With the arrival of winter weather, many home and building owners will be faced with the problem of frozen water lines. Mobile home owners and occupants of older buildings, especially, need to protect water lines from the cold. The most common method of dealing with the problem of frozen pipes is the use of electric heat tapes.
Heat tapes are basically electrical wires covered with ribbon-like strips of plastic. They are installed by wrapping them around pipes. When the tape is plugged in and turned on, it warms up and keeps the pipes from freezing. Some models have thermostats, are plugged in year-round, and only come on when the temperature approaches freezing.
Consumers should be warned, however, that heat tapes can cause fires. Every year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, heat tapes cause over 2,600 fires which result in an estimated 20 deaths, 160 injuries, and over $25.4 million in property damage.
If it is necessary to use a heat tape, use only those tapes that have been approved by Underwriters' Laboratories (UL). Most heat tape fires are caused by heat tapes that do not satisfy UL's safety standards.
Any minor installation error can cause a heat tape to malfunction and result in a life-threatening fire. If you do not understand the installation instructions, do not try to install it yourself. Instead, hire a professional electrician.
Never wrap a heat tape in layers or allow it to overlap itself even the tiniest bit. That's the surest way to start a fire.
Check the tape often throughout the winter. If it shows any evidence of melting, discoloration, or charring, disconnect the tape immediately and replace it. Whenever the outside temperature rises above freezing, unplug the heat tape until it is absolutely necessary to use it again. Do not count on thermostats that are built into some heat tapes; they often do not work.
If you must use heat tapes, read this article again. It may save your life and the lives of your family.