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Although it’s often concealed from view, adhesive tape is important to the building and construction industry. Tapes can be designed for every segment of the building process, including HVAC, electrical, painting, and minor repairs. Here are the five types of tapes every contractor needs:

HVAC, Housewrap, and Insulation Tape

HVAC, housewrap, and insulation tapes range from foil/film tapes to metal building insulation or mastic on rolls. HVAC tape is used to join and seal joints on rigid and flexible ductwork, while housewrap tape accomplishes the same function on housewrap, sheathing, insulation, and vapor barriers. Insulation tapes seal joints between pieces of pipe insulation or duct insulation.

The goal of these tapes is to provide a seal—often waterproof, airtight, and permanent—on a variety of materials. They may also be used to prevent air and moisture infiltration.

Because they are used on different materials, HVAC, housewrap and insulation tapes each have characteristics that make them suitable for their specific application. When selecting an HVAC tape, contractors must carefully consider the environment, surfaces to which tape will be applied, and UL listing (181A-P for rigid ductwork or 181B-FX for flexible ductwork) to ensure a quality seal that meets the code. Housewrap tapes must have excellent temperature, vapor, and humidity resistance to maintain a permanent seal in fluctuating conditions. And insulation tapes often feature excellent water vapor and smoke transmission resistance, and may comply with applicable standards such as UL 723 (Standard Test for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials).

Paint and Masking Tape

Paint and masking tapes protect walls, floors, and other surfaces during painting, sanding, cleaning, or general construction activities. Colorful masking tapes can also be used for light bundling, color-coding or marking.

Paint and masking tapes improve efficiency by protecting surfaces from paint and damage, helping to eliminate rework and costly touch-ups. These tapes are designed with varying levels of durability and adhesion, and may offer clean removability characteristics. Durability allows them to withstand various environments and applications, such as indoor/outdoor use and heavy foot traffic when applied to a floor, while different degrees of adhesion allow them to be used on different substrates. For example, a low tack tape is best suited for delicate surfaces, such as freshly painted walls and faux finishes, while a medium adhesion tape can tackle harder-to-stick-to surfaces such as wood. Removability is a key characteristic when considering which tape to use: there are some formulations that do not offer clean removability, while others can remain on surfaces for one to three days, or a week or more, without damaging the underlying surface.

Duct Tape

Duct tapes consist of a polyethylene backing infused with woven fabrics—typically cotton, polyester, nylon, or fiberglass—to increase its strength and durability. Duct tape is manufactured with a wide variety of strength and adhesion properties, for light duty to extreme duty applications. It’s important to note that, despite its name, most duct tapes, unless designed for that specific purpose, should not be used to seal ductwork. General purpose duct tapes are not UL certified like HVAC tapes, and may fail when overheated, leading to, among other issues, air leaks and inefficiency of the system.

General purpose duct tape is typically employed for strapping or bundling at a job site, or to perform both temporary and permanent repairs. Specialty tapes are also available for specific applications such as adhering to stucco or hanging certain materials. The strength of its adhesive and backing as well as its excellent environmental resistance also make it ideal for waterproofing applications. While most duct tape is silver, colored duct tapes are useful for taping down and marking cables and other equipment. When choosing duct tape for a specific application, contractors should consider its strength characteristics, environmental durability, tearability by hand, conformability, and the intended substrate or surface for application.

Electrical Tape

Electrical tape is used to insulate electrical splices, as well as wire jacketing, or to bundle wire and cable. While most electrical tape used in building and construction is black, colored electrical tapes, sometimes called phasing tapes, are produced to label wire voltage strength, phase, or function. The table below describes the use of standard electrical tape colors in different geographic areas.

Electrical tape is nearly always made of some type of plastic. Vinyl or a vinyl-based material such as PVC is most popular because of its durability and tensile properties. An electrical tape’s dielectric strength—the maximum electric field strength the tape can withstand before breaking down—is of prime importance when selecting a product. Important characteristics and specs include UL listing, testing to electrical standards such as ASTM D1000, tearability by hand, elongation, indoor/outdoor suitability, and durability.

Safety Barricade Tape

Barricade tapes can be adhesive or non-adhesive and usually bear a written message warning job site workers of the presence of wet paint, nearby high voltage wiring, or other hazards. Non-adhesive types are stretched between two surfaces to block off a dangerous area, while adhesive barricade tape is applied directly to a surface. Because of their role as a safety device, barricade tapes can be subject to approval by the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States.

Barricade tapes are often used outdoors, so they must have excellent moisture and humidity resistance and remain pliant in relatively extreme environmental conditions. Other important characteristics include tensile strength, elongation and stretchiness, and readability of the printed warning message.