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The Home Depot

Heat Cable Installation Guide

Pro Referral > Home Guides > Handyman > Heat Cable Installation Guide
Heat Cable Installation Guide

There are many problems for which heat cable installation is the solution, but for most homeowners, this task is mainly performed to prevent ice ruptures in plumbing or to reduce ice formation on roofs and in gutters during the winter months. Some heat cables are designed to provide a constant amount of wattage, meaning that the cable is always on and providing a steady, consistent amount of heat. Others are known as self-limiting or self-regulating, meaning that they automatically adjust the amount of heat they produce in response to the temperature that surrounds them.

  1. 1.Heat Tape Vs Heat Cable

    ...if you plan on doing the job yourself and you are not particularly experienced, most professionals would recommend heat tape...

    Though many people use the terms almost interchangeably, there is a difference between heat tape and heat cable. Both perform a similar function, but heat tape is generally sold in specific lengths that cannot be trimmed. Additionally, heat tape is a constant wattage product, which means that a separate temperature controller must be employed for it to be used in many applications.


    Heat cable is a more rigid yet more versatile product. It can be cut to the exact length necessary and is available in both constant wattage and self-regulating varieties. Also known as heat trace cable, this product is less do-it-yourself-friendly than heat tape, but gives installers more options.

  2. 2.Which is Right for My Home?

    The perfect product for your situation is not always easy to recognize. However, if you plan on doing the job yourself and you are not particularly experienced, most professionals would recommend heat tape. This product is extremely easy to install, relatively inexpensive to purchase (and also readily available), and is typically very effective for standard home applications like lining gutters and downspouts, warming shingles, or keeping pipes from freezing. One of the most important things to remember, however, is that good measurements are a key part of a successful heat tape installation, as these products are not generally able to be trimmed and will typically require a separate outlet for each length of tape that is installed.

  3. 3.Is Heat Cable Hiding a Larger Problem?

    Heat tape and heat cable are effective solutions in many situations. However, if ice dams are your problem, the most effective answer may not be heat cable installation.


    Ice dams form when snow is allowed to melt on top of the roof and then freeze again after it has seeped into cracks and crevices that it shouldn't. In some situations, this cannot be helped. For example, the position of some roofs leave the peak in bright sunlight and the base in shade; therefore, when snow melts at the top, it will hit colder temperatures as it makes its way to the base, where it can freeze and form ice dams. In this case, a separate heat source may be the only effective solution.


    In many situations, though, the melting and refreezing of water on the roof is better controlled not by introducing new heating elements, but by removing the amount of heat that is coming up from underneath the roof with additional ventilation. An attic fan, soffit vents, or other form of ventilation may be all that is needed to permanently reduce the occurrences of ice dams. This is particularly true in older homes where insulation and ventilation may be very out of date.

  5. 4.Do I Really Need to Worry About Ice Dams?

    If you live in any area that receives regular snow storms during the winter, the short answer to this question is a resounding yes. Though folks in warm climates will never have to deal with this problem, ice dams are serious business for northerners across the country. Not only can ice dams cause damage to roofing materials (most notably, asphalt shingles), they can cause a breach in your home's cladding, allowing water to seep into areas where it can do a significant amount of damage. Though heat cable and heat tape might not be the perfect solution for all ice dam situations, all ice dam situations require a solid solution. If you are not sure what your best course of action is, contact a professional before winter weather hits to make sure you're prepared for the upcoming cold season!

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