What is Heat Tape?

Heat tape? Heat cable? Heat trace? What’s the difference?

In today’s video, I’ll be explaining what heat tape is and how it’s different from heat cable and heat trace products.

First off, let’s define what heat tape is. Heat tape is a constant wattage resistive product that creates heat and is mainly used on small diameter pipes.  Here’s an example; it’s quite flexible and thin and has two main varieties: The silicone is used in low temperature applications (below 400 degrees Fahrenheit) and the higher temperature fiberglass can run up to 1400 F.  These products are oftentimes used in research and development and laboratory testing environments.

Now let’s explore, heat trace or heat cable. This is a self-regulating product often used on industrial piping applications less than 400F or residentially on roof and gutters, where it’s used for freeze protection or to prevent ice dams. For residential customers, we typically recommend the HTS-6 heat trace cable.

See these two parallel bus wires?  And the black stuff in the middle?  Well, that’s called carbon black and it’s electrically conductive. This means that at every point along the length of this cable, the circuit is complete. People use the terms heat cable and heat trace interchangeably and that’s perfectly fine - there is no difference, it all points to this product.

Now that you know the difference between heat tape, heat cable, and heat trace, I’ll explain the basics of how to use each product. Let’s start with heat tape. Typically, when using heat tape, you want as much thermal energy as possible to go into the process, so you are going to tightly wrap the tape around the pipe, but be careful not to overlap it or you will get burnouts which can cause a short circuit.  We always recommend having a control scheme on any heater system so that you have a feedback loop and more effectively maintain the system at your desired temperature.

Going back to heat trace, because it’s a self-regulating product, you don’t have the overlapping burnout issue.  The carbon black will expand out at the point of crossing, regulating the flow of electricity and making certain that the cable doesn’t overheat.  Having said that, you are typically not wrapping the pipe, but rather are installing the cable in a single straight run parallel to the pipe.  If properly sized, this will provide sufficient heat.
As with heat tape, you always want a thermostat or control panel in your system.  Also, the NEC requires all heat trace be controlled by a Ground Fault Equipment Protector breaker.  Remember the carbon black?  Well, if there is a short in the cable and this carbon black catches on fire, the whole length acts like a big fuse.  if this happens, it will be caught through ground fault protection, hence the requirement.

Heat Trace comes in two flavors, industrial and residential - also known as roof and gutter. Application of product is very different between heat trace and heat tape.  If you have an R & D laboratory and are trying to heat a small exhaust line to 800F, wrap it with this fiberglass tape and you could have enough btu’s to achieve your desired temperature.  Heat trace, on the other hand, is designed to maintain temperature in a pipe, not heat it up.  If you are running a biodiesel plant in Northern Montana, for example, and are trying to keep the lines at 80 degrees when it’s 20 below outside, the temperature will try and equalize, so heat will flow out from the pipe and into the ambient.  This flow is partially stopped by insulation… heat trace can make up the balance, allowing for the pipes to maintain their desired temperature. 

Industrial heat trace is tricky; there is a lot that goes into sizing, designing, and optimizing a system.  If you would like help with this process, Valin has an engineering team dedicated to heat trace -including our own controls line.  We do job walks, lay out the project with line lists, and isometric drawings, and of course, provide all the materials.

Industrial heat tape, self-regulating heat trace or cable, whatever your thermal needs, the dedicated process heat team and Valin are here to help! If you have any questions or comments about the video, please let us know in the comments section.

Thank you for watching, please stay tuned for more how-to videos in the future.

To learn more call us at   855-737-4718 or fill out our online form.