Free web resources for heat tracing systems

Peruse these web resources for optimizing your heat tracing systems.

By Russ Kratowicz, P.E., CMRP

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Now that the nasty, cold weather is well out of sight on its annual migration to somewhere south of the equator, attending to outside maintenance ought to be much easier, safer and higher on the priority list. No doubt, you already have a backlog of maintenance tasks that Mother Nature dropped on your doorstep. If one of them has anything to do with freeze protection or heat tracing, you’re in luck. That’s because this month we’re going to take you on a hunt through the digital morass we call the Web in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free resources that you can use to optimize your heat tracing systems and improve their reliability well before that endless migration reverses direction. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.

How much do you need?

The cost of operating your heat tracing system is a function of temperatures, geometry and insulation properties, among other relevant variables. If you’re designing a new system, you want to match supply to demand the first time because it’s too expensive to change it later. Or, if you’re evaluating an existing system, you might be interested in knowing how well your predecessor matched them. But, to do this, you should have a basic knowledge of heat transfer and the Web has much info on heat and tracing. For an example, warm up that pesky desk rodent and send it to to scroll down and click on “Archives” at the left side. Then, click on the link to the January 2006 issue, after which you should select the article titled “Calculating Heat Loss” by Mark Crombie. This is a primer for calculating heat transfer via conduction, convection and radiation on cylindrical surfaces. Be sure to perform the search that Crombie suggests at the end of his article. You’ll find that worthwhile, too.

Don’t stress out

The linear coefficient of thermal expansion is a physical variable that defines the relationship between piping dimensions and temperature. Thermal stresses that arise when temperatures vary from the design value can impose huge loads on pipe racks, tank nozzles, pumps, inline equipment and fittings. Imagine, for example, the thermally-induced stress that can afflict the standby pump in a pair that handles any high-temperature fluid. Or, consider the stresses that arise when you leave the steam tracing running while the flow through the process pipe is stopped or the line drained. Both these situations are addressed in “Piping Design Considerations to Control Loads on Load Sensitive Equipment (Part I).” Check out this brief article by Carmagen Engineering, Inc., Rockaway, N.J. by tossing a hot mouse at and read all about it.

From the subcontinent

The Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore, Pakistan, offers a brief piece titled “The Maximum Heat Loss through Pipe Insulation,” by Asim Umer and Muhammad Adeel Zia. It points out that with flat insulation, heat loss is inversely proportional to insulation thickness, but with curved insulation on pipe, the loss-thickness relationship isn’t linear because the surface area through which heat flows isn’t constant. Based on economic measures only, it’s possible to calculate the proper thickness to wrap around your pipe, and the authors give you the calculations. Start by going to, which apparently is a subdirectory related to one of the heat transfer classes at the school. Anyway, scroll down the list and click on the first of two entries labeled “insulation optimizat...” when the page loads, be aware that some of the links at the left are dead.

Holding it in

After you fire up heat tracing of any type, you’ll need to keep buying energy to make it operate. With the industrial pressure to be a cheapskate who cuts costs and the social pressure to be a greenie who cuts carbon dioxide emissions, you might as well wrap thermal insulation around those traced lines and tanks. Having made this decision, I know you’re going to want to use an optimum amount of optimum insulation. A resource that can help guide your struggle to be a cheap greenie is available at Pop in for a visit and enter the phrase “mechanical insulation systems” in the title/intro keyword slot. Then, use the quick search feature to find the link to “Specifying for Mechanical Insulation Systems,” an article by Michael J. King. It explains the reasons we insulate something, reveals 18 considerations for developing a prioritized list of important selection factors, details the organization and content you should use when writing a spec for insulation, offers tips for communicating your expectations about material and workmanship, shows the information that should appear on your construction drawings, and gives you an outline specification that wraps it all up in a neat bundle.

Making the jump

If you’re going to use steam, the tracing lines must necessarily accommodate both steam and condensate. How you route the tracing around flanges, valves and other non-pipe line elements makes a difference in system performance. So argues Andrew Sloley in an article, “Make jacketing your strong suit,” that appeared in the December 2006 issue of Chemical Processing. This one-page piece is available at Read and take heed.

Academic standards

For the sake of uniformity and reliability, your plant ought to have some control over the components and systems that get installed. If you don’t have construction standards, you might be courting trouble. You could do worse than to follow the lead of the Facilities Division of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the group responsible for the buildings and grounds at the university. To help meet its vision — to become the international leader in university and medical center facilities — the Facilities Division put in place quite a few design standards that apply to new and retrofit projects. One of them applies to electric heat tracing. You can find this three-page document by climbing the Ivory Tower at, scrolling down to Facilities Standard 16690 and clicking to get your very own PDF.

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