used in the self-regulating cable automatically adjusts the temperature around the pipe relative to that on the surface. This kind of cable generally costs more, but it has a longer warranty life and is less likely to break down and cause issues.

Buying the Right Cable

As you can already tell, we generally recommend using a self-regulating cable, which is more efficient at melting snow and ice and certainly more convenient in the event of a freak snowstorm. It can be hooked up to the thermostat or other “smart home” products that will detect temperature drops and signal your heat cable system to kick into gear. We like to use Drexan heat trace cable, as it is exceptionally durable and well-tested. For more information on why we recommend Drexan, you can look at our comparison of some of the top self-regulating heat cables out there.

Getting the Electrics Right

Improperly installing heat cable can overload electrical circuits and create problems with other electrical items on a home or building. Most heat cable systems need to be dedicated to a circuit without sharing electrical with other things in a home. Otherwise, issues can arise when other items share the circuit.

Another critical thing to remember during installation is to make sure the self-regulated heat cable system gets the right breaker. Even many electricians are unsure of whether to use a Ground Fault Equipment Protection (GFEP) breaker vs. a standard Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI), but there is a definite protocol for optimal efficiency and safety. Contact an expert heat tracing wire installation team to make sure you’re getting your circuits right.

Lookout for Layout

Keep in mind that the heat cable is a melting source. If you’re melting snow from that source and directing water down a roof, you have to give that water a pathway from the start point down to the ground. Improperly laid-out heat cable doesn’t create a continuous path for that water to flow, creating loops directing the water into pockets that turn into ice. The last thing you want is your brand-new heat cable system to help make the very problem you installed it to prevent – an ice dam. You might want to check out the video tutorials we have created on how to lay out heat cable properly for more tips.

Seal Connection Points

If the cable being installed is not part of a pre-made kit, it’s up to you to make the proper connection and termination points. If connection points are not sealed properly with the right equipment and supplies, moisture can leak into the cable and find its way down the lines up to 50 feet away. This can cause the wire to malfunction and create a fire danger.

With the right ice dam prevention products, properly installing heat cable doesn’t have to be super complicated. And when the snow and ice eventually come around again, you will be ready.

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