Underground Snowmelt System: Automatically Clear Snow Without Shoveling - Dengarden - Home and Garden
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Underground Snowmelt System: Automatically Clear Snow Without Shoveling

I've spent many hours shoveling snow off of my driveway in the winter, there are better solutions out there!

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!

Stop shoveling snow with an underground snowmelt system

Stop shoveling snow with an underground snowmelt system

Installing an Underground Snowmelt System

My husband and brother-in-law digging out after a snowstorm

My husband and brother-in-law digging out after a snowstorm

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! Snowmelt 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 snowmelt 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 snowmelt 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!

How Much Do Underground Snowmelt Systems Cost?

If you are looking to install a new underground snowmelt system, or to retrofit 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 affect 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 snowmelt 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.

Enjoy winter beauty and stop worrying about clearing snow from your driveway

Enjoy winter beauty and stop worrying about clearing snow from your driveway

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2011 Stephanie Marshall

Comments

Joseph on September 12, 2018:

How do you heat a pebble driveway

dewa on February 05, 2014:

like this tool - http://yessnet.com/greenworks-electric-snow-shovel...

yellabelly on August 19, 2013:

I would carefully consider real data when comparing electric vs hydronic systems. Hydronic systems idle all of the time, electric systems are only on when they need to be on and do not idle. Many accounts of comparing costs between the two never take into account idling times at all. this site has a comparison between the two - http://www.heatizon.com/products/radiant-snow-melt...

RadiantHeatingCo on August 27, 2012:

As a radiant heating/snowmelting installer, I was very interested to read this article and see the work that other installers have done. I was impressed with a lot, and not impressed with others. If you are looking for a snowmelting system I strongly recommend getting a hydronic system. I have reinstalled so many faulty electronic systems that I have completely lost all trust in it. Hydronic systems last longer, work better, and cost less than electric in the long run. Visit my site for more information. www.radiantheatingco.com

Klanguedoc on November 21, 2011:

What a great invention. I don't know if it would be effective up here in Canada but I love the idea.

Carolyn Augustine from Iowa on November 21, 2011:

I'd love to have one of these for my driveway in Iowa! Thanks for the information.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 19, 2011:

LOL Shawn - good question! Arizona might not be the idea place for a snowmelt system, but one that cools the pavement instead... ;-) best, Steph

ShawnB2011 from Arizona on November 19, 2011:

Dang! Why didn't I think of that?! Oh, maybe because I live in Arizona! Hmmmm...Wonder if they make anything that COOLS the ground rather than heat it. :)

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 19, 2011:

Thanks all - glad that those of you who live where it never snows still enjoy reading the hub! :-)

Best, Steph

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 19, 2011:

Congrats on Hub of the Day!!

Voted up and interesting, even though we don't live in snow country. We have a deal with snow: it doesn't come see us, and we don't visit it. ;-)

Kate P from The North Woods, USA on November 19, 2011:

A hub truly worthy of its award! Great job; I had no idea this stuff existed. Woot-woot! :)

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on November 19, 2011:

Great topic for a hub! Thanks for all of the useful information. This will be a wonderful resource for many people who have very snowy winters. Congrats on getting Hub of the Day!

Colten Rouska from South Jordan, Utah on November 19, 2011:

I really like this, I know my Parents would greatly benefit from this. It is sometimes hard to keep the snow cleared from the driveway when you have a lot coming down for a few days in a row. Also some cement is really bad when it gets Ice on top of it, it can cause it to chip when trying to remove the snow/compacted ice.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 19, 2011:

Thanks all! Just think of the time and money saved by businesses in employee injuries or - god forbid - slip and falls by customers if they installed an underground snowmelt system! I also like the peace of mind you'd have when delivery people or visitors come to a home and you don't have to worry about them falling on the snow or ice. Here in Bend, people invest a lot in salt and gravel to clear away snow, but over time, those products damage concrete and aren't good for the environment. Stay safe this winter! Best, Steph

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on November 19, 2011:

This is the first I heard of a residential system. I remember when i lived in Minneapolis many years ago I think they had a system like it in some parts of the downtown area.

Derdriu on November 19, 2011:

stephhicks68: What a clear, compelling, practical presentation of the benefits of the underground snowmelt system! It is most helpful the way in which you alternate explanations and examples through your text with those in your YouTube choices. The information reaches a wider audience, those who learn by reading as well as those by hearing and witnessing.

Thank you for sharing, congratulations on a well-deserved hub of the day, voted up, etc.,

Derdriu

Marc Woodard from Portland, Oregon on November 19, 2011:

Fantastic and useful hub. If I lived in an area with a serious snow fall, ice issue, I'd definitely invest in this technology.

cre8ivOne from Midwest, USA on November 19, 2011:

AHHH

That would be my dream come true if we could only afford this!!! We have a huge driveway and when we get large snowfalls, even with a snowblower it's lots of work. Nice hub!

Tara on November 19, 2011:

What an awesome idea. I sure could have used this when we lived in NY. There was nothing any more miserable than waking up an hour early just to clear snow!

arusho from University Place, Wa. on November 19, 2011:

That was great, very informative! I don't live in snow country but our front walkway is steep and can get icy, I wish we had money to install a system, no one would ever slip on our sidewalk again.

B. A. Williams from USA on November 19, 2011:

I always wondered about a system on bridges that would work like this since there is very little space to push snow, and here they are doing it unbeknown to me.

Very informative and well written, thanks for sharing.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 19, 2011:

Thanks happyboomernurse!

I hope this hub helps people over the winter months to deal with snow and ice. Best, Steph

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on November 19, 2011:

Never heard of this before but it sounds like a great idea. Like the comprehensive information you gave here and the videos.

Congratulations on the Hub of the Day Award.

Voted up, useful and interesting.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 19, 2011:

Hi mljd - share away! I'm sure folks in Wyoming and North Dakota could use some snow-clearing information this time of year. Best, Steph

Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on November 19, 2011:

After being snowed in last year for more than 24 hours, I am kind of dreading winter this year. Wouldn't this system be the perfect solution! It certainly would be nice!

mljdgulley354 on November 19, 2011:

Congratulations on hub of the day. I am going to share this with friends in Wyoming and North Dakota if you don't mind

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 19, 2011:

Thanks everyone! Well, its now 27F and snowing outside! I sure wish we had underground snowmelt systems for the walkways up to schools and other government buildings at the very least. It was so slick yesterday picking up the kids. Cheers, Steph

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on November 19, 2011:

We don't get much snow here, but it is rough when it does. No one is very prepared. I think the whole city of Atlanta has like three snow plows? Any way I enjoyed your Hub and as always your fantastic photography. Congratulations on Hub of the Day!

Carmen Beth on November 19, 2011:

Great idea. Thanks for sharing and the details.

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on November 19, 2011:

This is really interesting! Used to live in Newyork and Michigan, this could really be a hit in those places. Don't need it now where I am, (well, at least not yet, since Georgia has been getting a little colder by the year) but will recommend to friends who still live in cold regions.

Great hub,and Congratulations on the Hub of the day award!

SuneXtra from Centurion, Gauteng, South Africa on November 19, 2011:

Very interesting hub! :) Now if only it would snow here is South Africa... :(

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 06, 2011:

Hi Hubbcapp, you make some really great points! Lowering cost with increased demand, increasing safety (and saving on insurance claims, etc. as a result), and of course, the mess after the snow finally melts. At the end of winter where I live, the pavement is usually destroyed, costing a lot of public dollars in repair and sand has been thrown up onto the sidewalks (from street sweepers) making it terrible for walkers and runners - not to mention people pushing strollers. Now that we have the technology, it would be great to see more people/businesses/cities using underground snow melt systems. Cheers, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 06, 2011:

Jama, where I live, there are solar powered crosswalks, school zones and other traffic directional signals. I'm with you in thinking that a solar powered underground snow melt system is entirely in the realm of possibility!

The sand and salt is such a waste - financially and also from an environmental standpoint. Better to invest a little more upfront for increased safety and savings over the long term. Not to mention the savings in wear and tear on roadways, vehicles and even shoes!

Thanks so much for the great comment - Steph

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on October 06, 2011:

Steph, when traffic lights can be triggered by sensors in the pavement, I've always wondered why a snowmelt system wasn't also in use at intersections, especially at those slightly inclined. Many cities have begun using solar units to power traffic and school crossing, so pavement snowmelt systems would seem to be a no-brainer for cash-strapped communities prone to annual ice and snow. Every year, the local news is full of city governments complaining about the "unexpected" hit to the budget for salt and sand, overtime for employees to run the vehicles that deliver them, the cost to repair streets damaged by salt and sand, etc.

But I'm thrilled to hear solar-powered snowmelt systems are at least in use on bridges and overpasses. Using solar, there's really no legitimate reason a snowmelt system couldn't be built into every new highway and street resurfacing in ice- and snow-prone areas too. Considering how much auto insurance companies pay out for winter fender benders, am really surprised they aren't already pushing (and even underwriting) such projects. ;D

hubbcapp on October 06, 2011:

This is very interesting. Not something I would need, but have friends that live in area's where it snows and they might be interested in it. If even people catch onto this idea then the cost of getting it may go down. It really would be a great benefit for several reasons; saving on medical bills from snow and ice related accidents is a big one, vehicle repairs due to unseen ice, uncontrollable sliding, damage to the vehicle just from driving in the snow. There is always such a mess when clearing the snow until all the snow melts. This really is a saver in many ways; time, evironment, scenery, a persons back and health. Thanks for sharing. I will pass it on to my snow friends and family.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 06, 2011:

Hi allpurposeguru - the environmentally-friendly aspect of an underground snow melt system is important to emphasize! Salt and chemicals not only impact the concrete and asphalt directly, but flow into storm drains with run-off. Plus, people's shoes and the underbodies of cars will last longer if we're not walking on or driving over salted, chemical pathways. Cheers, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 06, 2011:

Hi Brian,

Yes, just think of all the extra room in a garage or shed without a snow blower! Cheers to you, Steph

David Guion from North Carolina on October 06, 2011:

I'm voting this up and useful. I live in North Carolina now, but remember all too well digging out from blizzards that dumped up to two feet of snow when I lived in the Chicago area. Now, I have a sloped driveway and often get a glazing of ice. I hate to put chemicals on it, but heating the driveway would be more expensive here than it's worth. Still, I hope that lots of people who live in the snow belt will find your hub so useful that they actually do something about it. And if a few of your readers install a snowmelt system and each inspire a few of their friends and neighbors to do the same, think of the positive environmental impact, not to mention safety!

Brian Lokker from Bethesda, Maryland on October 06, 2011:

This is a great idea. We recently had a garage sale and did a purge of yard maintenance tools in preparation for moving, and the only thing I held onto was the snow blower. If I had one of these systems, I could have eliminated that too!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 06, 2011:

Hi Chrisand and Amy - I just wish I had photos of my two teen boys shoveling our driveway last winter to include in this hub! I'm sure they would totally vote for an underground snowmelt system! :) Welcome to winter again... Best, Steph

amy jane from Connecticut on October 06, 2011:

This was so interesting Steph! Last winter we had 4+ feet of snow here in CT and a snow melt system would have made life soooo much easier. Definitely something to keep in mind when we redo the driveway. Thanks for sharing!

chrisand on October 06, 2011:

what a brilliant idea. Saves a lot of back breaking work. Stephanie, it's good you're getting the word out about this type of system.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 04, 2011:

Indeed Simone! And to think that we willingly moved here from Seattle 5 years ago. Little snow issues up there.... :)

Steph

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on October 04, 2011:

I've heard about this before and am absolutely fascinated by it. That said, I'm happy to be living in a place where I'll never need to set it up!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 03, 2011:

Hi Dexter! I was wanting to write about something seasonal and with winter approaching, I thought that snow removal would be a good idea. :) Best, Steph

Dexter Yarbrough from United States on October 03, 2011:

Hi Steph! This is a wonderful idea! Thanks for letting us know about it!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 03, 2011:

Hi Susan,

You can tell the local businesses that have installed underground snow melt systems. I think this would be a great investment for government facilities too (although some tax payers might not agree!) For homes, apartments and other living facilities with elderly people or young children, such a system could literally be a lifesaver. Best to you, Steph

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on October 03, 2011:

We have talked about installing this system as here in Ontario we get tons of the white stuff. After reading your hub I think I will put this on the top of my wish list.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 02, 2011:

Hi Cloverleaf - "cool" hahahaha! Stay safe and warm in Calgary this year. At least here in Oregon, they are predicting an above-average snowfall year. Brrrrrrr! Best, Steph

Cloverleaf from Calgary, AB, Canada on October 02, 2011:

Hi Steph, this is very cool indeed ("cool" - pardon the pun haha). I am going to forward this to all of my fellow Calgarian friends; we are bracing ourselves for -30 degree temperatures and all the snow that will be sure to come with it this winter! The underground snowmelt system would certainly make winter less stressful :-)

Voting up!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 02, 2011:

Hi Homeenergy, not surprising! Using tubes and antifreeze to help keep walkways, etc. clear of snow makes great sense! Cheers, Steph

HomeEnergy from California on October 02, 2011:

Stephanie,

I saw a system like the one you describe in Edinborough, Scotland when I was younger (1963)

Thank you for helping me to remember my youth...

Jacob

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 02, 2011:

Thanks Stephanie! We get a lot of snow in Oregon too. You can always tell the businesses that have these systems installed (and frankly, you want to visit them!) We share a snowblower with 3 neighbors, but its not the best system for us. Get ready for winter! :) Best, Steph

Stephanie Henkel from USA on October 02, 2011:

I wish we had a system like this when we lived in Central New York! Oh, how many days we had to shovel or plow the driveway and sidewalks before going to work in the morning! Your hub certainly gave a good overview of how the snowmelt system works, though it does look like a project beyond the typical do-it-yourselfer. Voted up and useful!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 01, 2011:

Hi StayPos, I agree! Love the new technology that allows us to save time and energy for other pursuits! I was really excited to find out that these underground snowmelt systems cost less than $5000. Over the course of home ownership, the peace of mind that results, as well as the saved hassle should make this really worth the cost.

Its not every year that we get a ton of snow, but when we do, how nice to have this. Thanks for the comment! Best, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 01, 2011:

Hi ktrapp - I am totally with you! One day, with schools closed, I had my 2 teenage sons shovel the driveway. Within 2 hours, it looked like no one had done anything! Would love this radiant heat system at our home. Cheers, Steph

StayPos from Florida, USA on October 01, 2011:

Steph,

Very interesting and insightful hub! It's amazing what a little technnology and design can do to ease the pain of snow shovel duty.

I must admit, it's been quite sometime since I had to handle that particular chore :-)

Nevertheless, great food for thought for those who do!

All the Best

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on October 01, 2011:

This is brilliant. I would have killed for this system after clearing the driveway and sidewalks from record snowfalls last winter.