Heat Tape for Pipes

Heat tapes for pipes that meet the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) standards offer you and your family a degree of protection, but also be aware heat tape installation and proper use. Annual inspection and proper maintenance of the heat tape provide the most protection against freezing pipes and the highest level of safety.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers these safety tips for installing and maintaining electric heat tapes:

  • Inspect heat tapes each year and replace if you notice signs of deterioration. Look for discolored surfaces, especially at the plug, charring, cuts, breaks in the insulation or bare wires.
  • Carefully follow installation instructions. Different heat tapes have different installation requirements.
  • Always plug the three-prong plug into a three-prong outlet to make sure the heat tape is grounded.
  • Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) wherever heat tapes are plugged in.
  • Make sure you use heat tapes that are intended for use on water pipes (other tapes heat roof, gutters, or even garden soil).
  • Do not wrap the heat tape over itself unless specifically permitted in the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Do not cover the heat tape with insulation unless advised by the manufacturer. If you do insulate, use non-flammable insulation such as fiberglass, rather than foam or vinyl insulation that could catch fire.
  • Apply heat tapes directly on the pipe to be protected, never on top of the insulation covering the pipe.
  • Keep the end cap sealed and off the ground to prevent water from getting in. Moisture can lead to a fire.
  • If the heat tape has a thermostat, check the instructions to see if the thermostat should be placed against the pipe and covered with insulation or if it should be left hanging and uncovered.

Heat tapes perform a useful function, but like any electrical product they need to be treated with care. Don’t create a fire hazard in the process of keeping your pipes from freezing. Replace uncertified heat tapes that are more than three years old. Buy heat tapes that meet voluntary standards. Install and use heat tapes properly.