Shoveling snow is a pesky chore that can literally be a pain in the back. When winter arrives and your driveway is suddenly covered in snow and ice, you may find yourself longing for a heated driveway that could take the snow shovel out of your hand or eliminate the expense of paying for professional snow-plow services.
A radiant heating system has become an increasingly popular upgrade. It is installed just beneath a driveway’s (and/or your walkway’s) surface to melt snow and ice. If you are not quite sure if a heated driveway is worthwhile or what kind of cost would be involved in installing, using, and maintaining such a system, read on for the pros and cons of a radiant sytem.
Three Types of Heated Driveways
Hydronic systems work by using a boiler and pump to circulate a water-antifreeze mixture through PVC tubing over which concrete or asphalt is poured. The tubes are typically spaced 6 to 8 inches apart and arranged in a spiral or wave-like configuration to promote even heat distribution.
Electric coil systems use metal heating cables that are installed under the pavement and activated by a wall-mounted control unit. They are very powerful, often able to reach temperatures over 200º F (93.33° C) and produce as much as 50 Watts of electricity per linear foot of coil.
Driveway mats will function much like a heated driveway that can be installed only seasonally. Two tracks of slip-resistant rubber mats with a central heating element are spaced to align with your vehicle’s tire path. They will be strong enough to bear the weight of a car and able to maintain an ice/snow free driving lane or melt one in a matter of hours or even minutes.
Benefits of Heated Driveways
Convenience: Snow and ice are melted effortlessly and in minimal amounts of time. You can often program heating based on a regular hours or on a temperature trigger, but you can manually turn the heating on/off if you wish as well.
Health concerns: Snow shoveling often leads to slip-and-fall accidents, back pain, muscle strain, joint injuries, or hypothermia. By clearing off your driveway “automatically,” you minimize the health risks associated with being outdoors in cold, winter weather.
Less salt damage: No need to use rock salt, calcium chloride, or another deicer on your driveway. When salts get trapped in the tiny crevices of concrete/asphalt, they draw water in after them, where it alternately freezes/thaws during the winter. This helps to deteriorate your pavement. Salt can also damage the undercarriage of vehicles and landscaping near the driveway’s edge.
Save money: You’ll save money on professional snow-removal services. Depending on the going rate in your community, you could pay $25 to $75 per hour for a service to clear your driveway.
Resale value: A heated driveway may increase the fair market value of your home, depending on where you live and the age of the system when you sell your house.
Peace of mind: You needn’t worry about family and visitors taking a fall on an icy driveway. There’s also reduced risk of a negligence lawsuit being filed against you if a visitor slips and is injured.
Extends the life of concrete: A driveway surface lasts longer if it’s not exposed to sub-zero temps. Concrete is naturally porous, and when water from melted snow freezes on a driveway, it can lead to surface cracking. A heated driveway can maintain a temperature above freezing, protecting the integrity of the driveway.
Drawbacks of Heated Driveways
Concrete can be stressed by hydronic heating tubes if the heat is not evenly distributed. When the fluid temperature is drastically higher than the slab temperature, cracking is even possible. A heated driveway won’t melt the snow and ice on steps or walkways. You’ll either have to install radiant heat in those areas as well or be prepared to keep shoveling them.
Installation cost: Putting in a heated driveway is a pricey proposition, and pro installation is required. You’ll need to hire a licensed contractor to do the work. If the existing driveway has to be removed, expect to pay $13,000 to $16,000, or more, depending on the size of the driveway. If the driveway is small, or the radiant system is installed during new construction, it could cut $3,000 to $5,000 from the bill. In rare cases, a contractor may be able to install a radiant heating system over the existing driveway by using a resurfacing technique. This method, however, may void the warranty associated with the radiant heating materials, so it should be used only when replacing a driveway is not a feasible option.
Costly repairs: Pavement may have to be torn up in order to fix malfunctioning heating coils. Occasionally, only resurfacing will be needed, but usually, the whole driveway would have to be redone. To reduce this risk, hire a contractor who specializes in installing heated driveways and make sure you get a warranty. Standard warranties run from 10 to 20 years.
Utility expense: Though they can save you money on professional plowing services, a heated driveway will certainly add to your wintertime utility bills. With hydronic systems, the upfront installation cost is high, but the usage cost is low. With heating coil systems, the bigger expense is in usage, while installation is not too expensive if you are laying down a new driveway anyway. If you live in an area where utility bills are already high, it may be more financially beneficial to hire a snow-removal service.
Once a radiant system is installed, your driveway should require no special maintenance. Treat it as you would any other driveway. You can drive and park consumer vehicles (including pickups) on all driveways, but it’s a good idea not allow heavy trucks, such as concrete mixing vehicles, to pull onto the driveway to reduce the risk of cracking. However, if you get a hydronic system, have the boiler inspected once a year (or as specified in the warranty), typically in the fall. No special maintenance is required for electrical elements.
As far as a driveway mat is concerned, they are easy portable and make them reasonable to use in any climate that sees snow/ice. You simply put them away for storage after the cold season ends.
Whether or not installing a heated driveway makes sense will vary greatly based on your situation. For example, a small, easily plowed driveway that gets plenty of sun may not need to be heated, while a longer, shady driveway might be a prime candidate. Homes in the far north, where there are long winters, will get more use out of their heated driveways.