Electrical tape is a critical component to electrical insulating and phasing tasks, and can be the difference between a safe splice and an accident waiting to happen. With so much on the line, using the right electrical tape is critical to getting the job done right the first time.
Prep for success on your next job with these 5 things to consider when choosing an electrical tape:
- Tape Grade: The grade of tape that you choose has a major impact on the tape’s performance. Factors such as backing construction, thickness, and dielectric strength all fall under tape grade. Electrical tape backings can be either monomeric or polymeric in construction. Monomeric electrical tapes are made using short-chain plasticizers, which have a tendency to degrade over time, but are an economical choice for light-duty, general purpose jobs. On the other hand, polymeric electrical tapes are made using long-chain plasticizers, which are more durable, provide tighter seals, and protect better against corrosion in professional applications. For these reasons, lower grades of tape tend to be monomeric, and higher grades are usually polymeric in construction. The thickness and dielectric strength generally increase as tape grade increases as well.
- Color: Basic general-purpose electrical tape is most commonly sold and used in black, but you can also find electrical tapes in every color of the rainbow. These are primarily used for phasing tasks as a way to color-code wires to indicate voltage, phase, and other information that electricians would need to know when working with that wire. Using the right color of electrical tape for phasing tasks is critical to ensure safety – the wrong tape color could indicate an inaccurate voltage quantity, putting technicians at risk.
- Tape Stretch: A tape’s quality is demonstrated not only by the tape’s ability to maintain its hold over time, but is also reflected in its ability to stretch and return to form. Elongation is a measurement often used to describe an electrical tape’s ability to stretch before breaking. A higher elongation means that the tape is strong enough to be stretched further without breaking. Lower grades of tape – particularly of monomeric construction – tend to keep their stretched-out shape rather than returning to form and holding tight to the wire being phased or insulated. You can easily see the difference in stretch between black monomeric and polymeric tapes because monomeric tapes lighten and appear grey when stretched, while polymeric tapes remain black, indicating a more stable construction. In order to properly insulate a wire using electrical tape, the tape must be stretched as it is wrapped around the wire, and should want to return to form after it is applied, resulting in the tape holding tight and not flagging or coming loose, even when subjected to moisture and other elements. For minor, non-critical tasks where a lower quality electrical tape is sufficient, it is okay for your tape to have less elongation, but for major jobs requiring precision and long-term hold, always look for a tape with high stretch that returns to form.
- Ease of Use: It might seem like a no-brainer, but don’t forget to choose a tape that is easy to handle! Look for an electrical tape that is hand-tearable and easy to wrap around wires. It should stick quickly and unwind easily from the roll without twisting or curling during application to avoid frustration on the job.
- Code Compliance: When choosing an electrical tape, pay attention to the label to determine whether or not the tape meets the requirements dictated by your area’s building codes. Tapes that are UL Listed or CSA Approved have been rigorously tested to ensure they will deliver the performance qualities needed to get the job done well.