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Should You Install a Heated Driveway?

Should You Install a Heated Driveway?

Should You Install a Heated Driveway?

Harsh winter storms, snow and ice accumulations, black ice, shoveling and de-icing: It’s enough to make a homeowner seriously consider installing a heated driveway. The idea sounds tempting, but how much does an in-ground system actually cost?

Below is a summary of the average costs of installing and operating different types of underground snow-melting systems. Also taken into account here are ways in which a heated driveway can actually reduce certain related expenses, thus mitigating the overall cost.

Installation Costs for Heated Driveways

There are two types of heated driveway systems: hydronic and electric coil. Which type you choose will affect your expenses, with a hydronic system costing more to install but less to operate. The size of your driveway, or rather, the portion of your driveway to be heated, and whether or not you need to demolish and replace your existing driveway, will also influence the final bill.

In most cases, you’ll need to tear up your existing pavement to install the heated driveway. In some cases it’s possible to cut strips in the surface and retrofit in electric heating coils, or even slip hydronic tubing underneath. However, warranties normally don’t apply unless the heating system is installed in brand new pavement. This means that you could easily be looking at $4,000 to $5,000 for a new asphalt drive and $3,000 to $4,000 for concrete. This, in addition to the demolition costs.

Installation costs for a hydronic system average around $4,500, while an electric coil system will run you about $4,000. However, if smaller areas need to be heated, for instance just two tire lanes, you ought to be able to get the price down to $2,000 or less.

Operating Costs for Heated Driveways

The cost to operate your new heated driveway will vary based on the system used, the square footage to be heated, the snow/ice depth, and the differential between outdoor temperatures and target temperature. In the case of electric coil heating, the cost of electricity in your locality will also be of significance.

On average, a hydronic system costs $0.12-$0.25 per square foot to operate. This would come to about $125-$250 to heat a one-thousand-square-foot driveway during a typical winter.

The average cost of operating an electric coil system is more complex to calculate. For our hypothetical one-thousand-square-foot driveway, it will likely total between $275 and $700 during a typical winter, depending on whether you live in a high or low snowfall region.

This is based on $0.69 per kWh. To customize the estimate, multiply the square footage to be heated by 50 kW to find the kW used per hour of heating. Then multiply that number by your local kWh rate.

Snow Melting Mats

Another option to consider are electrically heated snow melting mats that plug into ordinary outlets. The mats create a snow-free tire lane that can melt approximately two inches of snow per hour. The melt-off does not refreeze as long as the mats are turned on, and mats can stay on indefinitely as long as conditions require it. Using these mats are efficient and economical, and they eliminate the disruption caused by tearing up a driveway.

Additional Benefits of Heated Driveways

To answer the question, then, of how much it actually costs to install an in-ground heating system, the answer is: thousands of dollars for installation and hundreds for ongoing usage. Nevertheless, you will eliminate expenses like paying for a snowplow service, which typically costs more than running an electric coil system over the course of a winter. Also, you will minimize any need for de-icers, thus extending the life of your pavement. Additionally, by installing a heated driveway or using heated mats you will save the plants along the driveway’s edge from salt poisoning, thus saving on spring landscaping costs.

Finally, keep in mind that a heated driveway will increase safety by reducing the potential for slip-and-fall accidents, thus decreasing your risk of liability and of paying for expensive hospital bills.

Understanding and Preventing Roof Ice Dams

Understanding and Preventing Roof Ice Dams

Understanding and Preventing Roof Ice Dams

Rooftop ice dams are a recurrent winter problem throughout more northerly parts of the United States, and yet, they can often be prevented (or at least minimized) by means of a few relatively inexpensive home upgrades. And even in cases where a more substantial investment is needed to guard against ice damming, the expense will easily pay for itself by preventing even more costly repairs.

How Do Ice Dams Form?

It is natural to think that, when ice is forming on your roof, it is a result of the roof getting too cold, but that is only partly true. In reality, ice dams form because hot air seeps up through your attic floor, up to the attic ceiling, and then warms your roof from below. Meanwhile, sub-freezing weather keeps the outer edges of your roof much colder than its center.

When snow covers a roof with this kind of temperature disparity, the snow over your living space will melt and run down to the overhangs, where it refreezes as either an ice dam or icicles.

What Damage Can Ice Dams Do?

Once the ice dam grows large enough to block water behind it, you have a "puddle" on your roof that will weaken the shingles/roof decking via a frequent freeze/thaw cycle. Water can also be pushed up as far as 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3 meters) underneath shingles, greatly increasing the chances of leakage.

Roof leaks caused by ice dams cost homeowners and insurers millions of dollars every year. Water damages roofing, underlayment, plywood roof decking, and fascia boards. It also infiltrates homes and damages drywall ceilings and walls, perimeters of windows and doors, hardwood flooring, attic insulation, and more.

Once you have an ice dam, it may be necessary to hire professional contractors to steam-melt the ice off the shingles. (Attempting to do it with an ice pick/other sharp-ended tool can damage shingles.) And you will also need to both repair any damage already done by roof leaks and locate/eliminate leak entry points.

How to Prevent Ice Dams on Your Roof

The number one way to prevent roof ice dams is to keep your roof cold. Even before an ice dam or icicles have formed, you can tell your roof is too warm if you see gaps where snow quickly melted after a heavy snowfall, instead of a solid layer of snow over the roof.

To cool down you roof, locate and caulk or otherwise block off air leaks letting hot air into your attic through the attic floor. Especially look for air leaks around pipes, chimneys, lights, and other fixtures. Then add extra insulation if your current insulation is incomplete or is less than 12 inches (30.4 cm) deep. Finally, increase attic ventilation so hot air can escape without warming the roof and so cold outdoor air can easily get in. There should be about a square foot (0.09 m2) of vent space for every 300 square feet (27.8 m2) of attic floor space. Vents should be concentrated along the overhangs and at the roof peak, and a ventilation fan at each end of the attic can keep air moving through.

Besides cooling down your roof, other ways to prevent ice dams include using a snow rake to scrape snow off your eaves after heavy snows. You have to be careful not to break singles, since they can become brittle in extremely cold temperatures, and you can only clear off one-story-high roof lines. Nevertheless, snow rakes are an inexpensive and often-effective, if tedious, way to prevent ice dams.

Another strategy is to install an ice and water barrier underneath your shingles along the roof edges. The material is self-adhesive and should run three to six feet (approx. 1 to 2 meters) up the roof for best results. The barrier will effectively waterproof the very area of your roof where ice dams are prone to form. This is an easy fix if you are putting on a new roof anyway, though it is more costly otherwise.

One final solution that can eliminate ice dams in roof valleys and other places where they stubbornly form every year is to install snow/ice melting heat cables. You can also zig-zag them along the eaves. It will be necessary to re-route water run-off to prevent refreezing elsewhere on your roof, and you will need to run a cable through downspouts that take the runoff as well.

While some may feel ice dams are inevitable, there are actually numerous concrete steps you can take to limit or even eliminate ice dam formation on your home's eaves. Understanding how and why ice dams form and learning the available methods for preventing them will allow you to choose the method that works best for you. Preventing roof ice dams requires a very small investment compared to the costs of roof leak damage.

What are Alternatives to Rock Salt for Melting Ice on Driveways?

What are Alternatives to Rock Salt for Melting Ice on Driveways?

What are Alternatives to Rock Salt for Melting Ice on Driveways?

Rock salt's destructive tendencies on driveway pavements, especially on concrete but on asphalt as well, are well known. It is not surprising, then, that many homeowners are now seeking alternatives to rock salt when it comes to deicing their driveways and outdoor foot-traffic pavements.

Below, we offer 6 chemical deicers that can take the place of rock salt and 4 non-chemical deicing solutions to consider. These options are not all mutually exclusive, so feel free to mix and match and find the approach that works best for you.

Chemical Deicing Alternatives to Rock Salt

Other chemical deicing agents have become more and more common at local home improvement stores and other suppliers, and there are a wide range of products to choose from. These deicers are generally superior to rock salt, but not necessarily in every respect, and they will cost more (whether a little more or a lot).

Here are six of the more commonly available "alternative" deicers on the market:

  • Calcium chloride: This popular deicer will melt ice down to -26º F (-32.22° C) instead of the 15º F (-9.44° C) to 20º F (-6.67° C) range in which rock salt is effective. As it absorbs water quite easily, it must be stored plastic/metal containers sealed with lids. It will not hurt plant life like rock salt can, but it may leave a bit of a residue on your driveway after melting the ice. Because it releases a lot of heat when it contacts ice, calcium chloride will also melt ice faster than rock salt.

  • Magnesium chloride: Whether in liquid or granule form, magnesium chloride is much like calcium chloride but only effective down to 1º F (-17.22° C) and not quite as fast at melting ice. It is still superior to rock salt, however.

  • Potassium chloride: Potassium chloride only works down to 25º F (-3.89° C) but is considered very "environmentally friendly," not hurting plants nor local water supplies. It can be used effectively when outdoor temperatures are not extreme.

  • Urea: Urea, like potassium chloride, only works down to 25º F (-3.89° C). It is one of the most plant-friendly deicers available, but it can cause algae bloom in ponds if run-off water reaches them.

  • Liquid potassium-acetate: This product is not best for melting ice but is effective at preventing ice formation to begin with when applied to your driveway just before a storm strikes. It is biodegradable and environmentally safe.

  • Calcium-magnesium acetate: Like the anti-icing agent just above, calcium-magnesium acetate is good at preventing ice formation. It has very small granules, making it able to cover larger areas with smaller quantities and still work effectively.

Note that alternative deicers will generally accelerate freeze-thaw cycle damage to pavements just like rock salt, though not usually to as high a degree.

Non-chemical Deicing Alternatives to Rock Salt

While it may not always be practical to completely eliminate chemical deicers, you can at least minimize their use and thus the damage they cause. Here are 4 non-chemical deicing methods to help save your pavements and landscaping:

  • Mechanical methods: Removing snow early in the morning and soon after it first falls by shovel, snow blower, or snow plow is best practice. If you have heart or other medical conditions, it is safer to hire out the work, but mechanical removal is 100% safe for your pavement as long as you are careful not to scrape or ding it with any sharp edges.

  • Traction-boosting agents: Another strategy is to lay down sand or sawdust to boost traction on your driveway. This will not melt any ice, but you can mix in "just enough" deicer if necessary. Do not use ashes or kitty litter, however, or your driveway will get rather messy.

  • Heated driveways: Hydronic and electric-coil heated driveway systems are very expensive to install, but once in place, they are extremely convenient and melt away snow/ice effortlessly. This option will likely involve tearing up your existing driveway, however.

  • Snow melting mats: Not only are there effective snow-melt mats for walkways and entryways, but you can also use heated snow melting mats that are specifically designed for driveways. The result is much like having a "portable" heated driveway for a much lower cost.

Rock salt is often resorted to because it seems like the only viable way to melt ice and snow from home driveways, but this is simply not the case. There are many other chemical and non-chemical deicing methods that work well and are cost-efficient. Each homeowner, however, will need to weigh the benefits, drawbacks, and cost of each method to form an overall ice-melting strategy that works best for him or her.