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Heat Tape versus Heating Cable:

What's the difference, and which one do you need?

Do-it-yourself and consumer roof de-icing

A lot of folks come to our website because they're looking for a more reliable heating cable for roof de-icing. Typically, the kits that are available in hardware stores (from the mom-and-pop place on the corner all the way up to the big-box retailers) will do a good job for a season, but come next year it's anyone's guess whether they'll start working again. We now have an answer to that problem in stock: the SpeedTrace Roof & Gutter Snowmelt Kit. This is a kit based around the popular and reliable SpeedTrace family of self-regulating heating cables – these cables have professional-grade durability and, with good treatment, we've known them to last a decade or more in use. Combine that with the hassle avoided by not having to go up on the roof every year or two to replace the cable, and the SpeedTrace kit is well worth the investment.

Industrial uses: Heat tape or heat cable?

We talk to folks all the time who ask us for "heat tape" when what they're really looking for is heat trace cable (a.k.a. heating cable, heat tracing cable, or heater cable). There are some industrial and scientific applications where you could use either one, but most applications – based on the geometry of the object being heated and the desired operating temperature – clearly call for one or the other. This page will discuss the differences between heat tape and heat trace cable and some of the application areas where one or the other should be used, and it will also provide links to the pages where you can purchase our heat tapes and heat trace cables. Of course, if you have any questions about the products or your application, please feel free to give us a call at (866) 685-4443, send us an e-mail at info@oemheaters.com, or fill out a contact form, and we'll be glad to help you out.

Heat tape

Heat tape is preferred for applications where small cylindrical sections require high power densities, which usually indicates high temperatures as well. One of the biggest differences between heat tape and heat trace cable is that heat tape is sold in fixed lengths – ours range from 2 ft to 20 ft in length depending on the style. With the exception of cut-to-length heat tape (please call us at (866) 685-4443 to find out more if you're interested) you cannot trim heat tape to length. Most heat tape is available in 120V and 240V versions, with power ranging from 52W to 3,135W. If anyone asks about power density we specify it in watts per square inch. Heat tape comes in widths ranging from 1/2" to 3-1/4". Heat tape is a constant-wattage product. Because it's a constant-wattage product, you must use a temperature controller of some type with it. Heat tape is available in several different varieties depending on the application area and the desired maximum temperature. Silicone rubber heat tapes are good for applications up to 450°F and are available with a built-in adjustable thermostat. They are also available in a grounded version that is UL-listed for applications in ordinary locations up to 305°F. Silicone rubber heat tapes are chemical- and moisture-resistant – note that does not mean that they are chemical- and moisture-proof; they cannot be immersed! Fiberglass-insulated heat tapes come without controls – no built-in thermostat. There is a grounded version available that is suitable for applications to 482°F, but it does not carry a UL listing. There is a version suitable for use on electrically non-conductive surfaces as well as a version for use on conductive surfaces; these tapes may be used for application temperatures to 900°F. Heat tapes made of Samox™, a high-temperature woven fabric, are available for applications to 1400°F. They also are available in a version suitable for use on non-conductive surfaces and a version suitable for use on conductive surfaces.

Heat trace cable

Heat trace cable looks more like standard two-conductor house wiring cable (Type NM or Romex™) and is not nearly as flexible as heat tape. It is available in self-limiting (often referred to as self-regulating) and constant-wattage varieties.

Standard self-limiting heat trace cable is available in 120V and 240V versions – the 240V version can be operated at 208V, 220V, or 277V – with nominal heat outputs of 3W/ft, 5W/ft, 8W/ft, or 10W/ft. It is suitable for applications to 150°F. Mid-temperature self-limiting heat trace cable shares the same operating voltage characteristics as the standard variety, but comes with heat outputs of 5W/ft, 10W/ft, or 15W/ft. Self limiting heat trace cable does not require a controller, though we recommend using at least a thermostatically controlled switch to avoid wasting energy. All of our self-limiting heat trace cables carry UL and CSA listings and are approved by Factory Mutual (FM) for ordinary and hazardous locations.

Constant-wattage heating cable is available for operation at 120V, 208V, 240V, 277V, and 480V and comes with heat outputs of 3W/ft, 5W/ft, 8W/ft, 12W/ft, and 18W/ft. Depending on the operating voltage and heat output chosen, many of our constant-wattage cables carry CSA listing and are CE-marked for ordinary locations, and some are FM-approved for use in hazardous locations as well. We carry general-purpose constant-wattage cable with a tinned copper overbraid, which is good for applications to 400°F. We also carry harsh-environment constant-wattage cable with a PTFE outer jacket that is suitable for use in areas where exposure to most acids and bases is a possibility. Harsh-environment heating cable is good for applications to 500°F. We also carry constant-wattage cables good for general purpose 500°F application with either a fiberglass core or a polyimide core. All constant-wattage heating cables require the use of a temperature controller.

Which product is best for my application?

If, after reading this, you're still not sure which product to use, we'll be glad to help you figure it out. Give us a call at (866) 685-4443, send us an e-mail at info@oemheaters.com, or fill out a contact form.