Can You Use Heat Tape On PVC Pipe? (Find Out Now!)

Dennis Howard
by Dennis Howard

Extremely cold temperatures can be a big problem where PVC pipe is used for water systems. PVC pipe doesn’t deal well with liquids frozen inside the pipe. As the liquid expands, the PVC pipe often fractures. One solution for many homeowners is heat tape. Is it possible to use heat tape safely on PVC pipe?

Heat tape or other associated heat products can be used safely on PVC pipe. The key to safely using heat tape or cable on PVC pipe is proper installation and the right heat tape product. Care must be taken to keep the heat tape from overheating the PVC pipe. Overheating can weaken the pipe and lead to leaks or failures.

Nothing is more catastrophic to find a broken or leaking pipe filling your home with water. This scenario often occurs during bouts of extremely cold weather when exposed or even protected pipes freeze. Prolonged exposure to temperatures just a few degrees below zero can cause problems. Heat tape can make the difference between a trouble-free winter and an episode of burst pipes and freezing water.

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Cold Weather Protection for your PVC Pipes

PVC pipe has become a de facto standard in many areas of the country for residential plumbing. In areas where manufactured housing is common, the water pipes under the manufactured home are always PVC. These PVC water pipes need protection from freezing.

Heat tape can provide that protection on a 24-hour basis without more than a bit of routine maintenance and care during installation. Many types of heat tape are perfectly safe to use with PVC pipe. It is wise to consider all factors that affect heat tape and PVC pipe before performing any type of installation.

Choosing the Right Heat Product for your PVC Pipes

As you start selecting the heat product for your PVC pipe, you will find a variety of types, styles, and names. Before shopping, you must understand the terminology used and how these different heat products can be used.

In any event, you should ensure that the heat tape product you chose is rated by the manufacturer for use on PVC pipe. Some manufacturers recommend using their heat tape products on water pipes but not drain and waste pipes. Drain and Waste pipes are usually thinner-walled than schedule 40 PVC and may melt easier.

Pipe Heat Tapes

Heat tapes are much as the name describes. The heating part of the heat tape resembles a flat tape with wires inside the insulation that provide the heating. This type of heat product for PVC pipe is flexible and easy to install. Many of these heat tape products have adhesive on one side to ensure that the heat tape makes good contact with the pipe.

Generally, you peel off a paper backing to expose the adhesive. The heat tape is applied in a spiral pattern around the pipe. You should follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when wrapping the heat tape around the pipe. The heat tape must be spaced properly to give adequate protection. Under no circumstances should you overlap the heat tape as it is wrapped.

Pipe Heating Cable

The pipe heating cable is not flat like heat tape. Heat cable resembles a regular piece of wire and may be shielded by a metal braid to protect the cable. In most instances, heat cable is usually not wrapped around the pipe. The heating cable produces more heat than heating tape and can be run along the pipe to provide protection.

Because of this higher heat output, the heating cable need not be as snug against the pipe as heat tape. Most manufacturers include brackets or clips to attach the heating cable to the pipe. You must follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely when installing heat cables on PVC pipes.

Pipe heating cable is also known as heat trace

Only Use a Temperature Controlled Heat Tape or Cable

Heat tape and cable come with and without temperature controls. It is important that you only install heat tape or cable that has thermostatic control of the temperature of the heat tape. Heat tapes and cables that are safe to use on PVC pipes have a controller and an internal thermostat that prevents overheating.

Can I Also Insulate Over the Heat Tape?

Adding insulation over the heat tape or cable can be a great idea to further protect your pipes from freezing. Adding insulation over the heat tape can also lower the amount of electricity that the heat tape uses when operating. However, not all heat tapes or cables are created equal.

Check the labels and instructions that come with the heat tape. You should find instructions for using the heat tape. Most manufacturers will indicate clearly if you can put insulation over the heat tape. Never insulate over a heat tape of cable that is not expressly identified as intended for use under insulation.

Use the Correct Type of Heat Tape or Cable

Some heat tapes are rated only for indoor use. Don’t put these types of heat tapes or cables where they may be exposed to the weather. Whether the area under your manufactured home is considered weather-proof is hard to determine. It should be acceptable if skirting around your mobile home protects the heat tape from direct contact with water, snow, and other moisture.

Other heating products resemble heat tape and heat cable but are meant for other applications. One example is a heating product placed on the roof to prevent ice dams on your gutters. These heating products should never be used to heat plumbing pipes.

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Connect your Heat Tape to a GFCI Protected Outlet

Heat tape and cable, even those with a thermostat, can cause accidental fires. Be sure that any outlet you use to power your heat tape or cable has a GFCI breaker in the circuit. This will give you additional protection against short circuits and the possibility of an accidental fire.

Protect You and Your Home from Freezing Temperatures

A bit of prevention is much better than the results. You can avoid expensive plumbing repairs from frozen and burst pipes by adding heat tape or cable to your PVC water pipes. Adding heat tape to your PVC pipes is safe when done properly and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Dennis Howard
Dennis Howard

Dennis is a retired firefighter with an extensive background in construction, home improvement, and remodeling. He worked in the trades part-time while serving as an active firefighter. On his retirement, he started a remodeling and home repair business, which he ran for several years.

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