As a homeowner, you want to ensure your house is ready for winter. There are multiple issues to check for during this winter preparation process, however, preventing pipes from freezing is definitely among the top five. That said, ensuring pipes do not freeze can be done in multiple ways. One of the more popular options is to ensure the air inside a room never falls below a certain temperature.
Unfortunately, this common method does not always work. For example, said room may have an unknown leak. If this exposure is not closely monitored or patched up, the hole can let freezing air wreck havoc your pipes, leading to a nasty surprise when you come home from the holidays. To avoid enduring such an unwanted event, consider equipping your pipes with a self regulating heating cable.
Overview of Self Regulating Heating Cables
Also known as a heat trace cable, self regulating heating cable automatically adjusts how much heat your pipes are getting. By doing so, these cables effortlessly prevent your pipes from falling dangerously low in temperature. They come in all shapes and sizes too, which means you can use them on straight, spiral, and overlapping pipes.
Needless to say, the versatile nature of self regulating heating cables makes it possible to use them on almost all pipes, ramps or stairs, as well as gutters if you are looking for a way to better protect your roof in the winter.
That said, it is important to note that although self regulating heating cables are known by different names, there are three distinct methods cable manufacturers use to develop this energy saving equipment.
- Constant electric – cheap, non-durable, non-customization, slight damage causes whole cable to fail
- Constant wattage – cannot overlap, has to extend beyond pipes due to temperature gauge
- Cables designed to be self regulating – can overlap, be cut to size, damage does not equal total fail
Self Regulating Heating Cable Construction
Trace heating cables can be directly wrapped around pipes, typically in a spiral, or inserted directly into the pipe. The former method takes less set up, whereas the latter requires additional insulation outside of the pipe in most cases. That said, either method is safe due to how the cable is constructed.
Inside a self regulating heating cable is two wires, encased in multiple layers of insulation and separated by a dense area of polymer. The reaction polymer has to heat is why self regulating heating cables work. This unusual reaction can be adjusted to various temperatures too, making it possible to use self regulating heating cables on warmer devices, such as hot water heaters.
Thanks to this unique internal setup, electricity can safely be ran through a trace heating cable without having to worry about being electrocuted, short circuiting or setting fire to the household.
Self Regulating Heating Cable Features
Thanks to the protective layers of insulation and polymer, trace heating cables are a must-have for homeowners seeking novel energy saving techniques. Although self regulating heating cables do use electricity, they only do so on an as needed basis. In addition, by directly applying heat to household pipes, homeowners do not have to worry about heating a whole room. Which means less money is spent to avoid freezing pipes.
Another bonus can be found when using self regulating heating cables with your water heater. Since trace heating cables ensure minimal heat is lost, the water heater maintains its hot temperature for longer, resulting in a noticeable chunk of energy savings.
How Self Regulating Heating Cables Work
As we mentioned above, during construction, a pair of trace heating wires are wrapped in multiple layers of insulation with loads of space between each one. When electricity is applied, this inner area generates a current, and since the wires are encased directly in polymer, a unique event unfolds. As the polymer heats up, the electric current is restricted. The opposite happens when the polymer is cooled.
This self regulating ability makes it possible for these cables to be cut to size, without the entire thing failing, as well as other perks. For example, self regulating heating cables can safely be overlapped without having to worry about damaging the cable since it will automatically adjust itself to a safe temperature. Another bonus is the lack of a need for a temperature read-out.
Self Regulating Versus Constant Wattage to Prevent Pipe Freezing
As we mentioned above, during construction, the polymer used inside the self regulating heating cables are adjusted for intended use. Due to this, as long as household specific self regulating heating cables are used, they are completely safe, even without a temperature reader. Remember, self regulating cables heat output automatically adjust based on ambient temperature.
This reliable feature remains consistent throughout the entire cable too.
The same cannot be said for constant wattage cables. Inside this type of trace heating cable is an elaborate network of heating elements and wires, connected by solder. The design makes it possible to bounce electrical currents between the two polar wires, heating up the elements between them. This flow generates heat within each mini circuit along the cable.
From there, the entire lattice is surrounded by layers of insulation, such as Teflon, and monitored via the temperature read out. Since the heating elements do not automatically regulate the temperature out put, things can get dicey. For example, the read out at the end does not tell you if the cable is overlapping somewhere, which can cause the constant wattage cable to burn out in places.
In addition, as the name implies, there is in fact a “constant wattage” being used when this type of trace heating cable is used. Due to this, homeowners may find themselves paying more money for energy than if self regulating heating cables were used.
That said, the temperature read out on the constant wattage does make it possible to manually set how warm you want your pipes to be. However, if you want to take a hands off approach to winter preparation, self regulating heating cables are the way to go.