What Is Trace Heating?

Tuesday 13th February 2024

Joanna Grimbley-Smith

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Pipes in a factory CONTENTS

 

Electric heat tracing, often referred to as trace heating or surface warming, uses electrical cables to keep pipes and vessels warm or increase their temperature. The system protects them against freezing and bursting.  

Here at ICE Thermal, we offer our trace heat installation services nationwide. Our customisable trace heat systems can protect your pipe's integrity and help it maintain optimal temperatures. Our engineers are available 365 days a year, including out of hours. 

Read on to learn more about trace heating and what it can do for you. 

How does trace heating work?

Heat tracing, or the method of keeping pipes and vessels warm through surface heating, operates by either preserving their current warmth or elevating it to a desired level.

Imagine a long electric blanket wrapped around a pipe: when electricity flows through this blanket, it encounters resistance. The transformation of electrical power into thermal energy is achieved through this resistance. You can learn more about what resistance is here.

By maintaining the warmth in pipes, this mechanism keeps them from freezing and ensures they are the right temperature for material handling. It's all about maintaining balance – too much heat could damage contents while too little might not protect against cold weather effectively.

The components of a trace heating system

A typical trace heating system includes several key components: the heating cable (the heart of the operation), thermostats for temperature control, connection kits to power up the system, and insulation to keep the warmth from escaping.

The cables can be self-regulating or constant wattage. Self-regulating cables adjust their output based on surrounding temperatures, whereas constant wattage cables give off a steady amount of heat regardless of external conditions. The latter are usually simpler and often cheaper.

Fitting trace heating requires careful planning and execution. The pipes need to be wrapped well but not too tightly. The aim is even coverage without overlaps which could lead to hotspots or insufficient areas lacking proper warmth. You will also need to consider waterproof solutions if the insulation is used on pipes outdoors. 

The benefits of trace heating

One of the key benefits of trace heating is its ability to prevent water in pipes from freezing during cold spells. In industries where a nonstop flow is vital, this is exceptionally important. 

This system is not just about avoiding inconveniences; when water freezes, it expands, which can lead to burst pipes and significant repair costs. Trace heating serves as a safeguard, ensuring temperatures stay warm enough to prevent freezing.

In various manufacturing processes, certain materials need to be kept at specific temperatures for quality control purposes, too. Trace heating enables this precise temperature maintenance without needing bulky insulation or constant monitoring.

By optimising temperature control, this technique not only upholds the integrity of products but also curtails energy usage, offering a more streamlined alternative to conventional approaches such as steam tracing or employing room heaters.

Unlike centralised heat sources that may waste energy through dissipation before reaching their target area, trace heating applies warmth directly where it's needed most so it's far more energy efficient, as well. You can learn more about how thermal insulation reduces energy bills in this blog

Different applications of trace heating

Trace heating is a very versatile solution that can be used in lots of different settings for a range of purposes. 

Frost protection for pipes

During the colder months, water conduits risk freezing and rupturing, which could lead to expensive repairs. Trace heating maintains a consistent temperature so it prevents water inside pipes from freezing. This application is particularly crucial for buildings in cold climates and for industrial processes requiring constant fluid flow at specific temperatures.

Roof and gutter de-icing

Snow build up on roofs can cause structural damage or even collapse due to weight accumulation. Additionally, ice dams forming in gutters prevent proper drainage, causing water to back up into buildings. Trace heating offers a proactive solution by melting snow and ice before they become problems.

This method not only extends the life span of roofing materials but also safeguards against potential leaks that could lead to expensive repairs.

Maintaining process temperatures

In many industrial operations such as food processing or chemical manufacturing, maintaining precise temperatures is non-negotiable for quality control purposes. Trace heating ensures substances remain at their required temperature throughout processing pipelines or storage vessels, preserving product integrity during production cycles.

Contact us today

No matter where you are in the UK, our trace heat installation services can quickly make your property safe, warm, and more energy efficient. Our thermal insulation operatives have over 10 years experience of installing insulation in domestic and commercial properties, and can carry out an effective, bespoke project tailored to even the most unique requirements. 

Get in touch with our friendly team on 020 3376 4802 or [email protected] to find out more about how we can help you. 

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