What at first blush may seem frivolous, even wasteful, must be studied to be fully appreciated. I have been studying snow-melting systems for 20 years now. What I have discovered through my own experience, and from the vast experience of others, is a safe and economical way to dispense with the always tedious, and often hazardous, weather phenomenon we know as snow. You can eliminate salt, slip hazards and the hard work of shoveling with one phone call!
If you are like me, your affinity for shoveling snow is waning at a faster pace than your years. Face it, who likes to shovel snow? And how do you like waiting for the kid down the street or the overworked fellow with the plow revving and scraping and waking you and your neighbors at 5am? Wouldn't it be nice to wake up one morning to a dry sidewalk and driveway while watching your neighbors struggle to get to work or even to the mailbox? OK, that might be a little mean spirited…
If we consider for a moment the real cost of snow plowing in terms of equipment, fuel and manpower, and property damage, it isn't hard to justify a capital investment that should outlast the life of your home while contributing to your personal comfort and safety.
Snow melting is a proven technology. In fact I recently replaced a system installed by others in 1977, that would still be operating but for the neglect of its second owner.
Most snow melting systems are hydronic (hot water) based. That is, plastic (PEX) tubing is embedded in concrete or under asphalt and hot water (antifreeze) is pumped out into the slab, melting the snow/ice and evaporating the water until the surface is safe for foot or vehicle travel. Electric snowmelt is also available either by electric cable or electric boiler and preferred in some circumstances.
Class 1, 2 & 3 Snow melting systems
Each class of snowmelt system generally represents an increase in radiant output. The higher the class the faster the snow will be melted.
Class 1 is for residential sidewalks and driveways and requires the minimum amount of materials and heat source. This system will allow snow to accumulate during a storm but will melt the snow within a matter of hours after the event. These systems may have elaborate fully automated controls or simply be turned on and off with a light switch.
Class 2 is used for commercial surfaces such as steep driveways leading to underground garages, drive-up windows, gasoline pumps and public libraries. Snow may accumulate but will rapidly be melted depending on weather conditions. Slab, air and water temperatures are monitored automatically to assure performance and limit operational costs.
Class 3 is for commercial surfaces such as emergency equipment driveways, helipad etc. and require the greatest panel output with complete automation and standby idol capabilities that keep the surfaces at or near the freezing point until conditions call for active ice/snow melting. No snow accumulation is allowed for in a Class 3 snow melting system.
Initial cost depends on the size and complexity of the job. Generally the more you spend on design and equipment the less the system will cost to operate. The cost of installation can run from $15 to $45.00/sq.ft. including new concrete, asphalt or permeable surfaces such as pavers. Stamping and coloring are also a more viable option when no salt or plow will be needed.
This is a function of the location, Class of system installed, cost of fuel chosen, and the weather. For example, the cost of operation of a Class 1 system is typically less than $0.25 per sq.ft., per year, for a gas-fired system in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A recent service call on a 7 year old snow melting system in Edina revealed an annual average cost of 17 cents per sq.ft. plus maintenance. In this market operating cost of electric cable or boiler systems, will cost three times this amount at this time...2013. With special off-peak power rates the cost may only increase by 25-50%.
A typical snow melting system will only run 200 hundred hours per year here in Minneapolis. By comparison a space heating boilers will operate roughly 2800 hours in one season. So you can see that a typical snow melting system will not get a lot of run time, unless of course it is a commercial Class 3 system or we have a bad year…2014 doesn’t count!