Paying a teenager $30 to shovel your driveway might save you time and build his character, but available snow-melting systems can eliminate the chore altogether. Conceptually, these products resemble radiant heating for baths and kitchens. Using a heavier-duty wire, many systems are available as roll-out mats like those featured in interior systems, and are useful under multiple materials, including asphalt, concrete, or pavers.
"Installations basically include rolling out the product over the pavement's base layer, connecting the cold leads to the control box, and running the power," says Joe Sedlock, executive vice president of operations for SnowClear. "A licensed electrician needs to handle the final connections, and you need to be aware of local building codes with regard to cable depth, but overall, it's an easy addition."
That said, manufacturers suggest installing snow-melting systems during full driveway replacements rather than incurring additional labor and equipment costs for retrofits. For now, Orbit president Ron Herd says these systems are luxuries found more often in high-end homes, and will cost $2,000 to $5,000. So as not to unwittingly add to these costs later, Orbit's and SnowClear's systems are both available with automatic timers. "We use sensors to monitor temperature and moisture, so the system operates based on weather conditions," Herd says. "That way, the homeowner doesn't have to worry about forgetting to turn it off and running up the electric bill."
Unlike pre-designed mats on the market, Orbit's snow-melting systems are engineered for each installation to optimize wattage based on climate, environment, and material type. Wattages range from 32 watts to 35 watts per square foot for asphalt, to the mid-40s for pavers, and higher for concrete or commercial applications. Herd stresses that snow-melting functions aren't designed to measurably raise ambient heat temperatures. Whereas you may want your bathroom and tile floor a cozy 80 degrees, snow-melting systems need only raise temperatures above freezing to do their job. The smaller amount of temperature change keeps worries of cracking or buckling driveways at bay.
Although exterior products comprise only about 10% of the radiant-heating market, Sedlock says interest is increasing and more manufacturers are entering the market. "Pricing for these systems will only drop as we see more volume come in," he says. "In the meantime, there's a lot of margin in this type of installation, and installers can offer snow-melting systems as an amenity their competitors don't have."