How to Check if Heat Tape is Working – Easy Guide & Tips

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With winter making an ever-so-steady approach, now is a great time to get started on making sure all your plumping affairs are in order.

Because once your pipes begin to freeze over, there isn’t much you can do about it until that year’s season has well and truly passed.

One of the simplest and most common methods of ensuring your pipes don’t freeze over the winter months is to wrap them with heat tape or heat cable.

It is essentially a heating wire sandwiched between layers of pipe insulation. It’s supplied with electricity to generate heat.

However, quite often, your pipes can freeze over even when they’ve been wrapped with heating tape. This results in some miserably water-less showers despite you taking all the correct precautions.

A very simple way to avoid this nightmare is to just check your taping in the months before the onset of winter.

Don’t know how to? That’s where we come in. Read on to learn some quick tricks on how to check if heat tape is working.

how to check if heat tape is working

How Does Heat Tape Work?

For you to be able to properly check your heat tape, you need to first have a basic understanding of how it works.

The wires that form the center of your heat tape are supplied with electricity, which is controlled by a local thermostat. The thermostat is typically part of your heat tape.

Heat generated by the wire increases with the supply of electric energy.  The thermostat is in control to make sure that things don’t get too heated, pun intended.

In a typical set-up, the thermostat turns on at 40℉ and keeps the water in the pipes from freezing.

But in most models, the thermostat’s limit is set way higher than what it needs to simply prevent ice in your pipes.

This can lead to the wire burning out or the insulation peeling from too much heat, which are common issues faced in faulty tapes.

Types of Heat Tapes in the Market

An important aspect of being able to quickly diagnose your heat tape problem is to know the make of your own set-up.

The most common styles of self-regulated heat tape are silicone heat tapes and braided heat tapes.

Silicone heat tape is the more common of the two. It is the representative flat tape that comes to mind with the word ‘heat tape.’

When dealing with silicone heat tape, make sure that there are no kinks or sharp bends to the tape. While wrapping, make it a point to leave some space between the coils so that there are no overlaps.

In the case of braided heat tapes, thinner wires are woven to form a belt of sorts that can be wrapped around the pipe. They are a more compact set-up and therefore are ideal for mobile homes.

However, They don’t have a rubber coating as a barrier against moisture, like in silicone tape. This means they have a shorter shelf-life and require repeated installations.

Heat cables function just like heat tapes, but in cable form. They often come with a separate tape component to attach them to the pipe.

How to Check if Heat Tape is Working

Now that you know exactly what you’re getting into, you’re good to get started on how to test your heat tape.

Here is an easy protocol for checking your heating tapes efficiently:

Step 1: Before accessing any part of the circuitry, make sure all the electric supply has been cut off.

This includes unplugging the heating cord and more involved measures like switching the circuit breaker off. It’s safest to turn off the electric supply to the entire plumbing circuit.

Step 2: Even after the supply has been fully switched off, give the circuitry a couple of minutes to cool down. Then you may begin removing insulation.

Step 3: Once the insulation has been fully stripped and the entire taping is fully visible, check the tape. Look for any cracks or nicks in the insulation.

Step 4: If you do come across tears or exposed wiring, you don’t need to go any further. Simply remove the taped cover and rewrap the pipe with fresh heat tape.

Step 5: If you can’t come across any blatant defects, turn off the water flow. Place an ice pack or a bag full of ice on the pipes.

Step 6: Letting the ice sit for almost thirty minutes. Then, turn on the power supply for your heat tape.

Step 7: If your heat tape cannot heat up within ten minutes, it’s most likely an issue with the thermostat.

Step 8: Replace the thermostat. Retry the testing process.

Step 9: If the taping system still doesn’t work, then it might be time to bring in a professional.

Things to Keep in Mind When Working with Heat Tape

Some other factors to keep in mind when dealing with heat tapes are the compatibility of the pipe’s material and the heat tape model.

If your home is of an older make, and has aluminum wiring and connectors, using heat tape is definitely a bad idea.

The excessive heat will corrode the wires and make for unsafe electricity travel.

Similarly, if your pipes are PVC, set-ups with a temperature limit higher than 160℉ are bound to melt the plastic. This will leave your plumbing directly open to nature’s forces.

Before setting up the heat tape along your pipes, take the time out to fully consider tape-pipe compatibility. This helps ensure the longest possible lifespan for your tape and pipes.

This will also make for easier maintenance and faster problem-solving.

How Long Do Heat Tapes Last?

While it’s important to know how to check if heat tape is working, having a sense of how long said tape lasts gives you a good time frame for when these hacks will actually be of help.

On average, if the type of heating tape is well-suited to pipe make, they can last for three years.

It’s far more common that heating tapes tap out at two years, which is why it’s so essential they be regularly checked on.

An inspection once or twice a year helps catch any issues early on, which in turn helps increase your tape’s lifespan.

Further, if your tape is nearing three years of shelf-life and is beginning to give you trouble, you know better than to go check up on it once more. It’s reached the end of its capacity and you can save time by directly moving on to installing a new taping set-up.

Takeaway – Unfrozen Pipes All Winter Long

Winter might be inevitable, but frozen pipes don’t have to be.

If you’ve made the very smart decision of installing a heat tape system along your plumping, make another.

Regularly check on your taping to make sure that all is hunky-dory.

Follow the above steps, and you should have no problems navigating how to check if heat tape is working.

Best of luck, not that you’re going to be needing it. Reading this post has already prepped you to make sure your pipes stay unfrozen for the remainder of your time.

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