Things You Should Know About Radiant Driveway Heating Systems
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Before you purchase a heated driveway system get the full scoop on radiant heat and learn the ins and outs about these systems. What makes them work? How much do they cost to operate? What kind of system is best for me? Get unbiased information so you make the best decision for your heating and snow melting needs.
INTRODUCTION - Radiant heated driveways are gaining more and more popularity nowadays. Given the current emphasis on the environment and clean, renewable energy, radiant heat is quickly becoming the heating and snow melting solution of choice. Both electric and hydronic snow melting systems can be installed to heat driveways, sidewalks, ramps, steps, roofs, floors, and more. Electric driveway heating systems feature a silent operation and require no extra space or mechanical room. They are also a favorite among professional builders because of their relatively simple installation and ability to be easily customized. In addition to the performance, electric heated driveways are maintenance free and fully automated. Yet, as popular as driveway heating systems have become in recent years, most folks are still unfamiliar with the technology and components of a radiant snow melting system.
The following content will answer questions such as these: What are heated driveways and how do they work? How much do they cost, and how much do they cost to operate? What kind of maintenance do heated driveways require? Do radiant heat systems operate automatically or manually?
What are Heated Driveways?
Heated driveways use radiant heat to warm concrete, asphalt, pavers, and various mediums to keep areas clear of ice and snow. This page focuses on the radiant heat techniques used for heating exterior surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks, ramps and other outdoor needs. There are two types of radiant heated driveways: electric and hydronic. Both technologies use a network of heating elements (either electric heat cable or Pex tubing) that is installed beneath the surface of the driveway. (Radiant heated floors also use electric and hydronic technology to warm rooms.)
Electric snowmelt systems such as ClearZone use a premium quality twin-conductor resistance heat cable that is ideally embedded about 2-inches below the driveway's surface. Hydronic snow melting systems utilize flexible polymer (Pex) tubing and a centrally located boiler/water heater to heat a mixture of water and propylene glycol (anti-freeze). A series of pumps, located near the boiler in a special mechanical room, then circulates the "heated water" through the closed loop of tubing. The heating elements of both systems are versatile, and are commonly embedded in concrete, asphalt, and under pavers. The heat generated from the cable or tubing spreads out to the surrounding area to warm the driveway and prevent any snow from accumulating.
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Installing the components for an electric snow melting systems is fairly simple compared to the process of installing a hydronic radiant heat system. Hydronic radiant heat systems require a mechanical room to house the system components, and are therefore more expensive to purchase and install; however, depending on the local fuel rates, the operational costs can be lower. Because these systems can operate on natural gas (for the boiler), the operating costs of large heated driveways versus their electric counterpart may be a little lower.
System Components and General Overview
Both electric and hydronic heated driveway systems utilize an activation device that allows the system to be fully automated. An aerial snow sensor or a pavement-mount sensor acts as "the brain" for the system. The snow sensor detects temperature and precipitation, and activates the system when conditions warrant. The system runs for a short time after the storm to ensure the driveway is dried before shutting off. In addition to being fully automated, radiant heated driveways also include manual override capabilities. Maintenance-free ClearZone driveway heating systems are energy-efficient and feature a rapid response time; meaning that they generally heat the driveway surface quicker than water-based (hydronic) radiant heating systems.
How Much Do Heated Driveways Cost?How much does it cost to purchase and install a heated driveway? Firstly, it’s important to know there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for heating driveways. Warmzone custom designs each system to best meet the specific needs of the application, so prices will vary. However, there is some general information we can provide to give potential buyers a better idea of the expenses. And there is a formula (below) for determining how much energy a heated driveway uses and calculating its operating costs as well.
A typical residential heated driveway system consists of the heating cable, auto snow sensor (with manual override), contactor panel and shipping. For all the components and resistance cable to heat an 800-square foot driveway the costs may range between $5,540 and $7,393. These prices reflect a square footage cost range from $6.52 to $8.69 per square foot. Add in the costs for installation and you’re likely looking at a cost range of $12-$21 per square foot.
The wide range of costs per square foot is due to the various options for components as well as local labor rates and the driveway surfacing. Asphalt paving generally runs from $2.50 to $4.00 a square foot while concrete can run between $4.50 and $6 per square foot. Paver driveway installations costs will be considerably more, and can even top $19 per square foot. (For a more accurate price estimate for your project, fill out our snow melting quote form or contact Warmzone at 888.488.9276.)
Remember, radiant snow melting systems are easy to customize, so homeowners have several options to choose from. One affordable option is heating two 24-inch wide tire tracks instead of the whole driveway. This brings installation and operation costs down considerably. Call and talk with a radiant heat expert to learn more.
Prior to purchasing a snow melting system, get some cost estimates from local installers – and make sure your installer is experience with radiant heat or has received free installation training from Warmzone. (Warmzone may be able to recommend installers in your area who have successfully installed radiant heating systems in the past.)
How to Determine the Operating Cost of an Electric Heated Driveway
Radiant snow melting systems are specially designed for the specific demands of the average temperature and snowfall of their location. Therefore, no two radiant heat systems are exactly alike; however, there is a formula that can be used to help you determine the approximate operating cost of a snow melting system.
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.
The operating cost of an automated snow melting system is typically less than that of hiring a professional snow removal service. And radiant heat can help to extend the life of concrete driveways and keeps them from being subjected to abrasive snow removal methods or harsh snowmelt chemicals or salt. Safety is particularly important for business owners who wish to avoid costly litigation due to personal injuries caused by slick ice. Visit our ClearZone snow melting page to learn more about Warmzone snow melting systems. And with radiant heat systems being so easy to customize, you may be surprised at the many snow melting options that are available.
As you may suspect, it is easier to install an embedded heated driveway during the new construction process. For concrete snow melting systems, the heating cable is laid out over the area to be heated and secured to the remesh with zip ties. To ensure that the heat cable is not pushed down to the ground during the concrete pour, sturdy plastic chairs such as Mesh-Ups should be used. These small supports are attached to the remesh to keep it from sinking during the heavy concrete pour. This way, the heating cable remains within a couple inches of the surface - as recommended - when the concrete is poured. Whether installed in concrete or any other medium, Warmzone heated driveway systems are energy efficient and easy to customize.
The Versatility of Heated Driveways
In addition to heating concrete and under stone pavers, Warmzone also carries heat cable that is designed specifically for hot asphalt installations. This heat cable features a more sturdy external cable jacket to withstand temperatures up to 460° for 10 minutes.
There are three methods for installing heating cables or mats in Asphalt.
Electric snowmelt systems can be easily customized and installed in just about any type of layout. Be sure to consult with a radiant heat expert (888.488.9276) to determine which system is best for you. Both electric and hydronic driveway heating systems have their advantages, and speaking with a Warmzone radiant heat expert will help you determine the best system for your needs.
Reasons for Installing a Heated Driveway
Of course, one of the most obvious benefits of a heated driveway system is the elimination of shoveling or plowing snow from your driveway. Automated radiant snow melting systems are poised to activate when needed 24/7, so safety is enhanced by reducing the potential for injuries because of slick, icy surfaces. Peace of mind is also a factor, knowing that your driveway will be automatically cleared, regardless of the weather conditions. Installing a heated driveway can also add significant value to your home, help preserve the life of your driveway, and avoid damage to the bordering landscape by eliminating the use of harmful salts and snowmelt chemicals.
How, Where and When to Install a Radiant Heated Driveway
IMPORTANT INSTALLATION TIP: All heating cables or mats should be checked for continuity and resistance prior to being embedded.
Radiant heated driveways and snowmelt systems can be installed in most mediums,
including concrete, asphalt, under pavers, etc., and customized for just about shape
or location at most times of the year (depending on the medium). The
ideal time to install a snow melting system is during new construction.
However, with weather permitting, there are no limitations as to when a snowmelt system
can be installed. In addition to the many custom options available, you can also install
a radiant snow melting system in an existing driveway. Asphalt driveways are particularly
easy to retrofit with a radiant heat system.
How do Heated Driveways Work?
Heated driveway systems from Warmzone are fully automated. These automated driveway heating systems consist of three main components: the heating element, activation device (snow sensor), and contactor panel. The heating element can be either an electric resistance cable or PEX hot water tubing which is used for hydronic systems. The simplest and most common applications for radiant snow melting systems are brick or stone pavers and concrete. Snow melting systems are also installed in asphalt. The methods for installing radiant heat in asphalt call for more care to avoid damaging the heat cable. (See section above.) Warmzone ClearZone heat cable is designed to withstand the hot asphalt temperature as well as the stressful compacting process; however, because of the abrasive nature of the paving process, greater care must be taken during installation. ClearZone cable is the premier snow melting cable, and one of the few radiant heat cables capable of withstanding the extreme temperatures of fresh asphalt installation.
A master control unit is used to control the heated driveway system. The controller can be either a wall-mounted control box for electric systems or a small mechanical room to house a boiler, pump, manifold, etc., for hydronic systems. Manual and/or automatic activation devices (snow sensors) are used to trigger the systems. Aerial-mounted or pavement-mounted snow sensors are available to activate the system. Residential heated driveway systems typically utilize the aerial mounted snow sensor.
The snow sensor (automatic activation device) signals the controller when there is moisture present and the temperature is below a set point (usually 39°F) the sensor sends a signal for power to be sent to the heat cable. The power to the heating cable then warms the driveway. This prevents any snow from accumulating. The system remains on until the snow stops falling. The power to the cable continues to run for a short time after the final snowfall to dry the driveway, which keeps ice from forming. Then, the snow melting system shuts off. Most snow melting systems also include manual override capability 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.
Click here to learn more about how radiant heated driveways work.
Who Installs Radiant Heated Driveways?
Overall, the heated driveway systems are fairly easy to install, so "do-it-yourselfers" and contractors could easily spread the cable out, check the spacing and secure it prior to applying the cement or asphalt (or pavers). However, to keep the warranty valid - and ensure safety - it is important that a qualified electrician perform all the wiring and connections to the system.
For your convenience, Warmzone may be able to provide a list of experienced radiant heat installers in your area. Remember, a heated driveway is only as good as its installation, so using a trusted, experienced installer would be ideal. Remember to have a qualified electrician test the cables during the installation process and connect all the wiring of the system. Call one of our representatives (888.488.9276) to learn more or to get additional installation information.
Warmzone provides installation support with each heated driveway system as well as free installation training courses online. This valuable training can prove vital for those looking to install a heated driveway. And in addition to providing free installation training, Warmzone always has a radiant heat expert available should your installer/electrician need assistance during the installation of the snow melting system. Whether you're a homeowner laying out the heat cable, a contractor, or an electrician wiring the system, a Warmzone radiant heat expert will be available to you to guide you through the process and answer any questions you may have during the installation. This is an invaluable service to help ensure that your system is installed correctly and performing to your expectations.
Who Sells Heated Driveways and Snow Melting Products?
There are several vendors of driveway heating systems; however, Warmzone differentiates itself by offering a wide variety of radiant heat solutions from several different manufacturers - so you are sure to find the system that is the optimum solution for your specific needs. Because Warmzone is not limited to offering one brand or type of heated driveway solution, you can be certain that you'll receive unbiased information and a radiant system that is truly best for your particular situation.
Warmzone will also include a detailed engineering and system layout for your radiant heat system. As an established, dedicated source for matching your project to the best valued solution, Warmzone is the number one consumer and contractor advocate without bias towards any one system. Warmzone has earned its reputation as a trusted resource for radiant heat solutions, and will point out all the benefits and challenges for your project before recommending a system that makes the most sense. Warmzone has extensive experience with both custom residential heated driveway and roof deicing systems as well as large commercial projects.
Warmzone has a growing network of
across the country who have experience installing heated driveways (and floors)
and are ready and willing to help with your radiant heat project.
For more information on snow melting systems and driveway heating, an excellent series of radiant heat articles covering all aspects of heated driveway systems can be found in the Warmzone Pressroom, Articles section. For example, check out the links below to read some informative radiant heat articles or download product manuals, technical guides, illustrations, and other informative resources.
Heated Driveway and Snow Melting System Articles and Information
How to Install a Heated Driveway General Overview for Installing in Concrete.
Radiant Snowmelt Solutions (Part I and II)
Installing a Heated Driveway Snowmelt System (Part I and II)
Heated Driveways and Radiant Snow Melting Systems (Part I and II)