Electrical tapes are the highest recommendation by experts and specialists, for handling wire exposure and insulation. But what happens when you run out of them and need to make a quick fix? While it’s mostly considered waiting until you get a new batch from the hardware store, the situation may have you seeking a solution on the spot. Well, in such cases, you can substitute with some other options. But before that, what do we know about electrical tapes? And how exactly are they designed to handle electrical repair works?
What is Electrical Tape?
Electric tapes are pressure-sensitive tapes, specially designed to insulate materials that conduct electricity. This may include wires, cables, cords, and other items that pass electricity between appliances and sources. Also called insulating tape, these tapes tend to have impressive thermal properties that make them perfect for these uses, and come in different grades and designs, to suit specific electrical uses.
As a rule, electrical tapes are made from materials that prevent conduction outside the insulation shield. The most commonly used are vinyl, rubber, mastic, and varnished cambric. Some special electrical tapes are made to insulate higher voltage, generally noted as Class H. These types use fibreglass- a material renowned for its thermal-resistant properties- as the base material to manufacture the electrical tapes.
Thermal resistance is a primary factor considered when making electrical tapes. This is because conductors generate a lot of heat as current passes through them. In time, the heat build builds up, and only a surface with enough resistance can withstand this. Anything less would cause the insulation to melt, exposing the conducting surface and risking an accident.
In addition to offering insulation, electrical tape is also designed to keep moisture out of the wire surfaces. Moisture and electricity don’t go well together, and too much of it can cause the wire to corrode easily, leading to faster degradation. And since bad wires are prone to accidents and short-circuiting, the vinyl, rubber, or mastic materials on electrical tapes are there to ensure such a problem is avoided for a much longer time.
Electrical Tape Substitutes
You may need to carry out quick insulation around your home, only to discover you’ve run out of electrical tape. While this may feel like a huge let-down, it helps to know you can find other substitutes for your DIY duties. Do note, of course, that these may not serve as well as electrical tapes, so, you can consider them as temporary solutions while you head out to restock your supply at the hardware store. Regardless, most of these substitutes for electrical tape will offer coverage for exposed wires, help you in jointing, and insulate splices in electrical cables.
Perhaps one of the easiest and safest options you can consider as a substitute for electrical tape is wire connectors. Also called wire nuts, these are caps made of plastic and threaded on the inside. The plastic material offers good insulation, while the threading allows the wire connectors to twist onto the exposed wire surface, making them perfect for securing jointed wire ends with ease. This connection is also easy to undo, as you can simply twist the wire connectors off with ease when you need to. Wire nuts are a popular insulation tool in many electrical works, so if you happen to have some in your store, make use of them in place of electrical tape. But they work best for low voltage areas like junction boxes and are best as connectors than insulators.
Another great substitute for electrical tape in wiring duties is Heat-shrink tubing. As the name implies, it’s a plastic tube-like material, somewhat like a straw, but thicker. Heat-shrink tubing is perfect for small electronic wire joining and is also easy to use. The tube is slid over one of the wires to be joined, and once the joining is completed, it’s slid over the connection to keep it secure and unexposed. Next, the tubing is heated with a heat gun till it shrinks. This prevents the wire joints from coming apart and toughens the insulation around the exposed wire surfaces.
Though popularly used today to improve grip on the handles of sporting equipment and bike handles, friction tape can also be substituted for electrical tape. This type was originally designed for this purpose and was heavily used for insulation purposes as far back as the 1930s before vinyl electrical tapes were discovered to offer better insulation. Friction tape is mainly made from cotton fabric, fused with a rubber-based adhesive that lets the tape stick on both sides. The rubber material offers considerable insulation to exposed wires, making them great for insulating splices in electrical cables.
Phasing tapes are coloured tapes usually found around wires and cables. Though many consider it a type of electrical tape, it’s primarily designed to identify the voltage capacity of different cables, especially in situations where numerous ones are packed in one place. It’s also used to identify phases of wires, which is where the name was derived. However, phasing tapes carry very high adhesive and insulating properties, making them a perfect substitute for electrical tapes. And they come in different colours, ranging from red to green, brown, blue, yellow, white, grey, and even orange.
Duct tape is very adhesive and can hold on to a surface for a considerably long time. And because the thick surface is made of a combination of PVC and woven fabric, it offers good insulation to jointed wires and exposed wire surfaces. Duct tape is best for wires that conduct very low voltage, like TV cords. They should also be considered as a last resort, but ultimately, they offer good insulation and can be substituted for electrical tape.
Precautions to Note When Taping a Wire
When taping a wire or wire joint, you must take certain precautions. Not only will these help you stay safe, but they also prevent electrical outbursts that may damage the electronics or appliances connected to the wires. So, follow these tips when next you wish to tape over naked wire surfaces.
Consider these substitutes as temporary fixes when you use them, and replace them with electrical tape as soon as you can. Only tape over abrasions, joints, and cuts. If a wire or cable displays extensive damage, it’s best to replace it. Always turn off the electrical source before taping over a wire. Never tape or join wires while they’re life!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can you use regular tape instead of electrical tape?
No. Electrical tape is specially designed to manage the thermal output of live wires, by checking the current and voltage of the wire. If you must use regular tape, it should be on a very temporary basis, and you should replace it with electrical tape as soon as possible.
How do you make the electrical tape stick better?
When applying the electrical tape, be sure to stretch it as you wrap it around the subject. This lets the tape stick better and spread over the surface, providing better insulation.
How long will electrical tape last?
A good quality electrical tape has a shelf life of 5 years. During this period, you can trust it to provide good insulation and adhesion to wire splicing and joining tasks.
Find a good substitute for electrical tape is not so hard when you know what to look out for. And each of the options offered here can help offer good insulation to exposed wires. While they may not be as effective as electrical tape, they still help you keep an environment safe in the meantime.