When winter temperatures dip below freezing and stay that way for days on end, it means added work. It’s time-consuming and exhausting draining hoses and thawing frozen hydrants. Heat tape or cable might be the solution.

Heat tape is a marvelous invention can be wrapped around a hose or pipe to work like an electric blanket that keeps a hose pliable and the water pipe thawed. A thermostat in the “tape” is preset to keep the water temperature around 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit. Some are even adjustable.
To apply the heat tape, wrap it in a spiral around the hose or pipe, making one spiral approximately every six inches. Avoid any twists in the tape as you wrap. Heat cables are round, so they don’t twist as much as heat tape.

In order for heat tape to be most effective, it must also be covered by a layer of insulation. Foam tubing with a split in one side easily slips over a pipe or hose and adds a layer of protection from the cold. Secure the foam tube with black electrician’s tape (or Gorilla tape). Be careful not to compress the foam or you’ll diminish the insulating effect. Wrap the tape in such a way that you don’t compromise the expansion of the hose when it’s full of water.

Tapes and cable come in a variety of lengths, so the one that is suitable for your need. For example, you don’t need a 100-foot heat cable to wrap your frost-free hydrant that isn’t staying unfrozen.

Electrically-heated hoses are another alternative. They are made with waterproof heater circuits spiraled within the hose and are already insulated. These just plug into a GFI outlet and are ready to go. The heating element in these hoses activates when temperatures are near or below freezing.
Keep in mind that all of these devices require electricity and need to be treated with respect to avoiding electrical shock.

By Nancy S. Loving, DVM