Snow regularly blankets the Leavenworth winter landscape. A recent house there caused a wave of concern among homeowners. The culprit? Those zig-zagging heating cables, or heat tape. The incident brings a legitimate concern.

Can heat tape cause a fire?

Draped on the lower part of snowy roofs and frozen gutters, the zig-zagging heat tapes are common on homes east of the Cascade Mountains.

Inexpensive and easy to install, they danced in zig-zag patterns, aiming to fend off the menacing ice dams. Don Hester of NCW Home Inspections pointed out in a great article we found on Icicle Real Estate’s website, that the heat cables often acted as mere band-aids and concealed a deeper issue: warm air infiltrating attics due to what's called “thermal bypass.”

A recent fire in Leavenworth, reported by the Wenatchee World, adds a warning on the safe installation of heat tape for your roof.

In the reported fire - Chelan County Fire Marshal Bob Plumb suspected a faulty heat trace in the roof, the very element meant to melt snow and ice.

Some facts on heat tape

The Consumer Product Safety Commission gave an account of fire incidents caused by heat tapes in the 1990s:

On an average year in the 90s, there were 1500 to 3300 fires, 10 deaths, and 100 injuries.

Is the heat tape on your roof safe to use?

Yes - but you, the homeowner, are advised to

* Replace heat tape - over three years old with certified new ones.

* Make regular annual inspections that check for damage. This will ensure proper ground fault protection. This important inspection needs to be added to your regular autumn ritual.

* Properly install the heat tape as instructed in your manual.

“Check to be sure the cable has not been moved from its intended position. The heated portion of the cable must be positioned entirely on the roof and must not touch, crossover, or overlap itself.” -Frost King


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Gallery Credit: Cindy Campbell

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