Winterizing your home is crucial if you live in colder climates. Frozen water lines and cold propane tanks can cause you sorts of issues. But is heating tape a good solution for keeping your propane tank warm?
Generally, you shouldn’t use heating tape to warm your propane tanks. Heat tape is known for occasionally sparking, which can be dangerous on or near propane tanks. This tape is better for running along pipes rather than encasing large containers.
In this article, we’ll dive into why heat tape isn’t the best option for keeping your fuel warm, and the risks it can pose. I’ll also present some alternatives for heating your propane storage.
Why Heat Tape Isn’t Great for Propane Tanks
You can put heat tape on your propane tank to keep it warm. But there are various reasons why you’d want to avoid doing that.
Heat tape is known to be a fire hazard, especially when improperly installed.
Combining a flammable device with a tank of propane generally isn’t a good idea. You shouldn’t use heat tape on your propane tanks unless the manufacturer explicitly states that their tape is safe for use on fuel sources.
Heat Tape Is Designed Chiefly for Covering Pipes
As the name suggests, heat tape consists of a long narrow strip of speciality fabric. Wrapping the tape around a tank may be difficult and still leave large areas exposed. Additionally, you can’t be certain that the heat provided by the tape will penetrate deep enough.
Your Propane Tank Might Not Need Heat Tape
Propane loses efficiency as external temperatures decrease. However, it won’t turn from gas to liquid unless it reaches -44°F (-42.2°C). Extreme temperatures like that won’t apply to the vast majority of homes and climates.
One way to conserve fuel is brushing off any snow or ice on your tank. You can also keep your tank more pressurized (full of fuel) or use a specialized canister heating blanket or bucket.
What Are the Risks of Using Heat Tape?
One of the reasons we don’t recommend using heat tapes on propane tanks is safety.
Heat tape is a vital tool for heating the plumbing of homes around the world. However, it comes with various risks that you shouldn’t ignore, especially as these dangers increase when combined with combustible propane gas.
A quick search online will quickly reveal numerous stories of these tapes causing fires.
Since it is incendiary in certain situations, you typically should NOT use heat tape anywhere near propane unless the manufacturer says otherwise.
Advancements in Safety: Smart Heat Tapes
Dangerous as they sometimes are, most problems associated with heat tape emerge from misuse. Most people use the tape properly and without issue for years. Additionally, thanks to advances in technology, heat tapes are growing safer and more efficient as time goes on.
Smart heat tapes have recently emerged as a solid alternative to traditional versions. They can be set to a specific temperature, reducing the chances of your heat tape overheating.
This YouTube video will give you an idea of how smart heat tapes work:
However, before using smart heat tape – or any heat tape, for that matter – on your fuel storage, make sure to check the product’s safety recommendations. To stay safe, you shouldn’t use heat tape for anything other than what their manufacturer intended.
What Can I Heat My Propane Tank With Instead?
Now that you know heat tape is rarely your optimal tank heating choice, you might wonder if there’s an alternative.
After all, propane tanks can still lose efficiency in extreme cold. Or, not work at all.
You can use a specialized heat blanket or heated cover to hear your propane tanks. Unlike heat tape, these devices are designed specifically for heating propane tanks and are much less risky to use. Additionally, they’re available in various sizes, so you’ll be able to find one to fit your needs.
If you’re looking for a heat blanket, I recommend the Powerblanket Lite from Amazon.com. It is UL, CSA, and CE certified, so you can feel confident using it, and it is available in several sizes, depending on the measurements of your tank.
When to Use Heat Tape
If you shouldn’t use heat tape for propane tanks, then what is it suitable for?
As mentioned earlier, heat tapes are designed primarily for warming pipes. You can use them on your water pipes to keep them warm in winter, preventing the water inside from freezing and affecting your plumbing. If the water freezes, your pipes may even crack due to the extreme cold.
Additionally, they can also be used on your gutters. Again, it prevents the water inside from freezing in the winter. If you do have ice in the gutters, the heat from the tape breaks it up and helps it melt, preventing dams from forming and reducing the risk of gutter damage.
Different Types of Heat Tape
There are two types of heat tape: silicone and braided.
Each type has its advantages and can help winterize your home.
As mentioned above, we recommend staying away from heat tape unless absolutely necessary. However, if there is no other option, braided tapes are typically safer for use on propane tanks as they’re less flammable and can safely overlap.
Let’s look at the types of heat tape to see how viable they are for warming your fuel.
Silicone Heat Tape (Flat Tape)
Flat silicone heat tape is the most common variety. This type usually has an adhesive side for running along pipes. It’s very flexible and easy to apply.
However, it’s generally the more expensive option of the two. Additionally, it’s also the more risky option, particularly if applied to fuel tanks.
This is because silicone heat tape becomes too hot if layered on top of itself. Sometimes this may just cause excess heat to short-circuit or melt the tape.
But if the tape sparks, that can ignite propane and create an explosion.
Braided Heat Tape
Braided heat tape is less dangerous than silicone tape, but it’s also more challenging to use. Often, it’s the type carpenters and insulators prefer because it’s buyable in bulk.
Furthermore, it is possible to overlap it without worrying about sparking, which is another difference between braided and silicone heat tapes.
Since it won’t combust from accidental overlapping, braided tape poses less of a hazard than silicone tape.
However, it doesn’t see much use by homeowners or DIYers due to its more complex application.
That said, if you have no other option than to warm your propane with heat tape, this may be your safer bet. Just make sure to read the factory recommendations to make sure it’s okay to do so.
BONUS TIP: Another Way To Winterize Propane Tanks
There is another straightforward way to keep your tank warmer and more efficient. And it doesn’t involve using external heaters either.
If you think back to science class, you might remember that increasing pressure also generates heat.
So, an excellent way to keep your tank efficient in the cold is by simply making sure it stays as full as possible. While filling up your tank may not make it warm to the touch, the pressure will help it run better in the winter.
Removing some propane and then refilling the tank periodically will allow pressure to rebuild and can also bolster your fuel economy.
It may be more of a hassle to refuel your tanks frequently. However, it’s also the safer option, as you’re not using a flammable device to heat your propane.
Keeping your propane tanks warm in cold months can make all the difference. However, heat tape generally isn’t the best way to accomplish that.
Instead, consider using propane tank heating covers and keeping your tank as full as possible.
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: Inspect Electric Tapes In Mobile, Vacation Homes
- WCAX3: Heat Tape Causes Fire at Mobile Home in Milton
- Theweatherprediction.com: Pressure and Temperature Relationship
- MB Sturgis Inc.: Propane Gas Facts
- YouTube: AppletonGroup: EasyHeat™ Self-Regulating Heating Cables
- O.E.M. Heaters: Heat Tape versus Heating Cable