This post was originally published August 2014 and has been updated with additional content, resources, images, etc.
Homeowners and DIY enthusiasts have their pick when it comes to types of tape for household projects. The question is: which is the right type of the tape to get the job done? With so many choices, it can be difficult to know which tape is appropriate for your particular home improvement project.
We’ve created a quick visual guide to choosing the right tape for your next home improvement project to help make the decision processes easier, as well as a short animated video to highlight some of the differences. Check out these resources below.
Things to Keep In Mind When Choosing the Right Type of Tape
Not All Tape is the Same
There’s a reason why there are so many different types of tape. Each type of tape is designed to help you accomplish a specific task or work best in a specific scenario. Using the wrong tape for the job can lead to real problems, and can even create a safety hazard or leave unwanted hard to remove residue on floors, window frames et. You wouldn’t want to use duct tape for masking or scotch tape for electrical projects.
Pay Attention to Features
The width and thickness of your tape matters, but so does temperature rating, conductivity, and level of water resistance of your tape. If working on an outdoor project, make sure the tape you choose is thick and ideally water-resistant. For indoor electrical projects, thinner, non-conductive tape is best.
Tape Versus Sealant
For some plumbing and HVAC projects, tape may not be the best choice. In certain cases, using a sealant or mastic can provide a stronger, longer-lasting, more resistant solution than tape. The downside to sealant and mastic is that it can be messy and difficult to work with, making it much less convenient than tape. The only choices for HVAC duct work should be mastic or foil tape.
Ask a Pro
If you’re still unsure of which type of tape to use for your home improvement project, ask a home remodeling contractor or other building professional for some guidance. Big-box home improvement centers, hardware, or paint stores are almost guaranteed to carry the tape you need, and you can always get input from store employees as well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Sealing HVAC Ducts: Foil Tape vs. Duct Tape vs. Duct Mastic
Ducts within your home can spring leaks for a wide variety of reasons, and at any time, making it a somewhat tough problem to anticipate. That’s why it’s important to have your HVAC system regularly maintained. Still, if you suddenly have a higher-than-average energy bill, your air conditioner or furnace seems to have to work harder to cool or heat your home, or some rooms are noticeably different in temperature or stuffier than others, you may have leaks in your ducts. These leaks within the home can be costly, make your appliances wear out faster, make your home less comfortable, and waste energy over time. In fact, leaky ducts can be one of the largest energy wasters in the home that hinders your attempts at cutting down your energy bills.
Luckily, the ducts that run through your home can be sealed with either foil tape or duct mastic, and every DIY master or contractor has their own preference for what they use when working on residential ducts. Both of these options have their benefits and drawbacks, and just like any project, a professional assessment can go a long way toward ensuring the work is done right and will last well into the future. Here are a few pros and cons of both approaches.
Duct mastic is a gooey material that can be easily applied using a paintbrush and is readily available at most home improvement stores. Mastic can be applied generously to duct joints and leaks and is a great option for ensuring that the seal will not fail over time. Probably the biggest upside of using mastic is that it is a great choice for those hard-to- reach areas and sharply angled duct joints.
Unlike with using tape, you do not necessarily have to make sure the area is clean before using mastic. There is also no risk of mastic delaminating or stripping off over time. The biggest downside to using mastic is that it can be messy when you are applying it. We always recommend wearing old clothes and rubber gloves when sealing ducts with mastic.
Foil & Metal Tapes
To fill in holes and gaps, flat metal tape coated with an adhesive is a great choice. Foil tape should only be used for sealing. Quality tapes can be hard to find and must often be purchased at specialty heating stores. Purchasing low quality tapes from home improvement stores is not recommended because there is a high risk of failure after only a few years.
Professional quality tape will stand the test of time. Tapes are much cleaner than mastic, but they are a bit more expensive to purchase. It is also recommended that you clean the area before using any type of tape to seal. For long sections of hard, round ductwork, taping can be an acceptable practice, but irregular surfaces and dirt or dust can compromise the application.
Below we’ve included a nice comparison chart by 3M that details some different types of sealing and insulating mastic tape.
A Word of Caution
The term “duct tape” is quite misleading. Although the name of this product makes it sound perfect for the job at hand, never seal ducts with duct tape. Duct tape is not approved for use on ducts and, despite the fact that it works great for a variety of heavy-duty projects, doesn’t stand up to the conditions of an HVAC system. At Murray Lampert Design, Build, Remodel, we prefer to use duct mastic to seal and repair ducts. We like it because it stands the test of time and makes it easy to fill in those irregularly shaped areas of ductwork. If you have a leaky duct to repair, consider your unique circumstances and which material you feel most comfortable working with.
A word of advice with either option: choose a high-quality product. Again, don’t hesitate to ask someone at a home improvement store for their recommendation on the best product for the job you’re trying to accomplish. For quality HVAC installations and service in San Diego, we recommend Mauzy Heating & Air Conditioning.
Breaking It Down: Choosing the Right Type of Tape for the Job
Also known as “insulating tape,” electrical tape is made of plastic (most commonly vinyl) and is used to insulate electrical wires. It comes in a variety of colors to indicate voltage. Electrical tape is also great for labeling, grip enhancement, and cable installation.
Duct tape is considered the most versatile type of tape, and is a staple of many homeowners for an array of DIY projects. Modern duct tape is made with woven fabrics to provide strength & flexibility. It can be used just about anywhere heavy-duty adhesion is needed, although it is susceptible to high heat and leaves a residue when removed. As we’ve mentioned above, duct tape should NOT be used to seal HVAC ducts in your home. Mastic or foil tape is a better option for that job.
Foil or Metal Tape
If you’re tackling an HVAC job at home, aluminum foil tape should be your go-to. Foil tape is flame resistant, holds up in extreme temperatures, and sticks strong in high humidity. If you’d rather not mess with duct mastic to seal up your HVAC system, aluminum foil tape is a solid alternative.
Masking (Painter’s) Tape
Masking, or painter’s tape, is a paper-based, multi-use tape that is primarily used to mask off areas during interior and exterior painting projects. Key characteristics include easy tearing and low-grade adhesive to reduces damage and residue on surfaces once the tape is removed.
This video by Consumer Reports does a good job of outlining some of the best painter’s tape brands.
As the name suggests, carpet tape is mainly used to tack down carpets and keep area rugs in place. Carpet tape is flexible, durable, moisture-resistant, and usually featured adhesive on both sides. One-sided carpet tape is used primarily to join two smaller pieces to form a large section of carpeting.
According to Can-Do National Tape, there are actually four distinct varieties of packing tape: carton sealing tapes, printed tapes, gummed tapes, and label protection tapes. Each of these varieties is meant to work with certain package weights, sizes, and shipping methods. Most homeowners will be just fine using the clear plastic packing tape most of us are familiar with - also known as “Polypropylene Tape.” It’s strong, durable, and resistant to tearing or breaking during shipment.
Renters are probably the most familiar with mounting tape, which is a double-sided tape used to hang, mount, or display things on interior walls without causing any damage. Mounting tapes are usually foam-based, and they vary in size and by the amount of weight they are able to support and secure to a surface.