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What’s Better: Snow Melting Mats or Heated Driveways?

What’s Better: Snow Melting Mats or Heated Driveways?

What’s Better: Snow Melting Mats or Heated Driveways?

If you’re considering which option is better, snow melting mats or a heated driveway, then you already understand the appeal of either of these compared to the alternatives. Both are effective in maintaining a snow-free driveway and eliminating issues such as damage from rock salt, the maintenance involved with constant application of de-icers, the strain and potential hazards of shoveling snow, or the ongoing cost and potential damage to your property with methods such as snow plowing.

While both heated snow melting mats and heated driveways are effective, they differ in other aspects that are definitely worth considering. In order to make the best, most informed choice, let’s take a look at each of these options.

Heated Driveway Pros and Cons

Heated driveways involve systems that are embedded into its pavement. They are powered by a heating element that distributes heat throughout the driveway from approximately two inches below its surface.

There are two types of heated driveways, electric coil and hydronic. The first uses electrically charged metal coils, and the latter pumps a heated water and antifreeze solution through plastic tubing. Hydronic systems are more costly to install, and electric systems cost more to operate.

Heated driveway pros

  • Effective and easy. As stated previously, heated driveways are effective and will maintain a snow-free driveway with practically no effort aside from programming a sensor or manually turning the system on and off.
  • No maintenance required. Once a heated driveway has been installed, there’s no ongoing maintenance necessary. A heated driveway also eliminates the ongoing costs involved with buying de-icers or paying for snow-removal services.
  • Avoids damage. Installing a heated driveway means avoiding other potentially damaging methods, such as spreading rock salt or using a snow plow. It also means avoiding damage to yourself by eliminating the potential hazards of shoveling snow or the risk of liability when someone else does the shoveling.

Heated driveway cons

  • A major project. Unless it’s a brand-new driveway, installing a heated driveway typically involves tearing up the existing one, which likely will incur demolition costs, and pouring a new driveway. While there are ways around completely tearing up a driveway to install a heating system, warranties are often only applicable to systems installed in new pavement.
  • Repairs can be costly. While heated driveways require little to no maintenance, if something goes wrong with the system, such as a wire shorting out or tubes puncturing, repairs involve tearing up pavement to access the system, which can be expensive.
  • Operating costs can be significant. While the numbers vary from region to region, heated driveways incur an operating cost that is unattractive to many homeowners, ranging up into hundreds of dollars per winter.

Heated Snow Melting Mats Pros and Con

Heated driveway mats are made from special thermoplastics and use an internal electric element to distribute heat evenly. They maintain an average temperature of 40 degrees above the ambient temperature and can melt snow at a rate of about two inches per hour.

Heated snow melting mat pros

  • Effective and easy. Like heated driveways, heated driveway mats are effective at maintaining a snow-free surface. They are designed to stay outdoors all winter long and can be operated manually with a temperature sensing control or remotely.
  • Easy installation. Heated snow melting mats simply need to be placed and plugged in and can easily be moved if needed. The initial investment in these mats is also fairly minimal in comparison to the high cost of installing a heated driveway.
  • Low maintenance. These mats are made from durable rubber that is designed to be driven on. Like heated driveways, they also eliminate the need for ongoing snow removal services or application of de-icers. 
  • Improved safety. The surface of heated driveway mats improves traction and safety with tread. They also eliminate the need for potentially unsafe activities like shoveling snow or having to be in the cold outdoors applying de-icers.
  • Cost efficient to operate. Heated driveway mats are made to meet the highest electrical standards and as a result are not only safe, but are cost-efficient and average about $1 per day to operate.

Heated snow melting mat con

  • You’ll want to use them everywhere. Heated snow melting mats aren’t just for the driveway, they’re made for stairs, walkways and entrances, also. Once you’ve experienced the ease and effectiveness of using these mats you’ll want to use them for your main snow-removal method everywhere you can.

Given that heated driveways and heated snow melting mats both provide some pretty major “pros,” it would seem that the differentiating factors between them are cost and ease of installation, as well as ongoing operating and potential maintenance costs. In this context, heated driveway mats are a clear winner when it comes to maintaining the safety and accessibility of your driveway this winter. 

How to Deal with a Steep Driveway during Winter

How to Deal with a Steep Driveway during Winter
How to Deal with a Steep Driveway during Winter

Have you ever looked up a steep snow-covered driveway and wondered how you’re going to get up to your house safely? Or, perhaps you’ve been at the top of your driveway and considered the long, slippery slope down. If you’ve ever experienced either circumstance, you know how crucial it is to have an effective, efficient driveway snow-melt system.

Your driveway is the connection between your home and the world, and during the snowy winter months it becomes particularly important to have the assurance of safe access to both. Aside from the general hazards of snow, accumulating ice, and even black ice, slip-and-fall accidents are a major concern, as is the potential for losing control of your vehicle while trying to maneuver the steep grade of your driveway. The tendency to “gun it” to get up the slope of your driveway could result in damage to your vehicle, property, and even yourself.

What Makes a Driveway Snow-Melt System a Good One?

To avoid slip-and-fall accidents or slide-offs in your vehicle, it’s worthwhile to spend some time considering the best snow-melt system for your steep driveway. The following questions should help you arrive at a system that works for your needs and resources:

  • Is the system effective?
  • Is it cost efficient?
  • Is it labor intensive or easily maintained?
  • Does it have any potential drawbacks such as damage to my driveway or property?

With these questions in mind, let’s take a look at some of the options for managing a steep driveway during the winter months.

De-icers

De-icers such as rock salt or alternatives such as urea and calcium chloride are easily found at local hardware stores and are most effective when put down prior to heavy snows and storms. Because they typically work by combining with melting snow to form a solution that further melts snow and ice, de-icers become diluted and need to be reapplied. As well, de-icers may not “keep up” with heavy snowfall or stay in place during strong winds.

While using de-icers is a popular choice because of accessibility and generally low cost, they can have an adverse effect on your property. For example, rock salt can wreak havoc on a driveway surface due to freeze-thaw cycles that promote cracking and spalling. Its runoff can also be hazardous to plants and landscape, and it is toxic to pets, as well. Some of the chemical de-icer alternatives are less damaging to driveway surfaces and surrounding landscape but are not completely safe choices, either.

Traction-Boosting Agents

An alternative option is to put substances like gravel, kitty litter or sawdust down in the driveway to promote traction. These can also be used in combination with de-icers to encourage snow melt while improving driveway safety.

Depending on the size of your driveway, this may not be the most effective, cost efficient or clean method. The idea of shoveling up piles of slushy kitty litter or sawdust can be unattractive.

Mechanical Removal

Mechanical removal methods as a driveway snow-melt system involve shoveling, snow blowing or snow plowing. These can be done by you, or you can employ the services of local individuals or professional companies to do the work.

Once again, depending on the size of your driveway, this may or may not be a cost efficient strategy, and involves ongoing maintenance particularly during snowy days. Other drawbacks are also involved with this method, such as the potential hazards of shoveling snow or possible damage by equipment to your driveway or property. 

Heated Driveways

A heated driveway is an effective way to keep your driveway clear of snow during the winter months. However, this option involves a large up-front cost as well as a major construction project for your driveway. While it can be efficient and easily-maintained, a heated driveway simply is not a practical option for many homeowners.

Heated Snow-Melting Driveway Mats

Heated snow-melting driveway mats are plugged in and can either be turned on manually to maintain a snow-free driveway, activated with a temperature-sensing control, or turned on remotely. They are made from durable rubber designed to be driven on and left outdoors all winter long.

Costing about $1 per day to run, these mats are an energy-efficient and effective option with little to no maintenance needed once they’ve been placed for the winter.

When you’re a homeowner with a steep driveway, it’s absolutely worth it to find a driveway snow-melt system that “checks all the boxes.” The peace of mind and assurance of safety are priceless when it comes to getting to and from your home during the snow season.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Heated Driveways

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Heated Driveways

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Heated Driveways

A concrete or asphalt driveway is a major convenience that many homeowners enjoy, but when winter weather arrives and covers your pavement with a layer of snow or ice, steps must be taken to recover full use of your driveway. And the safety hazards of slippery pavements must also be minimized, both to prevent accidents and to avert any possible lawsuits that may follow if a visitor should be injured on your property.

One common strategy for keeping driveways free of snow/ice during the winter is to install a heated driveway system long before winter begins. These snow-melt systems can keep your whole drive snow-free, or they can target a portion of the driveway only. (Many times, only one sufficiently wide tire lane is heated.) The convenience of a heated driveway comes at a substantial cost, but in some situations, they are well worth the investment.

Below, we look at the pros and potential cons of installing either an electric coil or hydronic heated driveway. We also mention an exciting new alternative method of heating your driveway that is just now ready to appear on the market.

The Two Types of Heated Driveways

Electric coil heated driveways involve installing electrically heated metal rods under your pavement, which can be controlled as to temperature, timing, and duration of heating. The power output of the cables varies, ranging from 6 to 50 Watts per linear foot, and reaching temperatures as high as 220° F (93.33° C). This means you can melt snow/ice at rates of inches per hour, depending on your specific system and on how high you turn up the heat.

Hydronic heated driveways consist of PVC tubing that zigzags underneath your pavement. A heated water-antifreeze mixture is circulated through the tubing, warming concrete/asphalt and freeing your pavement of snow and ice. Hydronic systems cost more to install than electric coil, but the latter cost more to operate.

Benefits of a Heated Driveway

The major benefits of a heated driveway that have made them popular with many homeowners in the northern U.S. include the following:

  • No need to shovel: Eliminating snow shoveling also eliminates the risks of slip-and-fall accidents, frost bite, and hypothermia. And there is no need to hire someone to shovel or plow your drive, which saves you money. Finally, there is no risk of scraping or chipping your pavement with shovels and ice picks.

  • No need for deicing: The heated portions of your driveway will not require any rock salt or other deicer. As salt has damaging effects on pavements and adjacent vegetation, it is good to minimize its use. Additionally, the health hazard contact or ingestion of deicers poses to pets and kids is eliminated, as is the expense of buying them.

  • No-maintenance service: Typically, once you install a heated driveway, there is nothing more you need do but operate it for many years. As long as the heating elements are evenly spaced and large, sharp stones were not used when the driveway was poured, there should be little if any maintenance costs.

Drawbacks of Heated Driveways

Some of the major "cons" to consider when weighing whether or not to install a heated driveway include:

  • The installation expense: Normally, you have to install a new driveway in order to integrate the sub-pavement heating system, and this can cost thousands of dollars. The systems themselves will also cost at least a couple thousand dollars. A $5,000 to $10,000 (approximately $6,720 to $13,440 CAD) bill is not uncommon.

  • Operating expenses: How much it costs to run a heated driveway will vary greatly based on square footage heated, differential between outdoor and target temperatures, and how prone the region is to snow/ice accumulation. However, $125 to $250 (approximately $168 to $336 CAD) per season to run a hydronic system and $275 (approximately $369 CAD) or more for an electric coil system are reasonable estimates.

  • Repair expense: Though properly installed heated driveways normally need no maintenance, when they do, it may require tearing up the whole driveway to make the repair. If an electric wire burns out or a PVC tube is punctured, it will cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to correct.

A Heated Driveway Alternative

Heated driveway snow-melting mats are similar to other snow-melting mats designed for walkways and entry areas but strong enough to endure the weight of vehicles instead of just foot traffic.

The mats are laid down straight to create a snow-free tire lane. They are capable of melting around two inches (5 cm) of snow per hour, and the melt-off will not refreeze while they are on. They run off ordinary outlets and can be used as needed to reduce expenses.

Heated driveways have many important benefits, though they are also expensive to install and repair. Driveway snow-melting mats can accomplish much the same thing as heated driveways, while costing less.