Learn how to design a successful heat trace system in this month's "How To" column.

New materials and controls have made heat trace systems an efficient method of avoiding heat loss and providing temperature control in process equipment. With a wider range of choices and new temperature options and control capabilities, the overall system design has been greatly simplified. The following information outlines some tips for successful heat trace system design.

This information is offered as a guideline. Please consult your heat trace manufacturer's literature for complete formulas and data. The first step in designing a heat trace system is to determine the heat loss from each pipe or tank to be traced. As a minimum you will need to know the following:

  • Maintenance temperature (Tm).
  • Minimum startup temperature (Ts).
  • Minimum ambient temperature (Ta).
  • Nominal pipe size (Dp).

Second, calculate the heat loss (Q) for each pipe or tank using the formula recommended by your heat trace manufacturer. Most manufacturers have a design guide that shows step-by-step calculations for pipe and tank heat loss. If manual calculation is not for you, most manufacturers have computer automated design programs that will take your pipe or tank information and calculate heat loss for you.

Table 1. When measuring the total length of pipe for a heat trace system, remember that inline equipment requires additional tracing.

Third, select the correct cable for your application. Self-regulating cables are the most popular and can be used on plastic or metal pipe for freeze protection. They can be effective in pipe process temperature maintenance installations up to 300oF (149oC).

Fourth, determine which jacket material will provide the desired level of mechanical, chemical and corrosive protection for your application.

  • Level I: Moisture and high humidity.

  • Level II: Aqueous inorganic chemicals.

  • Level III: Organic chemicals, acids and corrosives.

Fifth, select the cable output rating that matches your application. The watts per foot (W/ft) output should be higher than the watts per foot heat loss calculated above. If the calculated heat loss exceeds the output rating, consider spiral wrapping the cable, run two parallel lines of cable, or select a thicker insulation. Remember to adjust the cable output for supply voltage if necessary. Check the original manufacturer’s output ratings for use with supply voltage other than nominal.

Sixth, determine the total cable length. When measuring the total length of pipe for a heat trace system, it is important to remember that inline equipment such as valves, flanges and pipe supports requires additional heat tracing to maintain proper system operating temperatures. Sample component allowances are shown in table 1. Always follow your manufacturer’s recommendations with respect to additional cable allowances for inline equipment. After you know your total cable length, size the circuit breakers for adequate protection. The National Electric Code requires the use of ground fault equipment protection (GFEP) circuit breakers with a 30 mA trip level for heating cable installations. Thermal magnetic style circuit breakers are recommended because they minimize the possibility of nuisance tripping at low temperature that can occur with magnetic circuit breakers.

Seventh, select the thermostat control device that matches your application for operating voltage, switching current, setpoint range, sensor input, remote monitoring and alarm requirements. Ambient-air-sensing controls often are used in freeze-protection applications, and pipe-wall-sensing controls are typically used in process maintenance applications where precise temperature control is required.

Finally, select the appropriate cable connection accessories, including power connection boxes, splice and tee connections, pipe straps, cable end seals and tape wrap. Consult with your heat trace system manufacturer for design guides that provide complete specifications and data tables.

How To Checklist: Installation Tips for Heat Trace Systems

  • Insulate all conductive parts.
  • Seal all electrical connections against moisture.
  • Seal ends of exposed cable during installation.
  • On plastic pipes, install cable with aluminum tape.
  • Do not expose cables to temperatures above their maximum ratings.
  • Do not twist buss wires together at the end of the circuit.
  • Locate ambient temperature sensors in the coldest expected area.
  • Locate pipe temperature sensors at the lowest expected line temperature.
  • Use sufficient cable to trace additional heat sinks.
  • Install cable so valves can be removed without removing cable.
  • Megger check all heat trace circuits prior to energizing.