Electric heat tracing, heat tape or surface heating, is a system used to maintain or raise the temperature of pipes and vessels. Trace heating takes the form of an electrical heating element run in physical contact along the length of a pipe. The pipe is usually covered with thermal insulation to retain heat losses from the pipe. Heat generated by the element then maintains the temperature of the pipe. Trace heating may be used to protect pipes from freezing, to maintain a constant flow temperature in hot water systems, or to maintain process temperatures for piping that must transport substances that solidify at ambient temperatures. Electric trace heating cables are an alternative to steam trace heating where steam is not available or unwanted.