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CPSC Re-Issues Heat Tape Guidelines In Wake Of Zoo Fire

Release Date: January 22, 1996

After receiving reports that a recent fire at the Philadelphia Zoo was associated with electrical heat tapes, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is re-issuing its guidelines for the safe use of electric heat tapes.

Electric heat tapes are frequently installed in attics and under porches of conventional homes and under floors of mobile homes to prevent water pipes from freezing. CPSC estimates that each year about 1500 fires, 10 deaths, and 100 injuries result from faulty electric heat tapes.

The fire at the Philadelphia Zoo killed 23 primates, all of them endangered species.

Early reports indicate that the fire was associated with electric heat tapes.

"The tragic loss of animals at the Philadelphia Zoo underscores the potential dangers of heat tapes that are old, worn, or improperly installed and maintained," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown.

"CPSC has done extensive testing of heat tapes and has pushed hard for the adoption of a national voluntary standard for heat tapes," Brown said. "Newer heat tapes that meet the national standards have a much better safety record than old ones. In addition, people can make using heat tapes much safer by following a few simple safety precautions."

To help prevent fires, CPSC strongly urges homeowners to replace uncertified heat tapes more than 3 years old with new heat tapes that have been certified to meet voluntary safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and the Factory Mutual Research Corporation (FMRC). Homeowners should check the installation instructions when they change types or brands of heat tape, which often come with different installation requirements.

CPSC also recommends the following safety information for purchasing, installing, and maintaining electric heat tapes:

-- All new heat tapes have a 3-prong plug. Always plug the 3-prong plug into a 3-prong outlet to make sure the heat tape is grounded.

-- Plug heat tapes into an outlet protected by a ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI).

-- Do not wrap heat tape over itself unless specifically permitted in the manufacturer's instructions.

-- Apply heat tapes directly on the pipe to be protected, never on top of the insulation covering the pipe.

-- Since moisture can lead to a fire, keep the end-cap sealed and off the ground to prevent water from getting into the cap.

-- Do not cover the heat tape with insulation unless advised by the manufacturer. Use non-flammable insulation such as fiberglass. Do not use foam or vinyl insulation that could catch fire from a failing heat tape.

-- Do not use heat tapes designed for water pipes on gutters, driveways, or fuel lines.

-- If the heat tape has a thermostat, check the instructions to see whether the thermostat should be placed against the pipe and covered with insulation or left hanging and uncovered.

-- Inspect heat tapes each year, replacing them if they show signs of deterioration. Look for discolored surfaces (especially at the plug), charring, cuts, or breaks in the insulation, or bare wires.

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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. 

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