Best Pipe Heating Cables

Updated June 2021
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

52 Models Considered
14 Hours Researched
3 Experts Interviewed
204 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best pipe heating cables

Frozen pipes are not fun. In the best-case scenario, you may find yourself spending days trying to heat your pipes to the point where the water flows again. If your pipes burst, you could be facing thousands of dollars in repair and cleanup costs.

The best strategy is to prevent pipes from freezing in the first place, and a pipe heating cable is an excellent way to do this. A pipe heating cable can automatically regulate the temperature of a pipe, providing assurance as you go into a cold snap that you won’t wake up to a frozen disaster.

Factors to consider when choosing pipe heating cables include size, cable housings, thermostats, price, and whether you want your cables to have built-in LED lights. Depending on where your pipes are located, installation can be tricky. 

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The majority of pipe heating cables can be used on either plastic or metal pipes.

Key considerations

Durability

From cold and moisture to dirt and debris, a pipe heating cable can hang out in some pretty rough conditions. As such, it should be durable enough to survive the terrain and last for years without maintenance or breakage. (Based solely on pipe locations, installation for these cables can be a bit of work; this is not a task you would want to repeat every year!) A feature like rugged PVC coating can help to extend a cable’s longevity by providing flexibility and durability.

Length

The length of cable you buy is a primary consideration. You want a cable that is neither too short nor too long for your pipe. Luckily, pipe heating cables come in a variety of lengths to accommodate a range of pipe sizes. Cables can range from 3 feet to over 100 feet, and manufacturers often sell a variety of cable lengths within this range.

Diameter

In addition to cable length, the diameter for which a pipe cable is rated is important. Some pipe heating cables can be used with a variety of pipe diameters; others are only effective for thin pipes of 2 inches in diameter or less. If you buy a cable that is not rated for your pipe diameter, it may not be up to the task of keeping the pipe warm enough to avoid freezing.

Measure your pipe diameter and carefully, and read the cable listing (or check with the manufacturer) before buying a pipe heating cable.

Certification

For optimum safety, only select a pipe heating cable that has been UL approved and CSA certified. These benchmarks assure that a pipe heating cable meets quality standards and operates the way the manufacturer claims it does.

Installation

As mentioned, installation for a pipe heating cable can be tricky. It is not so much the mechanics of installation that pose a problem; rather, it is the location of the pipes you want to cover.  Add to this the fact that you may need to provide your own tape or ties — some cables ship with them, some don’t — and you may be in for an interesting installation adventure.

Before you begin installation, there are a few steps you should take. First, check the packaging to see if you will need to make a trip to the hardware store for tape, ties, or other items. Then, read the instructions carefully: they should be detailed, clear, and preferably illustrated. It is also recommended that you test the cable before installing it. To do this, plug it into a socket. After several minutes, the cable should be noticeably warm, indicating that it is working and ready for installation.

The majority of pipe heating cables are designed to only be used with full plastic or metal pipes. Check with the manufacturer before using a pipe heating cable on an empty pipe.

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Features

The cable

The cable of a pipe heating cable is actually made up of two parts: a longer heated section and a smaller section that includes the plug and other elements.

  • Heated section: This part of the pipe heating cable is responsible for heating the pipe. It is usually composed of a heating core surrounded by insulation and an external PVC layer.
  • Non-heated section: The plug, thermostat, and any LED lights are typically located on a shorter section of cable that is unheated. The plug should be grounded and have three prongs.

All cables should be durable and flexible, which can help with installation.

Thermostat

A pipe heating cable typically includes a built-in thermostat to keep the pipe temperature within a certain range. The thermostat will turn the pipe heating cable on when the temperature reaches a predetermined low (38°F is common) and turn it off when it reaches a predetermined high (usually around 50°F). This way, the cable keeps your pipe from freezing but does not become so hot that it poses a fire hazard.

LED light

Some pipe heating cables include an LED light so you can tell at a glance if the cable is doing its job.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Because of their low power usage, pipe heating cables are a more economical solution to keep pipes from freezing than turning up the heat in an entire room, cellar, or crawl space.
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Pipe heating cable prices

Inexpensive: Pipe heating cables under $20 tend to be shorter in length, often 10 feet or less, and may have a lower build quality and fewer features.

Mid-range: As you move up in price, length and quality improve. Pipe heating cable lengths in the $20 to $40 range are typically between 15 and 30 feet long. LED indicator lights are common.

Expensive: Pipe heating cables at higher price points tend to offer the greatest durability and length, with some reaching 80 to 100 feet. Plan to spend between $50 and $120 for a cable in this higher tier.

Pipe heating cables that install straight are easier to install and provide longer coverage than wrap-around cables.

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Tips

  • If the instructions call for the cable to be installed in a straight line, do not overlap sections of the cable, as this could lead to overheating.
  • All pipe heating cables have an extension length on one end (complete with plug), but unless the pipe lies close to an outlet, you will probably also need to invest in an extension cord.
  • For thicker pipes, consider installing two cables, on each side of the pipe, to maximize protection.
  • Never use pipe heating cables on fuel lines or pipes. Combining heated cables with combustible fluids is highly dangerous.
  • Carefully measure the pipe(s) you wish to protect so you don’t end up paying for more cable than you need. That said, if the cable is a wrap-around, you will need to buy a slightly larger cable than you would for a straight-install cable.
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When installing pipe heating cables, wear eye protection. This is particularly important with overhead pipes, where dirt and other debris could be easily dislodged.

FAQ

Q. How do pipe heating cables attach to a pipe?

A. You can use a variety of fastening types including electrical tape, ties, and even lengths of wire to attach a pipe heating cable to a pipe. One of the best solutions is to use cable application tape, which holds up better in varying temperatures than other types of tape.

Some pipe heating cable manufacturers include tape or ties with purchase while others do not. If you need to purchase your own tape/ties or wish to use a different type of securing system than the one included with your cable, note the added cost when budgeting for a pipe heating cable.

Q. Can I wrap pipe heating cables around a pipe?

A. This varies from cable to cable. Some pipe heating cables wrap directly around a pipe. While these can be more of a chore to install, you will use fewer fasteners to secure the cable. However, the majority of cables install straight down a pipe without wrapping around it. These cables are easier to install, and you will require less cable than a wrap-around to protect the pipe.

Always read the instructions carefully to verify the manufacturer’s preferred installation method.

Q. Which is better: pipe heating cables or pipe insulation?

A. This depends largely on the severity of your winters. If you have relatively mild winters with few freezes, pipe insulation should be all you need to protect your pipes. For areas of extended cold and wet weather, a pipe heating cable is a better option. If you’re still not sure which you need, it may be best to err on the side of caution and go with a cable.

 

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