Homeowners and mobile home residents who rely on electric heat tapes or pipe heating cables to protect exposed water and drain pipes from freezing are being urged by government safety experts to inspect the tapes or cables for possible fire hazards before the onset of winter.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission heat tapes or pipe heating cables are involved in an estimated 3,300 home fires that result in 20 deaths, 150 injuries and $27 million in property losses each year. In many cases, improperly installed tapes and cables cause the fires.
CPSC said heat tapes and cables are commonly used in crawl spaces and in the sub-structure of mobile homes, beach houses, mountain cabins, cottages and other dwellings where exposed pipes could freeze during the winter. Some heat tapes are plugged in year-round and are activated by a thermostat when the outdoor temperature approaches freezing. In other situations, homeowners plug in the tapes and unplug them in the spring.
Self-regulating pipe heating cables, identified by their round or oval shape, may be modified with an additional safety feature. It is recommended that an unfused attachment plug on self-regulating cables be replaced with the newer fused plug designed by the heating cable manufacturer for this application. With this feature, the fuse will prevent the tape from overheating.
The agency said annual inspections of heat tapes or pipe heating cables are necessary to detect any latent fire hazards. If the thermal insulation over the heat tape is damaged, the heat tape's plastic insulation should be checked carefully; if any cracks or signs of charring are found in the plastic insulation, or bare wires are exposed, the tape or cable should be replaced immediately.
Consumers should check that the proper kind and amount of non-flammable insulating material, such as fibrous glass, is securely wrapped around the heat tape in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Using too much insulation, with some heat tape, can cause a fire if the heat tape does not have a thermostat or if the thermostat is not covered by the same amount of insulation as the heat tape.
CPSC said improper installation of tapes could also cause fires. The tape should not be lapped over itself when installed around the pipe unless specifically permitted by the manufacturer's instructions.
Consumers buying new or replacement heat tapes should use the proper tape for the proper pipe. Buyers should know the diameter and length of the pipe to be protected, and purchase the tape labeled for that size. Since many pipe materials are permitted by local building codes, consumers should buy the appropriate heat tape for the pipe material.
CPSC noted that heat tapes and cables should never be wrapped over thermal insulation on a pipe or used near flammable materials. Existing tapes and cables should be checked to make sure no such fire hazards now exist.
About the U.S. CPSC
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risk of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product-related incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of injuries associated with consumer products over the past 50 years.
Federal law prohibits any person from selling products subject to a Commission ordered recall or a voluntary recall undertaken in consultation with the CPSC.
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