What Makes Up a Heat Tape System For a Roof?
Many homeowners in the Denver-Boulder metro area are familiar with ice dams that routinely form just above the gutters on certain areas of their home’s roof under snowy wintertime conditions. The formation of ice dams could be related to issues with your gutters and downspouts, as well as inside the attic. If preventive or corrective measures in those areas don’t fully remedy the situation, the potential damage and safety issues that ice dams potentially present, both indoors and outside, usually dictates that installing a heat tape system for just those problematic roof areas makes sense to learn more about.
In this blog in our ongoing series of articles focusing on heat tape systems for roofs, we’re going to focus on the specific products that are used when our electrical team installs a heat tape system for a roof.
Quick Refresher: What Is An Ice Dam on a Roof?
An ice dam happens when a roof sees a buildup of melted and re-frozen snow, which, for any number of reasons, is unable to fully melt and drain off the roof. This more commonly occurs on the lower edges of the roof on a shady, colder side of the house, and is more likely to happen on roofs with a slope that’s not very steep.
Potential hazards posed by ice dams include:
- Damage to roofing, plywood & framing material
- Damage to gutters & downspouts
- Water leakage into the home
- Electrical safety issues
- Insulation damage
- Unsafe outdoor walkways or paths
- Potential damage below when huge, beautiful icicles give way from the house
Ice dam preventative measures include (consult a pro!):
- Confirming that your gutter & downspout system is unobstructed and performing properly (not a service that we provide)
- Making sure there was ‘ice shield’ installed on the roof sheathing on the lower edges of your roof when the roof was last replaced (also not an SHH service)
- Making sure the insulation inside the attic is installed correctly (not an SHH service)
- Confirming that there is adequate ventilation in your attic (not an SHH service)
- If all of the above doesn’t yield your desired results, that’s the time to talk to our electrical team about a heat tape installation
The Components of a Roof Heat Tape System
Here’s an overview of the primary components and pieces/parts that go into the professional installation of a heat tape system for a home’s roof, with hopefully some helpful details along the way.
The Heat Tape
Not surprisingly, the main part of the heat tape system is the actual heat tape, itself. Also referred to as heat cable or heat trace, this product is available as both a flat tape or as a round cable. For installation on the roof, and for gutters and downspouts, our electrical team at Save Home Heat often employs the flat product.
Heat tape for these applications is often found in premade rolls, available in a variety of lengths; the 50 to 150 foot range is common. It’s usually more economical for our customers to go the pre-made route. Cut-to-length rolls are also available for custom applications where this approach makes more sense.
Heat tape is available in 120-volt and 240-volt electrical power options. 240-volt systems are less expensive to operate, so if upfront costs are not prohibitive, they’re often our recommendation. Each case, of course, is unique.
Self-Regulating vs. Constant Wattage Heat Tape
The type of heat tape our team uses regularly for roofs is known as ‘self-regulating’ heat tape. As outdoor temperatures change, self-regulating tape automatically adjusts its electrical consumption and temperature output to match the needs of the roof. The other type of heat tape available is known as ‘constant wattage’ tape, which is either on or off and doesn’t have the built-in adjustment capabilities.
Specialty, outdoor-rated metal clips, normally supplied by the heat tape distributor, allow the tape to be safely and securely attached to your roof for a long, reliable life. Additionally, special hanger brackets are used to securely attach the heat tape to downspouts and gutters.
Special Electrical Connectors & Enclosures
As required by National Electrical Code and manufacturer specifications, special electrical fittings and connectors, outdoor-rated enclosures, and other electrical accessories may be necessary in some installations. Some of these items are supplied for the specific heat tape being used, while others are high quality, industry standard electrical products.
Dedicated Electrical Circuit & Breaker
Having an independent electrical circuit and breaker switch dedicated solely to the control of your heat tape system is the safest, most reliable long term approach, taking safety one step beyond the NEC’s requirement of simply having GFCI protection for the system. Our team routinely installs heat tape systems with their own dedicated electrical circuits, which includes an independent, labeled breaker switch in the home’s main electrical service panel.
Controlling Your Roof Heat Tape System
While commercial heat tape systems are often controlled fully automatically, with accompanying fancy, expensive control system and outdoor sensors, residential systems can be controlled by simply plugging the heat tape power plug into a GFI-protected circuit or turning on a pre-wired switch. In most cases, it depends on the preference of the homeowner. If preferred, a combination of manual operation along with timers, sensors, etc., can even be devised, if desired.
We have found that many homeowners prefer the manual-operation approach, which gives them the ability to decide, based on direct observation, when the system needs to be turned on, thus helping control operating costs (assuming you remember to turn it off!). Our Master Electrician works closely with our customers to design the control arrangement that works best for them.
Your Trusted Denver-Boulder Team for Roof Heat Tape Systems
An interesting side note: Our team does roof heat tape system installs on a year-round basis, even during cold weather, as conditions allow. To learn more or to schedule a free, low-pressure heat tape quote for your Denver-Boulder area home, please contact our expert electrical team at Save Home Heat Company.