Whether or not you should invest in and install a snowmelt system on your property is entirely a matter of personal choice.
Understand that the snowmelt systems being discussed here are hydronic snowmelt systems. This means that tubing to carry warm (not hot) water are buried under the concrete that is to be free of snow. This water is heated by a boiler. Because these systems require very low water temperatures (compared to a conventional hydronic heating system), high efficiency, modulating boilers, like the U.S. Boiler Company Alpine, Aspen, Alta, and K2, will inherently provide the lowest energy costs associated with operating a snowmelt system. The robust stainless steel heat exchangers used in these boiler models stand up against the temperature extremes found in snowmelt systems.
When properly designed and installed, these systems offer extremely convenient, hands-off snow and ice removal, regardless of the amount of snow or frequency of winter weather events. They greatly reduce the likelihood of a slip-and-fall. They eliminate the use of snow melting chemicals, and they eliminate the piles of snow along the paved surface and the damage to lawn and landscaping that results from the use of shovels, snow blowers and other equipment. And of course, snowmelt systems eliminate hours of backbreaking physical labor.
Most often, these systems are operated continuously throughout the winter, or through intelligent controls that bring the slab up to temperature before a weather event. Either way, there is no easier, safer way to keep snow and ice from the exterior travel surfaces of your home.
As you consider whether or not to install a snowmelt system, the most important factors in your decision making process should include the following:
- Is someone in the household at unusually high risk of slipping and falling on snow and ice?
- Do I need to install or replace the surfaces that I’d like to snowmelt?
- Am I concerned about the use of salt or other chemicals used for conventional snow melting?
- Is natural gas or propane available at my location?
- Can I afford to install and operate a snowmelt system?
- Am I in contact with a professional contractor?
There are more considerations, but these are among the most important. Each point above will be broken down in this article.
How great is the risk of slipping and falling on snow and ice?
There are two main reasons the residential and commercial property owners install snowmelt systems; convenience and safety. Convenience can be overcome without a snowmelt system by simply hiring a snow removal contractor. The safety provided by a snowmelt system can’t be matched by even the best snow removal contractors. Even with the use of chemical melting agents, nothing can compare to the clean, often dry, surface provided by a hydronic snowmelt system. Ice simply can’t form on a surface that’s several degrees above freezing. If someone on your property is at high risk of slip-and-fall injuries, you may want to look closely at installing a snowmelt system.
Are new concrete surfaces needed at my property?
Understand that there is no way to install a snowmelt system under existing concrete driveways, patios or walking paths. Pavers can be lifted and replaced. If you have not yet installed these surfaces, or if you’d like to replace them, now is the time to consider a snowmelt system.
Do you want to avoid the use of salt and chemicals?
Salt and other ice melting chemicals are expensive, harmful to the environment (including lawns and landscape plantings), and over time, can degrade the integrity of concrete and asphalt surfaces. Installing a snowmelt system eliminates the need for the use of these chemicals, not to mention the physical removal of snow and the potential for property damage presented by snow removal equipment.
Is natural gas or propane available in my area?
As previously mentioned, high-efficiency boilers are the best option for a hydronic snowmelt system, as opposed to conventional boilers. This is because the supply water temperatures required are very low. High-efficiency boilers use either propane or natural gas, not heating oil. Be sure that one or the other is available.
Can I afford to install and operate a snowmelt system?
The reason all homes in northern climates don’t have the luxury of a snowmelt system is simple; cost. For starters, snowmelt systems can only be installed below concrete or pavers. They cannot be used under blacktop (asphalt).
The upfront costs include, but are not limited to, the boiler(s), all mechanical piping components and accessories, control system, tubing under the travel surface(s), antifreeze and obviously professional skilled labor. A place to install the mechanical components must also be designated on the property.
Operating costs of a snowmelt system are fuel and maintenance. The more snow and the colder the temperatures, the greater the fuel expense. Maintenance on the system includes that of the boiler and accessories, as well as maintenance of the system fluid itself, which includes checking and maintaining the antifreeze.
It goes without saying that the size of the area to be served by the snowmelt system will be the largest cost factor, for both first and operating costs.
Snow melt systems are, without a doubt, the easiest way to remove snow and preventing slip hazards, which is why many medical facilities utilize them. With that said, they are also costly. There is realistically no “budget” snowmelt system.
Am I in contact with a professional contractor?
When properly designed, installed, and maintained, snowmelt systems are a luxury that the property owner will enjoy for decades, or even generations. They also raise the value of the property. When they are not designed or installed correctly, they can become a major headache. Concrete can crack or chip if the slab is overheated. If tubing was damaged during installation, the leak will be inaccessible once concrete has been poured.
Like the heating system in your home, it’s imperative to work with a professional contractor in your area. Please see the U.S. Boiler Company Contractor Locator to get started.