Underground Snowmelt System: Automatically Clear Snow Without Shoveling
Underground Installations Melt Snow Away
The long months of winter often leave many homeowners dreading the task of shoveling their driveways and walkways to clear snow away and improve safety and accessibility. Here in my hometown of Bend, Oregon, we can have snow from October until May in some extreme seasons.
Most people shovel snow by hand, while a few others have snowblowers. But the home improvement that intrigues me the most this time of year is an underground installation to automatically melt snow away. I first heard about radiant snow removal when visiting Klamath Falls, several hours to the south. There, underground hot springs have been tapped into a city utility system that circulates the hot water in tubes under the pavement and keeps sidewalks clear throughout winter months.
But, if you live in an area that is subject to harsh winters without the benefit of natural resources as those existing in Klamath Falls, you might want to consider installing an outdoor snowmelt system. Steep driveways and walkways are dangerous when covered in snow and ice. Its time consuming and expensive to shovel snow and scatter ice over walkways. With an automatic snow removal system, you can spend more time enjoying winter with less stress!
Installing an Underground Snowmelt System
What does an Underground Snowmelt System Entail?
Most underground snowmelt systems are constructed with the ability to melt snow at a rate of about one inch per hour. The systems can be installed under new concrete or asphalt driveways, sidewalks, walkways or pavers. Existing driveways and sidewalks also may be retrofitted for radiant heat systems.
Generally speaking, a snowmelt system uses a series of tubes that are filled with an antifreeze solution (watch the video above). The system includes a sensor that can detect temperature and moisture changes.
When snow starts falling, the system will automatically turn on and start warming the pavement, preventing snow from sticking! Snow melt systems also include a manual setting in order to bypass the sensor, if desired.
Most snowmelt systems are operated by electricity, but one entrepreneur has come up with a solar powered snow melt system for bridges and overpasses.
With an underground snowmelt system, the antifreeze solution increases the temperature of the pavement to about 35-40 degrees F, using a system that supplies 150 BTUs (British Thermal Units) per square feet of surface area. This should melt falling snow at a rate of about 1 inch per hour under "typical" winter conditions.
Harsh winter winds or a snowstorm that results in unusually high amounts of precipitation may result in a less effective system. In these instances, the property owner may need to supplement with some snow shoveling! Alternatively a snow removal system with a larger boiler unit may provide more BTUs per square foot, to increase snow melting capacity.
While some homeowners might try to take on a snow melting system as a DIY home improvement project, your best bet is to hire a professional. Installation of an underground snowmelt system will require both a concrete/asphalt contractor and an electrician.
Residential Snow Melt System
Benefits of Radiant Heated Concrete
There are a number of benefits of radiant heated concrete. Once you install an underground snowmelt system, it is practically maintenance-free. Operation costs are low (electrical power) and are more than offset by an increase in the longevity of your driveway, patio or walkways. Damage from shovels or salt and other chemicals are avoided with a snow melt system. In addition, the system is more eco-friendly!
Unlike snowblowers, an automatic snow removal system operates noiselessly and without fumes. With automatic turn-on features, you can literally awaken in the morning to cleared driveways and sidewalks.
When you don't have to worry about visitors or family members slipping and falling in front of your home, winter is a much less stressful season!
Snow Melting Systems
How Much do Underground Snowmelt Systems Cost?
If you are looking to install a new underground snowmelt system, or to retro-fit your existing driveway or walkway, you will likely need to get an estimate from a professional. This is because there are a number of factors that go into the equation, including total area in square feet, BTUs required to melt snow and the energy required to power the system, whether electricity, natural gas or solar power.
Variations in the costs of materials and installation can have an effect on the cost of an underground snowmelt system. Materials broadly range from $4-$10 per square foot. For installation, one of the biggest impacts on cost is the distance from tubing to the power source that will operate to warm the pavement.
That said, the average cost of a residential snow melt system is in the range of $2,500 to $5,000. Amortized over the life of a driveway or patio (approximately 25 years), the overall cost is about $200/year. Depending on where you live and your needs, this may be well-worth the investment.