Heated Driveways

What You Should Know About Radiant Snow Melting Systems

A heated driveway after a snowstorm.
Overview of Topics:
  1.   A Brief History of Radiant Heat
  2.   Overview of Basic Components and How Snow Melting Systems are Installed
  3.   How do Heated Driveways Work?
  4.   How to Calculate the Operating Costs of a Heated Driveway
  5.   What to Look for When Purchasing a Radiant Heat System
  6.   Comparing Heated Driveway Systems

A Brief History of Radiant Heat

Believe it or not, the beginnings of heated driveway systems began centuries ago. Although radiant heat is perceived to be a relatively new heating technology, in fact, radiant heat was used thousands of years ago. While evidence points to civilizations in Asia using radiant heat 10,000 years ago, it was the ancient Romans who refined the technology (circa 500 B.C.), creating an under floor heating system called a “hypocaust”. A series of tiled pillars, roughly 2-feet high, supported the slab floor. Spaces were also created inside the walls of the building. A wood-fired furnace was located at the outside of the building and placed below the floor level. Heat from the furnace rose into the space under the floor, and eventually rose up and out through vents in the walls, spreading warmth as it travelled through the structure. The system worked surprisingly well, provided there was someone continually feeding the furnace with wood.

In the 1980s, the first standards for floor heating systems were developed in Europe. During this decade, radiant floor heating became the traditional heating system for residential buildings in Middle Europe and Nordic countries, as well as several countries in Asia. Eventually, western countries embraced radiant heat, utilizing both hydronic (water-based) and electric technologies. Today, heated driveways and floor heating systems are becoming more commonplace throughout Northern America.

Photo sequence (below) showing system design, installation, and completed heated driveway (dog not included):

System Components and Overview of How Snow Melting Systems are Installed

Heated driveways utilize a heating element (heat cable), an aerial-mount or ground-mount activation device (snow sensor), and contactor panel / controller. Electric snow melting systems use twin-conductor, resistance heat cable that is ideally embedded about 2-inches below the driveway's surface. The cold leads of the heat cable are then run to the contactor panel, which is typically installed on a wall in the garage. The cable can be installed under pavers, in concrete, and even in hot asphalt applications.These versatile systems offer a range of benefits to homeowners. (For more information about the benefits of radiant snow melting systems, visit our Heated Driveway Benefits web page.)

Most residential heated driveway systems feature an aerial-mount snow sensor that is typically installed just above the roof line at the roof's edge. The device has temperature and precipitation sensors, so the automated system operates only when needed. When the in-ground activation device is used, it is used in conjunction with the small Warmzone snowmelt control unit. This NEMA 1 wall-mount control panel is approximately 6x3.5 inches and is designed to also be controlled from an external signal (day/week timer, GSM-module or other signal source). The compact controller can be switched on/off (standby) and the snow melting system can be manually turned on in case wind causes snow drifts or ice forms in the shade. Read more about INSTALLING A HEATED DRIVEWAY.

How do Heated Driveways Work?

The activation device (snow sensor) has an adjustable temperature set point. When the sensor detects moisture and the temperature is below the set point (usually set at 39° Fahrenheit), it signals the contactor panel to send power to the embedded heat cable. The surface quickly warms and prevents the accumulation of snow. The system remains on for a short time after the snow stops falling to dry the surface of the driveway, preventing ice from forming. Then the snow melting system shuts off. Warmzone driveway heating systems also include manual override capability, so users can activate the system to melt snow drifts that may have formed due to wind, or to preheat an area before a large storm to better prevent snow and ice accumulation. Read more about HOW HEATED DRIVEWAYS WORK.

How to Calculate the Operating Costs of an Electric Heated Driveway

Like snowflakes, no two radiant driveway heating systems are exactly alike. Each system is designed according to ASHRAE standards, so it meets the specific demands of the project, such as the average temperature and snowfall associated with the location of the system. The system is also designed in accordance with the available power and homeowner's budget. To determine the general operating costs of a heated driveway, use the formula below to calculate what your costs would be.

1. Determine the total square footage of the area that will be heated.
2. Multiply the square footage by the heat required (37 watts per square foot for residential properties). This gives you a total for the watts per square footage required.
3. Divide this number by 1,000 to convert to kilowatts.
4. Look up the kilowatts-per-hour rate from the local power utility company.
5. Multiply the total watts-per-square footage by the watts-per-hour. This gives you the cost-per-hour of usage for the snow melting system.
6. NOTE: Heating cables and mats are rated in total watts. If the snowmelt system is intended for a commercial application, then you would multiply the total square footage by 50 watts to get a total wattage required. (E.g., 5,000 sq. ft. x 50 watts = 250,000 watts required.)

What to Look for When Shopping for a Radiant Heated Driveway System

There are many radiant heat providers offering snow melting solutions, but the products and services can vary greatly. So what do you look for? How do you know if one system is better than another?

First of all, one of the most important things for you to know is that a radiant heating system is only as good as its installation. So if you're serious about finding the best system for the best price, you'll want more than proven products. You'll want a provider that backs up its products and includes professional system design, installation training, and technical support services. Most reputable radiant heat providers offer snow melting systems with a warranty of 10 years.

A heated driveway after a snowstorm.

There are many radiant heat providers offering snow melting solutions, but they are not created equal. When searcning for radiant heat systems, be sure to check for the following:

  ●  A Company that Offers a Wide Selection of Products

  ●  Proven Quality of Heating Element with a Solid Warranty

  ●  Professional, Comprehensive System Layout and Design Services

  ●  Informative Website with Documentation and Instructional Videos

  ●  Technical Installation Support Services for Installers

  ●  A Company with Dedicated Customer Support Personnel (in house)

  ●  An Established Company with a Proven Track Record

  ●  Professional Project Estimates

Of course, perhaps "word of mouth" is the best reference. If possible, find a company that friends or neighbors have worked with, and can vouch for.

Comparing Heated Driveway Systems

The best heated driveway is not necessarily a specific brand, but one that has been custom designed to best meet your specific snow melting needs. Certainly there are top quality heating elements and system components that you'll want to use, but the design and installation of the system is what's most critical.

Reputable radiant heat providers will work closely with you and take several factors into consideration when designing a driveway heating system. Information necessary to design a system for your home or business includes: location and elevation, average winter climate, power requirements of the system and power availability, and of course, your budget. These are some of the factors used to determine the system that will be the most effective for heating your driveway and/or walkways.

Simply put, the best heated driveway is the one that not only features the top products, but is efficiently tailored to perform ideally under the conditions that are unique to your demands. In other words, the best heated driveway system for a homeowner in Fargo, North Dakota is going to differ from a system designed to heat a driveway in Tehachapi, California. Experienced radiant heat providers will carefully evaluate your snow melting needs before recommending and designing a driveway heating solution. (Beware of radiant heat providers that recommend a solution before learning about your specific snowmelt needs.)

For more information, call Warmzone today at 888.488.9276.