SNOW/ICE MELTING SYTEMS: Cold-Weather Ultra Convenience

One of the most innovative safety/comfort products available today for residential, new-construction and commercial use is a snow/ice-melting system. While advantages of such systems are many, this new-age technology essentially permits a safe, effortless way to melt snow and ice on areas like driveways, paths, walkways, steps, patios and steep inclines. Snow-melting systems have become a popular option for new-home and commercial constructions in cold-weather areas.

Obvious benefits of snow-melt systems are reduced health risks associated with snow/ice removal, decreased potential for liability accidents, and less deterioration to concrete or asphalt surfaces since salting, plowing and shoveling are virtually eliminated. Probably the best recommendation for a snow/ice melt system is the sheer convenience it provides in time-savings and not having to battle harsh, cold-weather conditions or exert possibly dangerous physical effort to clear snow and ice from your property.

A properly configured snow-melt system has four key components:

  • Heating element (wiring or tubing, depending on the system)
  • Temperature/moisture sensor
  • Power source, and
  • A controller to tie the other three components together.

There are two types of snow-melt systems: the electric system and the hydronic.

The electric version involves electrically activated, heated wires that are properly patterned out and installed underneath areas yet to be concreted or paved. When the system is turned on, the wires heat up, melting the snow and ice above the finished concrete. Advantages of an electric system are fast heat-up time and relative ease of installation by experienced professionals. Also, an electric system gets warmer sooner and melts the snow faster than a hydronic system. It's also easier to possibly retrofit an electric system to an existing driveway than it is with a hydronic system is - although the vast majority of snow-melting systems, electric or hydronic, are installed as a new or replacement driveway is being set.

Drawbacks to the electric version are the high electricity/power usage you might expect and will likely need an extra electrical circuit. Also, an electric melting system will only operate if powered by electricity; this, then, is the key advantage hydonic systems have has over electric types.

A hydronic system works on the same basic principles. Using flexible, polymer tubing installed beneath the driveway, the tubes have a warm-water/antifreeze mixture that circulates through them. Its advantages are in the flexibility of power sources that can be used to run the system: Natural gas, propane gas, water heater/boiler, oil, electricity and even solar power can serve as the energy source to run a hydronic system.

While the hydronic version may be more compatible with your home's heating existing system and require no extra/different power source, there are disadvantages. The first is that a hydronic system takes longer to heat up than an electric system. It may also need to constantly idle to maintain its heat. Another drawback is a possible need for a water heater/boiler to heat the system. Maintenance requirements may be more extensive, too. You will need to check anti-freeze levels regularly (similar to a car or truck) to ensure that the system's tubing network retains the proper mix of water and antifreeze; if not, tubes can freeze and crack.

Regardless of which type system you have or are considering, snow-melting systems represent a new-age concept in convenience and safety. Executive Heating & Cooling has extensive experience installing, maintaining and servicing these innovative products. Call us if you would like more information about the benefits of snow/ice melting systems.