Ask any sparkie, tradie, or contractor what’s the most useful consumable they have in their toolkit, and they’ll probably tell you insulation tape. And although most people know that these pressure-sensitive safety insulators can used for everything from installing GPOs to insulating bare electrical wires, professionals understand that not all insulation tapes are the same, nor are all insulation tape repairs the same.
It’s these otherwise imperceptible insulator differences, however, that allow electrical technicians to quickly and safely navigate their way through all kinds of wiring installations, or to leave easily decipherable trails for the next technician to follow when they visit the installation. Colour is far from being the only difference between tapes though, and once you’re familiar with why one particular type of tape is better than the others, you’re going to look at insulation tapes from a new perspective.
Why PVC Insulation Tape is the Best for Your Electrical Wiring
It’s a fact: whether it’s on a job site insulating split bolt connectors, or quick repairs made to household appliances, you generally don’t have to search far to find heavy-duty PVC electrical tape in service. PVC tapes are manufactured in multiple thicknesses, boast variable ranges of elongation and elasticity capacities, and are designed specifically to insulate and protect electrical conductors, circuitry, and ultimately people from dangerous exposure to electricity.
Plasticized polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tapes are widely accepted for their electrical and mechanical properties, and understanding the characteristics that make them so effective at preventing shocks and short circuits is crucial to knowing where and how they’re typically used. They’re durable and easy to work with adhesive carriers which, unlike ordinary vinyl, rubber, or even mastic-type insulation tapes, long-life PVC tapes are convincingly better at resisting the 2 most detrimental factors to adhesive-backed electrical insulators: heat and harsh conditions.
High heat and corrosion resistance. With PVC’s natural UV resistance and ability to withstand temperature ranges from -45°C to 105°C, these flame retardant tapes won’t degrade when confronted with current overloads or severe heat, and boast the dielectric strength to resist moisture and chemical incursion.
Superior insulating properties. Based on voltage ratings and conditions, not only are insulated PVC electrical tapes supremely capable of preventing electrical currents from transmitting or leaking, their rubber-resin adhesive is also highly effective at preventing conductors from being contaminated by external sources.
Exceptional flexibility. While PVC tapes are thicker than standard insulation tapes, their no-shrink flexibility combines ideal binding attributes for irregularly shaped connections and splices, with incredible application versatility and user-friendliness.
Most importantly though, PVC electrical isolation tape is engineered to last longer than other types of insulator tape. Standard electric tapes will begin to lose their adhesive properties in as few as 5 years, while PVC tapes can continue to maintain their adhesion for 10 years or longer, even under severe environmental conditions. It’s a critical attribute to have when you’re working on either indoor or outdoor installations where equipment damage, fire, or even electrocution can occur because of insufficient, or failed protection.
Recognizing Which Tape Colours are Intended for Which Wiring Jobs
Although black is the most common colour of PVC tape, there’s a veritable palette of electrical insulator tape colours to choose from. However, just like with most low and medium-voltage wires and cables themselves, the standards-specific colours on tapes are used to identify precise details about cable voltage, phase, and even utilization. That’s why it’s imperative for anyone who’s either working with, or around taped installations to know what those colour distinctions are indicating.
For most Australia-standard installations, PVC electrical tape for sale regularly comes in the following colours:
Black. Black is regarded as the default choice for electrical insulation and can either be used for low-voltage/neutral applications or with colour-specific phasing tape.
White. This is also a low-voltage/neutral tape, and is ordinarily used as a more aesthetically pleasing alternative to black.
Red. This tape is used to indicate low-voltage / phase A conductors.
Blue. This tape is used for low-voltage / phase C conductors.
Green / yellow. This is used for earth / insolated ground wires.
You want to bear in mind that colour standards will vary from one geographical region/country to the next, so caution should be exercised when using electrical insulation tape, or when working around any type of taped connection. A conductor that’s been misidentified with the wrong colour tape can be lethal, so it’s essential to always turn the power off on any circuit before inspecting it or resealing a taped joint.
Understanding the Limits of Electrical Insulators and Tapes
Let’s be honest: when it comes to reliable insulation materials, and semi-permanent and permanent electrical repairs that you can trust, heavy-duty PVC tapes are the clear favourite. They’re also immensely efficient insulators too, and the long-term cost savings that can be realized by using PVC insulation tapes at the beginning of an installation or repair job can be significant.
Like all insulating materials though, PVC tapes aren’t without their limits, and knowing what those limits are is vital to maintaining realistic expectations, as well as staying safe when working with electricity.
Electrical tapes aren’t waterproof. Make no mistake: while the adhesives used with PVC tapes can provide an incredibly water-resistant seal for outdoor use, there’s no such thing as a purely waterproof electrical tape. However, when used together with multi-seal connectors, PVC tape does an amazing job of keeping water away from conductors.
Fire retardant isn’t fire resistant. Although PVC tapes are engineered to withstand scorching temperatures and to retard combustion, their ability to stop fires is limited. Ideally, you want to ensure that a conductor never reaches the point where either its sheath or its tapped insulation might melt or burn.
PVC duct tape is the best for vibration. Over-layering, or applying excessive amounts of PVC electrical tape to a connection to protect it from vibration is guaranteed to cause conductor fatigue and overheating. Instead, heavy-duty PVC duct tapes are the best damping mediums to shield installations from excess vibration.
The Final Word
At the end of the day, while there’s no substitute for replacing profoundly damaged wires and cables, or using cold or heat shrink for especially difficult repairs, a nearly impenetrable protective barrier is possible with insulation tape and the proper wrapping technique. No electrical professional wants to start without the safest and most workable tape available though, and that’s where the benefits of PVC come in.
Heavy-duty PVC electrical tape has all the properties necessary for quick, long-lasting splices and repairs. It’s the professional-preferred insulation tape for bringing safety to the forefront.