Tag Archives: Hydronic snow melting systems

Reviewing Electric and Hydronic Radiant Snow Melting Systems – Part II

Hydronic Radiant Heat

Continued from Part I

Hydronic heating was the first form of radiant heat, used by ancient Chinese civilizations and further developed by the Romans. Today’s hydronic floor heating systems feature PEX radiant tubing that is usually installed in concrete. For interior applications, the tubing is sometimes installed in a concrete mass called Gypsum Concrete or “Gypcrete,” or, more commonly in the grooves of the advanced Rau Panel system. The pre-cut wood panel method is known as a low-mass or modular board underlayment system, and is ideal for remodeling as well as most new construction projects.

Hydronic floor heating system being installed
Hydronic heated floor with Pex tubing inserted into Rau Panels.

The heating element for a hydronic system involves flexible tubing and specially treated water. Hydronic heated driveways use a closed-loop tubing system to heat the surface of the driveway. The tubing is generally made of a durable polymer (PEX tubing) or synthetic rubber to circulate a mixture of hot water and propylene glycol (antifreeze). The fluid is warmed to temperatures between 140 to 180 degrees F to deliver enough heat throughout the snow melting system.

The PEX tubing can be installed under a variety of mediums, including concrete, asphalt, stone pavers, etc. Successful operation of a hydronic heating system depends on proper tubing spacing and layout. Tubes are usually laid out in a spiral or serpentine pattern for even heat distribution, making initial installation a bit more challenging than that of electric radiant heating systems.

A water heater (boiler) is the heat source for a hydronic heated system, which can be powered by any energy source that satisfies the btu requirements, including natural gas, electricity, oil, wood, or even solar collectors. A circulating pump and supply and return manifolds, installed in an easily accessible location, transfer the liquid between the heat source and tubing.

Flexible Power Source Options (Low Operating Costs) – Because the boiler of a hydronic radiant heat snow melting system can utilize natural gas, oil, wood, or other cheap fuel, the operating cost for large hydronic systems can be lower than that of an equally sized electric radiant heat snow melting system.

Snow melting mats laid out to heat asphalt driveway
Retrofitting an asphalt driveway with radiant heat. Snow melting cable is placed on the original surface and new asphalt is then applied over the heat cable.

Electric heated driveway systems are generally more efficient than hydronic systems. Electric cables heat up instantaneously, whereas the liquid within hydronic tubing takes a while longer to be heated up before the snow begins to melt. Installation of electric systems is fairly simple for the “do-it-yourselfer”, and heat cable is also available in mats that can be rolled out for simple installation. The mats feature cable that is pre-spaced, attached to a durable fiberglass mesh backing. They can be easily rolled out to heat tire tracks or an entire driveway. This flexibility is invaluable in retrofit applications, where hydronic system installation is more evasive, and costly.

With both radiant snow melting systems, you have great flexibility in terms of the installation configuration (even more so with electric systems). Instead of heating an entire driveway, you may want to install heat cables to only melt snow in the tire tracks of the driveway. The heat cable for radiant snowmelt systems can be customized to heat just about any type of odd shaped area, large or small.

Radiant Heat Offers Flexibility in Terms of Options

If you are considering installing a heated driveway, there are three general driveway heating solutions that are typically recommended:

  1. Install radiant heating cable under the entire driveway pavement.
  2. Install only an 8-10 foot wide strip of heating cable up the middle of your driveway or main traffic area.
  3. Install two 24-inch wide tracks of radiant heat cable up the middle of your driveway.
Heated tire tracks in driveway
Electric heated driveway with heated tire tracks in concrete.

Electric radiant heat systems usually cost less to install, and are much easier to install in small spaces. The installation of a hydronic system is much more labor intensive and costs more for materials. However, for larger systems, you will probably save more money on the heating bill compared to electric warm flooring.

Make sure you work with experienced professionals who also provide system engineering and design services, included detailed CAD drawings. Warmzone is one of the best radiant heat providers that you could hope to find. They will work closely with you to ensure that the radiant snow melting system you install is the absolute best system for your specific needs.

Read Part I of this article

Hydronic Heated Driveways vs. Electric Heated Driveways (Part II)

Comparing Electric Snow Melting Systems and Hydronic Systems                   (Read Part I)

Flow or current: What’s your Chi?

At this point you may have already drawn some conclusions about these systems. Here’s an “at-a-glance” comparison of both systems.

Comparison Overview: Hydronic Radiant Heat vs. Electric Radiant Heat

Hydronic Snow Melting System Electric Snow Melting System
Flexible power source options can lower operating costs. Only one power source. Circuit breakers may have to be updated to accommodate system.
Installation costs may be higher, especially if water heater or boiler is required. Easier installation. Also can be used in retrofit applications.
Higher maintenance. Propylene glycol fluid levels must be routinely checked. Low maintenance. Less moving parts and no fluid levels to check!
Requires heating of the water, resulting in a slower response time. Less warm-up time is required so the system response is faster.

Hydronic heat, depending on the heat source, can save you on operational costs. Hydronic cables or PEX tubing can be installed under a variety of mediums, including concrete, asphalt, stone pavers, etc. Successful operation of a hydronic heating

system depends on proper tubing spacing and layout. Tubes are usually laid out in a spiral or serpentine pattern for even heat distribution, making initial installation a bit more challenging than that posed by electric heated systems.

Warmzone’s expertise with hydronic heat systems is an invaluable resource, particularly if you choose to go with a hydronic heated driveway. However, with the complexity of hydronic heat installation comes a large price tag, especially if a hot water heater or boiler is required.

Heated driveway

   Electric heated driveway system in concrete.

ClearZone electric heated driveway systems are generally more efficient than hydronic systems. Electric cables heat up instantaneously, whereas water within hydronic cables must be heated up before the snow begins to melt. Installation of electric systems is fairly simple for the “do-it-yourselfer”, and heat cable is also available pre-spaced and woven into mats, which can be easily rolled out to heat tire tracks or an entire driveway. This flexibility is invaluable in retrofit applications, where hydronic system installation is more evasive, and as you would imagine, costly.

Hydronic systems may offer a lower operating cost than electric systems because they can run using the cheapest power source, such as natural gas, coal, propane, etc. Hydronic snow melting systems are a reliable means for heating driveways and parking areas, but the “current” trend seems to be swinging to electric radiant heated driveways. The systems are easy to install, heat instantaneously and there is no maintenance or upkeep required to assure top performance. Installation options are numerous, whether you choose to heat your entire driveway, or roll out heating cable tracks to heat just where your tires hit pavement.

Warmzone’s ClearZone heating cables are built specifically for heating driveways, sidewalks and other common areas to melt snow and ice in the worst of conditions. Extremely efficient and virtually maintenance free, they have become the Warmzone customer’s method of choice for snow melting. Warmzone has a variety of products and the expertise to install or retrofit your existing driveway with a realistic electric radiant heated driveway solution that’s equally energy efficient and cost effective, so you can put down your shovel, for good!