What You Need to Know About Radiant Driveway Heating Systems
Radiant heated driveways continue to gain traction in the U.S. as consumers discover the benefits of these energy efficient snow melting systems. While there are electric and hydronic heated driveways, electric driveway heating systems are becoming increasingly popular because of their relatively easy installation and ability to be customized to meet the specific snowmelt needs of customers. In addition to the performance, other attractive features include maintenance free, fully automated operation. 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.
So, what are heated driveways and how do they work? How much do they cost to run? Do heated driveways require any regular maintenance? Do radiant heat systems operate automatically or manually?
What are Heated Driveways?
Heated driveways use radiant heat to warm concrete, asphalt, pavers, and various floor and roofing material. This page will focus on the radiant heat techniques used to heat driveways 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 floors.)
Electric snowmelt systems such as ClearZone use 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 boilder/water heater and pumps to circulate a mixture of hot water and propylene glycol (anti-freeze) 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.
Installing the components for 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 with many 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 can be a little lower than that of an electric heated driveway.
System Components and General Overview
Warmzone heated driveway systems feature an activation device that allows the system to be fully automated. The snow sensor detects temperatures and precipitation, so it activates the system only when conditions warrant. However, the system also includes manual override capabilities. ClearZone heated driveway systems are also maintenance free, energy-efficient, and feature a rapid response time; meaning that they generally heat surfaces quicker than hydronic heated driveways.
Determining the Operating Cost of an Electric Heated Driveway
While no two radiant heat systems are exactly alike, and much depends on the average temperature and snowfall associated with the location of the system, there is a formula that can be used to help you determine the operating cost of a snow melting system.
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
Warmzone also carries heat cable that is designed specifically for hot asphalt installations. This red 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 are also easy to customize and install. 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 nearly anytime of the year (depending on the medium). The most popular and 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.
For general installation guidelines, visit our How to Install a Heated Driveway web page.
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 (sensor), and contactor panel. The heating element can be either an electric resistance cable or heating element 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.
Who Installs Radiant Heated Driveways?
Much of the initial layout of the snow melting system's heat cable can be done by any ambitious homeowner, but the wiring must all be completed by an electrician. The systems are fairly easy to install, so "do-it-yourselfers" and contractors would easily be able to 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, 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. While the homeowner can save some installation costs by assisting with the laying out the heating mats or cable, 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. 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)