Snow and ice are major concerns for homeowners throughout much of North America, and that usually means pulling out the snow shovel a few times each winter. Shoveling snow can be strenuous and uncomfortable work, but it's the only way to get those sidewalks and driveways clear -- or is it?
If you're familiar with radiant floor heating -- an HVAC solution that uses heated coils to warm a home from the floor up -- that same technology has applications outside the home, as well. Specifically, it's a great way to melt ice and snow off of walking and driving surfaces without having to grab a shovel or even venture outside.
Hard on the Pocketbook
Of course, there's a pretty big catch: the price. The equipment and installation can add a significant amount to any home building or remodeling project, especially if the surfaces you want to heat are far from the nearest power source. And that's just for the heating elements -- there's still the matter of removing the old surfaces and pouring new ones. All together, it can cost well into the tens of thousands of dollars to install radiant heating under the driveway and walkways of an average home.
For this reason, radiant heating is usually only a feature in new construction -- with a plan to install the equipment right from the outset, it's possible to shave thousands of dollars off the installation cost.
There's also the cost to operate the equipment, which can run several hundred dollars per winter for homes in especially snowy, icy climates. But for homeowners who dread shoveling every year, that could be a small price to pay.
Going Another Route
If you're not ready to drop thousands of dollars just to cut shoveling out of your life, there are several less pricey ways to keep surfaces clear and safe.
Heat mats. If you like the concept of using radiant heating outdoors but don't like the price tag, you might find a suitable compromise in heat mats. Available in a wide range of sizes, all-weather mats can be placed on your walkways and powered through extension cords to melt snow and ice as it falls. You'll still need to put them out before the winter weather arrives and stow them away after the storm, but it will at least spare you some shoveling.
Rock salt. It's cheap, it's easy to use and it's available at most hardware stores. It's also incredibly effective for melting ice. But it's not without its downsides -- rock salt can be corrosive to metal and even concrete, so you might expect some damage to your vehicles and surfaces over the course of many winters. It can also harm vegetation, pets and indoor surfaces like carpet if it's tracked inside. So if you use salt, use it with care.
Shovel early and often. You'll spend more time outdoors, but if you start shoveling in the middle of a storm, you may be able to prevent ice accumulation. You'll also make it a little easier on your back by shoveling lighter shovelfuls. It's not the ideal solution, but it beats slipping on a slick surface.
Thinking of installing a radiant heated driveway or walkway? Reach out to your local electrician to take the first steps, or just ask for more smart ways you can stay comfortable and safe throughout winter storm season.