Heat tape, or heat cable, is insulated electrical wire that raises the temperature of rooftops, gutters, downspouts, and pipes to prevent ice buildup during the winter. Heat tape is installed in areas prone to developing ice dams, which can wreak havoc on your home and pose a dangerous threat to anyone standing or walking nearby.
If your home has had an ice dam problem in the past, heat tape may be an affordable and effective solution to minimize ice buildup. Here are some tips to help you safely install heat tape on your roof and in your gutters and downspouts.
Before You Begin
Consider Professional Installation
Heat tape can be difficult for homeowners to install on their own, especially in the winter—with low temperatures and potentially dangerous conditions. To ensure your de-icing system is installed correctly and safely, consider professional installation. If heat tape is installed sloppily or improperly or low-quality materials are used, the cable can overheat and cause a fire. You could also risk electrical shock when handling materials.
If you install heat tape yourself, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and monitor your heat tape regularly. Keep in mind that you may find variation and even contradiction in instructions that are publicly available. If you have any questions or doubts, use caution and seek professional help; don’t risk your personal safety.
Gather Your Materials
To install heat tape, you will need a ladder tall enough to reach your roof, a tape measure, heat tape, and roof clips. Never use extension cords; only plug your heat tape directly into a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) receptacle. Choose a dry day to install, and never climb up on your roof to do so; you could damage your roof and risk your safety.
Plan Your Route
What path will your cable take to get from start to finish—ending near an outlet? Will you start on one side of the roof and end on another side? Will you backtrack in certain areas? You should have a general plan in mind before you begin measuring how much cable you will need.
Measure the Area
Before you head to the store or go online to purchase your heat tape, measure the route it will take. For gutters and downspouts, simply measure the length, accounting for where you’ll need to backtrack. The roof is a bit trickier. Manufacturers offer varying descriptions of how to take measurements and calculate the amount of heat tape you will need. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the product you select.
Buy Heat Tape & Clips
Make sure to purchase heat tape that is UL-listed, which means it has been tested by Underwriter’s Laboratories. You’ll see a couple different types of tape while shopping: self-regulating and constant wattage. Self-regulating tape automatically adjusts its temperature based on outdoor conditions, while constant wattage provides a consistent level of heat output. Self-regulating tape is generally recommended for roof and gutter applications because of its superior efficiency. If you purchase a kit, it should include clips and spacers for installation. If you don’t buy a kit, you can purchase these items separately.
If You Choose to DIY, Read All Instructions Carefully
As we mentioned above, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions precisely to ensure you install everything properly. The safest way to install heat tape in your home is to have it done by an experienced, trusted professional.
Monitor Your Heat Tape
To save energy, keep the heat tape unplugged until it starts to snow. Once it begins snowing, you can plug it in and watch how it performs. If something doesn’t seem to be working right, unplug it and contact an electrician. If your heat tape was installed improperly, it could overheat and result in fire or electrical shock. After your heat tape does its job and the ice and snow are melted from your roof, unplug it again.
Ask a roofing professional to help you determine if heat tape is the best option for your home. Another option is to address the source of your ice dam problem, which is likely inadequate insulation and/or ventilation in your attic. Fixing these issues can make your home healthier and safer for you and your family. For more advice on how to keep your property safe from the elements, subscribe to our blog!