Heat Tape Buyer’s Guide
What is heat cable and heat tape?
Heat tape and heat cable, for the purpose of ice control, refer to the same product. Heat tape is an informal description of heat cable. It’s like calling a White Castle hamburger a slider. Everyone knows a slider is a hamburger (okay, in the loosest sense of the word). Back to the point. Heat tape cables are special wires that are used to control ice accumulations, most commonly referred to as ice dams. We use the terms heat cable and heat tape interchangeably on our website and so do professional designers and installers around the United States.
Heat is generated as electric current passes through the conductive polymer core between the cable’s conductors. As the ambient temperature drops, the number of electrical paths through the core increases and more heat is produced. Conversely, as the temperature rises, the core has fewer electrical paths and less heat is produced.
Some heat tape for ice dams is referred to as ‘constant wattage’ and other heat tape is called ‘self-regulating’. Here is the essential difference. Self regulating heat tape cables consume only the energy they require to do their job. If it’s really cold and snowy, they demand more electricity. Constant wattage cables operate like a light bulb. They are completely ‘on’ and ‘off’. We often refer to the difference between these cables as ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’.
Which Cable Is Best For You?
Not all heat cable is created equal. Far from it. Some heat cable is essentially designed to be disposable (see Frost King, Easyheat and Wrap On). Other cables are designed to last a decade or beyond. Some of our customers are looking for a cheap, short term solution. Those people can get away with buying cheaper cable, which is often in a ‘constant wattage’ cable (more on that below). People interested in products with lower operation costs and longer lifespans and encouraged to buy ‘self regulating’ heat cable.
For professionals and homeowners who are looking for the quickest and easiest installation of heat cable, we recommend the following Plug-In or Pre-Made Heat Cables. Larger and more complex installations usually require heat cable by the foot, electrical connection kits and proper sensor and controls where necessary.
So, what is the difference?
Constant wattage heat cable is sold in big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes and on online retailers such as Amazon. They are surprisingly ‘affordable’, at least on face value. For example, a 100′ ice dam heat cable kit from Frost King and EasyHeat will cost around $59-72 if purchased through one of our multi-billion dollar mega competitors. In the photo above you can see a 100′ Frost King heat cable (left side). It weighs about 3.1 pounds and will last an average of one to two years. A coil of quality self-regulating heat cable, on the other hand, with tip the scales at over 10 pounds (right side, above photo). Holding the two side by side makes the difference quite obvious. In addition to the plain difference in quality, the other bummer about constant wattage heat cable is that it uses a ton of electricity during operation. The term constant wattage is used because this family of heat cable operates a lot like a light bulb. It is either totally on or off. Self-regulating ice dam heat cable is a totally different animal in that it ‘asks’ only for the energy it needs to do its’ job. We get into the geeky, technical details of how this process works in a different area of our website, but suffice it to say that self-regulating heat cables are smart about how they use electricity.
One could, therefore, look at heat tape cables as falling broadly into two categories; ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’. Not to judge you, constant wattage cable, but you are pretty stupid. You are cheap and stupid. Yes, we have a bias towards self-regulating heat cable. It is safer, more durable, more reliable, easier to install and far cheaper in the long run. Besides those factors the two are pretty similar. They are both black and look similar from 200 yards away.
Although self-regulating ice dam prevention heat tape cables are a far better investment, some situations call for the cheap stuff. For example, if you only need to manage your ice dam issues for a year or two, buy the cheap stuff (i.e., Constant Wattage). Let’s face it, sometimes we have really limited budgets. We can’t afford to drop hundreds on ice dam heat cable. We need a cheap solution for a short time period. This is a perfect time to buy constant wattage cable. If your goals include needing a solution for more than a couple years that is energy efficient, that can be installed with a low risk of failure, that won’t get damaged easily, et cetera, you should buy our self-regulating cable.
As experts in the field of heat tape for ice dam prevention, we have had the opportunity to examine the products of every significant manufacturer in the world. The truth is, there are only a handful of actual manufactures on the planet who actually make high quality heat cable. After having done the research we have settled on only three makes of heat cable that we would like to represent. We have the choice to buy cheaper cable but that is not our thing. We have chosen to partner with the finest suppliers if heat cable in the world because heat cable is all we do. Here are our suppliers:
A note from Steve Kuhl, Founder and CEO of Radiant Solutions Company.
Let me start by telling you a bit about who we aren’t as a company.
- We’re not huge, we’re not terribly ‘corporate’ and think in the long term.
- Our philosophy is simple. We have fun at work and we are quite human in our approach to how we do business.
- We understand that it’s a little scary buying things from a random company on the internet from people you may never meet.
My company is made of people just like you. We want to earn an honest living doing something we love. We want to build a future for our children. We want you to be so happy with your Radiant Solutions purchases that you tell all of your friends.
While we think of ourselves as fun people, we are dead serious about keeping you happy, from the moment you reach out through the completion of your project and beyond. Oh, and have I mentioned that we sell the very finest radiant heating products you can find? It’s true. Our products are manufactured by people I know and trust because I would have it no other way. I’ve been in the business of ice dam prevention and residential construction for the past quarter century so I’m fussy about my suppliers. I only work with the best.
Heating cable is also referred to as heat trace cable amongst the industry. It is used for a wide range of applications including pipe tracing, freeze protection, viscosity control, temperature process maintenance, roof and gutter, and much more. BriskHeat also offers XtremeFLEX Heating Tapes that are more flexible and provides a much more rapid thermal response. BriskHeat broad range of experience in solving your applications for viscosity control, condensation prevention, process heat, and freeze protection has allowed BriskHeat to become the world-wide leader in flexible surface heat and heat trace applications for piping, vessels, pumps, valves, and other objects.
Raychem (A Pentair Company)
Pentair Thermal Management provides self-regulating heating tape that automatically adjust their power output to compensate for temperature changes. Raychem brand self-regulating heating tape consist of two parallel conductors embedded in a heating core made of conductive polymer. The core is radiation cross-linked to ensure long-term reliability.
Raychem’s self-regulating heating cable technology is available in a range of products suitable for use in the home, in construction for larger buildings, and for industrial-based applications. Raychem’s self-regulating heating cable technology is available in a range of products suitable for use in the home, in construction for larger buildings, and for industrial-based applications.