Tag Archives: Hydronic vs. electric

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

Heated Liquid or Electric Current (Of Water and Wires: Comparing the Systems)

If you’ve finally put down the shovel and decided to purchase a heated driveway system, will you be going hydronic or electric? If you’re newcomer to the concept of driveway heating, hydronic and electric are both popular, and extremely viable forms of driveway heat, and Warmzone has the expertise, and experience, to help determine which is best for you. What these systems share in common—four key components you should be familiar with before purchasing a heated driveway system:

  • Heating Element (Embedded in the driveway)
  • Snow Sensor
  • Power Controller Unit (Powers the heating elements)
  • Power Supply (Circuit breaker panel)

Of the components mentioned above, the heating element and the controller distinguish hydronic heated driveway systems from electric heated driveway systems.

Hydronic Heated Driveway Systems: Going with the Flow

The heating element for a hydronic system, as you may have guessed, involves water. Specifically, hydronic heated driveways use what is known as closed-loop tubing to heat the surface of the driveway. The tubing is generally made of a flexible (and quite durable) polymer 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 for snow melting.

A water heater or a boiler is the chief source of heat 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 water between the heat source and tubing.

Installing heating mats for electric heated driveway


Electric Heated Driveway Systems: Riding the Current

Unlike hydronic systems, electric heated driveway systems use hot wires to heat paved surfaces. These wires are surrounded by layers of insulation, copper grounding braid and a protective outer layer of PVC or polyolefin to form a flexible cable about ⅛ to ¼ inch in diameter. What’s great about the heat cable is the flexibility of the application. Cable is available on spools as well as pre-woven into mats, and can be customized (cut) to suit virtually any type of layout, including driveways, ramps, common walkways and sidewalks.

After being triggered by the snow sensor, the control unit then powers the heat cable to warm the driveway. To reduce the power demands (and operating costs), you can install cables in just the tire tracks of a driveway rather than the entire area. Warmzone offers several options and provides complete system design services to ensure that you receive the best system layout and products for your project.

Continued (Part II)

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!