The Installer's Guide to Heat Tracing and Insulation



Temperature regulation is key to the success of commercial and industrial piping and insulation projects. In some cases, thermal insulation is enough to solve the problem. However, sometimes temperature regulation becomes a more complex issue. Jacketing or cladding can erode over time due to natural wear and tear, and improper installation risks rapid heat loss. Thermal cycling causes expansion and contraction of jacketing material, which begins to deteriorate over time. 

Heat loss poses several threats to an insulation system. When a commercial or industrial facility loses heat in cold weather, pipes run the risk of breaking or bursting. As a result, maintenance costs go up, productivity goes down, and workers and equipment are put at risk. 

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The solution? Heat tracing. 

Heat tracing reduces the transfer of heat through proper insulation of pipes and vessels. A one-inch pipe will lose 10 watts per foot with no thermal insulation, but with fiberglass thermal insulation, the same pipe will lose only about 1.5 watts per foot.

What Is Heat Tracing? 

Heat tracing, or “trace heating,” controls pipe temperatures and regulates the temperature of commercial and industrial spaces more broadly. In order to apply heat tracing to a specific area, installers run electric heating along pipes. Installers are then able to regulate both pipes and vessels with more accuracy. 

Modern electric heat tracing incorporates trace cables to self-regulate and adjust heat output. A successful heat tracing project solution includes a monitoring system, heat sequences and alarms and notifications to ensure efficiency and safety at all times. 

The cables used in a heat tracing installation will depend on the circuit length and operating temperature. Self-regulating polymer jackets (PSB and HSB), for example, are most commonly installed for temperatures up to 392 degrees Fahrenheit and circuits up to 750 feet. According to the same article, power-limiting aluminum jacketed cables (AHT) can withstand temperatures up to 797 degrees Fahrenheit and circuits up to 1,000 feet. Mineral insulated cables can be used for temperatures up to 1,202 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 3,300 feet. Skin effect heating systems can stretch nearly 82,000 feet, and these systems are best suited for temperatures up to 482 degrees Fahrenheit. 

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What Are the Primary Benefits?

Commercial and industrial spaces turn to heat tracing as a method of temperature regulation for many reasons. Heat tracing is extremely versatile. Despite moisture or corrosion resistance, heat tracing proves to be one of the most effective measures of temperature regulation. In the winter, heat tracing can be used to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. Year-round, heat tracing regulates temps so that heat is distributed evenly and heating systems work as efficiently as possible. 

The more efficiently heating systems can regulate a space’s temperature, the more money the solution can save. Installers can maximize the benefits of heat tracing materials by packing pipes and heat tracing solutions together to increase effectiveness. 

In What Industries is Heat Tracing Most Common?

Heat tracing installation is most common in the oil and gas, mining and power generation industries. Storage, water and waste and chemical production and processing are other areas where heat tracing plays an active role in regulation, efficiency and cost reduction. 

In addition to maintaining the temperature of hot water pipes, heat tracing is also integral to the process of winterizing pipes, tanks and vessels as well as regulating floors, roofs and gutters. 

The most common energy-efficient insulation material is foamglas cellular glass. This material can be used to regulate temperature and to prevent water and water vapor from entering the system. For added effectiveness and durability, installers can use impermeable foamglas cellular glass insulation for long-lasting temperature control. 

Stay up to date with the latest trends on heat tracing and insulation and avoid wasting time or money on inefficient insulation systems that can later result in costly maintenance fees. Distribution International offers a variety of foamglas, mineral wool and other insulation products. We also offer a regular 101 webinar series and other educational resources to equip you with the tools you need to get started. 

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