Heat Tape FAQ's
Do I really need to use a thermostat?
In a word, YES! Heat tape will last much longer and be much safer for you and your animals if it is used properly and safely. The manufacturer of Flexwatt heat tape indicates it should never be used without a to control its temperature. My own experiences over the years also support this. While some will tell you it can be used "as is" in some widths and wattage's, Flex watt can get quite a bit warmer than you want it to if left uncontrolled regardless of the width or wattage which WILL lead to premature product failure and possibly trouble with your animals if your set up is not ideal. A relatively small investment in the right thermostat can save you quite a bit over the longer term. Other reasons to use a thermostat will be discussed later in this section.
Which side is up?
There is no top or bottom with heat tape. Either side up works equally well.
Can I cut this stuff?
Can you assemble my heat tape for me?
Absolutely. To really mash (technical term) the metal clips on there good, and correctly, you need the special crimping tool sold by the manufacturer. Can this be done at home without this tool? Yes. I have found folding the crimp over the heat tape and then crimping it with a hammer works well if you don't have the crimp tool, but why would you when we will do it to your specs- Just let me know what you need via a call/email and we can discuss it.
How does heat tape work?
Virtually all the heat tape you currently see on the USA market, regardless of who is selling it, comes from one manufacturer. Basically Flexwatt is a brand name of heating element originally designed to warm floors and other flat surfaces. Along each side of the heat tape is a nickel plated copper foil strip that conducts electricity to the black lines in the tape that make up the heating element. Heat tape is very thin and made of a durable plastic film which makes it ideal for heating reptiles. I have been selling heat tape on various racks/caging and cages for almost 10 years now with no significant incident. When used properly with a thermostat/rheostat it is a very useful and long lived product.
Why different sizes?
You will want to select the size flex watt heat tape you will use based on your application. A couple of things to keep in mind:
1) You want to create a basking area for your reptile, not a hot plate to sit on. I like to have the tape cover no more than roughly 1/3 of the floor surface area when flexwatt is used for belly heat. This will provide your animals with a nice thermal gradient so they can decide how warm they need to be.
2) Like about anything else in life, flex watt heat tape and thermostats CAN AND DO fail! You want to use enough heat tape width and wattage to do the job you need done and still maintain a safe environment should it fail and get hotter than it is supposed to. Your animals MUST be able to get away from the heat should it become too much. This is another very important reason not to cover more than about 1/3 of the floor area with the flexwatt heat tape when using it for belly heat. Ideally you should select the appropriate wattage/width so that you will only run the heat tape at about 50-75% capacity. For belly heat rack applications you MUST set up the thermostat probe on the heat tape itself for best results and highest safety. I can not stress this enough. DO NOT place your thermostat probe inside one of the tubs or off of the flexwatt heat tape in a belly heat setup. The most foolproof, consistent method is to place and secure the thermostat probe directly on the heat tape itself. It is a very good idea to check your thermostat probe periodically as part of your regular maintenance to make sure it is securely in place.
In most small to medium shoe and sweater boxes the 4 inch flex watt tape will do the job. Unless your room temperature is unusually cool you should get good results. For larger sweater or blanket box applications you would probably go with the 11" wide heat tape.
But if I place the probe on the heat tape with my belly heat rack I won't know the temp in the tub, Right?
Yes and no. True, your thermostat will not know the temp in the tub over the heat tape (basking area) but you will. Generally the heat tape will be warmer than the temperature in the tub. This is due to the air gap between the bottom of the tub and the heat tape as well as the thickness of the tub floor. I like to start with the thermostat setting about 5 degrees warmer than my desired basking temp. Let the system warm up for a couple of hours (this is important!) and check the results. If you are 2 degrees lower in the tub then raise the thermostat temp by 2 degrees. Wait about a half hour. Test again. Once you have the difference figured out it will remain pretty consistent.
Why go through this trouble when you can move the probe off the heat tape an inch or so and get consistent readings between the thermostat and the tub? Because you are not really sure how hot your flex watt tape is really getting, especially in a cooler room. With the probe on the heat tape you KNOW that your heat tapes actual temp is controlled. If you still can't get up to temperature then you need to consider a warmer room.
Ok, so how come 4"/10 watt gets hotter than 11" heat tape? Which is "safer"?
The maximum surface temperature of heat tape is determined by something called "wattage density", not width. The wattage density is how many watts of power is consumed by a unit of heat tape (usually a square foot or square inch). The higher the wattage density, the higher the potential heat output. With the heat tape widths generally used in reptile applications square inches makes the math a little easier.
4"/8watt= .17 watts/sq.in.
11"/20watt= .15 watts/sq.in
You will notice that the 11"/20 watt actually has the lowest wattage density of the group! There are a lot of misconceptions about heat tape out there, especially in forums, about which is "safer" or "hotter" and so on. Here are the facts.
My heat tape is not always the same temperature in all places?
Heat tape is not always as consistent as we would like it to be. While a very useful, good quality product it was not designed for use in ultra precision applications. The cost would be impractical. Over the years of use in our own collections, the hundreds of racks and cages we have built and the miles of element we have sold we have found that you can expect about a 5% fluctuation over the length of a section. Sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse. That adds up to about 5 degrees at a 100 degree setting on your thermostat.
Is this a problem? If you are set up right at the limitations of your animals, yes. If you are set up properly, almost never. Your reptiles are going to instinctively thermoregulate themselves if you let them. This is where your design comes into play! You want to allow them to move on and off of the heated area freely. If their tub in the rack system is 3 degrees warmer than your "ideal" temp then they will spend a little less time on the heat than the animal in the next tub that is 3 degrees cooler than the ideal temp. It is what they do for a living! Now, if you are substantially lower in temp that can lead to issues because the animal will not be able to achieve an ideal body temp. This is why a little planning a proper setup is important. You want your animal to have access to very slightly higher temps than it requires and also very slightly lower temps than it requires. With this arrangement your reptile will always be able to find a spot that is "just right".
How much of this heat tape can I hook up to a thermostat?
It is recommended you keep your heat tape runs at a maximum length of under 50 feet in length for the 4" heat tape and under 25 feet when using the 11" heat tape. Remember- these are considered maximums, it is wise to stay below them!Most thermostats used for reptiles are rated for 500-1500 watts. The 11" flexwatt tape is 20 watts per foot and a 500 watt thermostat will safely run around 20-25 feet total, a 1000 watt thermostat around 50 feet total. The 4" tape at 8 watts per foot and that same 500 watt thermostat will run 50 feet, a 1000 watt thermostat about 100 feet total. I typically choose not to run thermostats at their absolute maximum rating, it can lead to a shorter lifespan, just like keeping your gas pedal on the floor all the time when you drive your car will shorten engine life.