Mobile Homeowner’s Guide to Heat Tape Installation and Safety
The secret to staying warm in the winter is layering your clothes and the same goes for your home’s plumbing lines, you want as many layers as possible between the elements and your water pipe. In this article, we’re covering heat tape. We’ll help you understand why and how it works, how much it costs to run, how much you need to buy, and how to install it safely.
What is Heat Tape
Heat tape is used to prevent metal and rigid plastic water filled lines from freezing. In sub-freezing areas, heat tape is one of the most popular ways to protect pipes from freezing because it’s affordable and works remarkably well. Heat tape isn’t sticky. It’s really just a simple resistive heat-conducting flexible wire that uses electricity to produce heat. This heat source is held close against your vulnerable water lines and keeps the water from freezing.
Heat Tape for Mobile Homes
Older mobile and manufactured homeowners need to be extra careful when they choose a heat tape. There are two things to consider for older mobile homes: the water line material and the electrical system used in the home. Some of the old school water feed lines used in mobile homes (before PEX) is too thin to withstand even the lowest heat tape temperatures. If your home has the older rigid plastic piping you will need a low-temperature heat tape that is approved for that specific material. In addition, mobile home owners should only use shielded heat tape that is rated specifically for their homes electrical specs.
Most heat tapes that are lightweight and thermostatically controlled are not designed for older manufactured homes. Only brands that are UL listed for use in manufactured homes should be used. Most modern manufactured homes today have some sort of plastic-like water lines like PEX or PVC. When selecting your heat tape and insulation you need to be sure that you are getting a product approved for your particular application.
Aluminum Wiring and Heat Tape isn’t a Good Combination
Another issue for older mobile homeowners is aluminum wiring. While aluminum hasn’t been installed in mobile homes for decades there are still many homes that still have it. Aluminum wiring connectors (and the wiring itself) are prone to corrosion and that loosens the connections needed for safe electricity travel. Pair that with the high power consumption of space heaters and some heat tapes and you have a recipe for disaster. It’s a good idea that all older mobile homes have their aluminum wiring replaced as soon as possible.
2 Types of Heat Tape, 2 Types of Installations
There are two types of heat tape wiring installation methods. The first is the hardwired heat tape. These tapes are professionally connected to your home’s electric system and controlled with its own breaker. Most of us do not have the luxury of this type of installation because it requires a licensed electrician to install. The second installation method for heat tape is to run an outdoor certified extension chord and a GFCI outlet.
Self-Regulated Heat Tape
The newer automatic temperature controlled models (aka self-regulated) is the best choice because they save money on energy costs. These smart heat tapes only increase its temperature as colder weather sets in. You can pretty much plug, set and forget until you unplug them in the spring.
Silicone Heat Tape
There are two types of heat tape available for manufactured homes. The first type is a one-piece flat heat tape with a rubber or silicone coating. When silicone heat tape is installed, it must never overlap itself and the heat tape must not have kinks or steep bends. Locate the thermostat at the end of the pipe that will be the coldest. This particular heat tape is coated with rubber and resists moisture which helps it to last longer.
Braided Heat Tape
The second type of heat tape is braided. It is most recommended for mobile homes. Braided heat tape is a bit more complicated to buy and install. The braided tape is still This heat tape is sold by the foot, which can make it hard to judge exactly how much you will need. In addition, you must also purchase two ends to install on either end of the tape. When installed, it is wrapped around the pipe and can safely be overlapped without worry, which makes it safer to use. A downside to using this type of heat tape is that it has no rubber coating, the heat tape tends to rust and stop working due to the lack of a moisture barrier. Most contractors like to use this type of tape as they can buy it in large quantities and use only what’s needed for any particular job.
Best Heat Tape for PVC Pipe
Most PVC plumbing pipe can safely withstand temperatures between 140-160 degrees without fear of melting.
Where to Install Heat Tape
Heat tape should be installed on an exposed pipe located outside of your home only. As stated above, water supply and drain lines in the area between the ground and the bottom of the mobile home is the most common place to install heat tape for mobile and manufactured homes. Though the skirting or foundation helps hide the water lines and shield the pipes a bit from the elements, they are still exposed pipes in an unheated space. In the majority of frozen water line calls we’ve had over the last 2 decades a whopping 95% occurred under the mobile home. Usually within 3 feet of the ground connection point or where the mobile home’s belly wrap and insulation have been damaged or removed for some reason.
Materials Needed to Install Heat Tape
- The proper amount of heat tape, or braiding, needed to wrap around your water lines at a 6″ to 8″ interval.
- Power supply (GFCI outlet, extension cord)
- PVC/electrical tape
- Fiberglass pipe insulation
- Vapor seal wrap
- Tape measure
- Scissors and Knife
- Mask, gloves, and eye protection
- Supplies to clean your pipe (rag with cleaner)
You can make heat installation easier by preplanning and making sure you have everything you’re going to need before you crawl under the home. Pre-cut the tape, ties or straps you’re using to attach the heat tape to the pipe. You want to tape or tie it at least every 10-12″ but closer is always better. You want the heat tape to make constant contact with the water pipe. Learn about mobile home repair loans here.
How Much Heat Tape Do You Need to Buy?
The diameter and material of your pipe are used to calculate how much heat tape you should need. For instance, a 1/2″ copper pipe that is 18 inches long would need around 24″ of heat tape. Here are tables for various widths and lengths of pipe as well as material.
Also, be aware that if the manufacturer recommends it, you’ll need to buy the right amount of fiberglass insulation wrap as well.
How to Install Heat Tape
Oftentimes, the pipe you need to install the heat tape will be a few feet under a mobile home. If your home has a low crawl space you could be in for a tough installation. Other than that, installing heat tape isn’t that difficult. We rate it 6 out of 10 for those comfortable with common DIY home projects.
There are two ways to install heat tape to a pipe. The first is parallel where the heat tape is applied in a straight flat line against the pipe. If you use this method under your mobile home be sure to position the heat tape on the side most exposed to the weather.
Spiral Wrap Installation
The second method is to spirally wrap the heat tape around the water line in short intervals. This is a better installation method if your water lines are verticle and exposed to the elements on more than one side. In the image below you can see the light green line running parallel to the pipe. On the second pipe, the squiggly lines represent the heat tape and the black lines represent the tape that holds the heat tape to the pipe.
Wrap Heat Tape with Insulation
After you’ve installed your heat tape and made sure it will remain as dry as possible you can wrap insulation over it IF the heat tape manufacturer recommends it (many do). Insulating heat tape helps it maintain a constant temperature easier and protects it from damage. We only recommend fiberglass insulation in 99% of all situations. Fiberglass has a higher fire retardancy than other insulating materials such as foam sleeves so it’s safer.
To install fiberglass insulation around a pipe with heat tape you simply start at one end and wrap the water line being careful not to make your wraps to tight. Fiberglass Pipe Wrap at Amazon
Installing Vapor Seal/Barrier
The final step to installing heat tape is the vapor or moisture seal. A moisture barrier is installed the same way as the insulation but the plastic is wrapped in the opposite direction as the insulation. A snug uniform fit without being too tight is what you are trying to achieve. You want the insulation to be protected against the elements. Fiberglass insulation loses its effectiveness when it gets wet.
Other Important Information about Heat Tape
How Much Power Does Heat Tape Use?
The most common heat tapes use either 2 watts per foot or 7 watts per foot and keep your water line from freezing down to an impressive -50F degrees. Newsminer.com explains that if an average heat tape draws 5 watts of electricity per foot then a 6-foot long heat tape will use 30 watts to heat the pipe. With their current electric rates in Fairbanks, AK that 30 watts spread over 4 months would cost close to $20.
Is Heat Tape Safe?
Self-regulated heat tapes don’t get very hot at all which is why they aren’t helpful to unfreeze pipes. In fact, they should be installed on your pipes long before the first freeze. The new self-regulated heat tapes will turn on when the temperature gets below 40 to 38 degrees. Still, the Washington Post reports that modern certified heat tapes that have met the UL standards cause close to 2,000 home fires, 10 deaths, and 100 injuries each year. A majority of these accidents could be prevented if homeowners followed these suggestions:
- If your using an extension cord to power your heat tape be sure its rated for outdoor use.
- Only purchase UL certified heat tapes.
- Heat tape should have a grounding or three-prong plug. Especially in older mobile homes due to the metal chassis and grounding. Only use a quick-tripping ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) outlet.
- Do not install heat tapes inside walls, floors, or ceilings. Heat tape should only be used outside.
- Install heat tapes directly on the pipe you need to protect from freezing. Do not install heat tape around pipe insulation – only the pipe itself.
- Don’t cover heat tapes with insulation even if the tape manufacturer permits it.
- If you do add insulation, only use fiberglass or another non-flammable material. Do not use foam or vinyl insulation as they could catch fire easier.
- Do not wrap heat tape over itself even if some manufacturers allow it.
- Never use metal to secure heat tape to the pipe.
- Check the manufacturer’s instructions for the thermostat’s location. Should it rest against the pipe and be covered with insulation to sense pipe temperature or hang uncovered to sense air temperature?
- Inspect all heat tapes and electrical connections before winter and at least monthly during winter. Replace heat tape if it has cuts, cracks, charring, animal chew marks, bare wires or a loose or missing end. If it looks suspicious it should be replaced or removed.
Testing a heat tape thermostat.
Replace Heat Tape Regularly
Speaking of replacing, heat tape only has a 3-year lifespan. Most heat tape manufacturers warn that you should replace your heat tapes every 3 years minimum. Heat tape has a near-constant connection with both water and electricity and usually isn’t protected well from the elements.
Other Noteworthy Information about Heat Tape
You can’t add heat tape after your pipes have frozen and expect it to unfreeze your pipe. It will help, of course, but heat tape is a prevention product – it works by keeping the line from freezing in the first place. Read more winterizing tips for your mobile home. A water line that freezes and busts can be a troublesome and expensive mishap not only to the line itself but to the surrounding structures. Fortunately, there are some good options to choose from to help prevent any future problems. Learn more about plumbing in mobile homes.
Freeze Alarms are Smart
There are freeze alarms that can be installed to warn you when your lines reach a critically low temperature. The alarm itself is installed inside your home with a cord attached and running to your water line. The installation is fairly simple and straightforward, but as always follow the manufacture’s recommendations and instructions.
Good Ideas to Keep in Mind
You can find heat tape at your local hardware store or order online from an online retailer such as The Mobile Home Parts Store. or Lowe’s. The main priority is to make sure the heat tape is recommended for your home’s plumbing lines. Heat tape is a commonly used defense against the weather but it must be used properly and inspected regularly to be safe and effective. Thank you for reading Mobile Home Living!