Sick of Shoveling? The Pros and Cons of Having a Heated Driveway
Find out if installing a radiant heating system under your driveway is a worthwhile investment to keep ice and snow at bay for many winters to come.
Shoveling snow is a pesky chore that can literally be a pain in the back, but, for many folks, it’s necessary just to get the car out on the road. No wonder an increasingly popular perk in cold climates is a radiant heating system, installed just beneath a driveway’s surface, to melt snow and ice. If you’re intrigued by the idea of keeping your driveway clear throughout the winter months, read on to learn how these systems work, what’s involved with the installation, and how much they cost.
Keeping your driveway clear of snow and ice is essential for wintertime a safety. A proper shovel or snow blower can help you handle the task, but if you don’t tackle it immediately after a snowfall, folks will tend to walk and drive on the white stuff—compacting it and making it harder to remove. A slippery snow-packed surface increases the risk of slips and falls.
Installing radiant heat in outdoor slabs has been popular in commercial settings, such as restaurant walkways and mall parking lots, for more than 25 years; for residential applications, it started trending about 15 years ago. Heated driveways are advantageous for homeowners who don’t have the time or physical ability to remove snow by other means. If you live in a region that receives more than just a few light snowfalls during a typical winter, a heated driveway will save hours of shoveling, while keeping your driveway clear and safe for pedestrians.
Choosing whether or not to install a heated driveway requires analyzing your needs and budget, and considering the type of winter you typically experience. Residential contractors in northern regions of the U.S. are beginning to install heated driveways in newly constructed houses as standard features. The trend is likely to grow in cold climates for homeowners with busy lifestyles and as an age-in-place option.
Two Ways to Bring the Heat
Homeowners can either install an electric system or a water-based (hydronic) system. An electric system costs less to install, because there’s no need to purchase a boiler to heat the water. Operating costs for an electric system are often higher, however, because a hydroponic system doesn’t use as much electricity to maintain a consistent temperature.
- Electric systems: Heating cables and mats, made of cables woven together in a grid pattern, are embedded beneath the surface of the driveway to keep it free from snow and ice. These cables and mats are designed to resist damage and corrosion.
- Hydronic systems: This type of heated driveway system involves installing resilient PEX tubing beneath the driveway’s surface. The tubing is then filled with a non-freezing water solution that circulates through a boiler, usually housed in the garage, to maintain a consistently warm temperature.
Pros and Cons of Heated Driveways
Like all construction projects, installing a heated driveway comes with both benefits and drawbacks, and it makes sense to understand what they are before investing in a radiant system.
- No more shoveling the driveway, which means no more pulled muscles and numb fingers and toes!
- You’ll save money on professional snow-removal services. Depending on the going rate in your community, you could pay $25 to $75 per hour for a service to clear your driveway.
- Repeated use of ice-melt chemicals and rock salt can deteriorate common driveway surfaces such as concrete and asphalt, kill nearby plants, and damage the undercarriage of automobiles. A heated driveway melts snow and ice safely without danger to your landscape, the environment, or your vehicles.
- A driveway surface lasts longer if it’s not exposed to sub-zero temps. Concrete is naturally porous, and when water from melted snow freezes on a driveway, it can lead to surface spalling and eventually to the development of cracks. A heated driveway can maintain a temperature above freezing, protecting the integrity of the driveway.
- Peace of mind will increase when you needn’t worry about family and visitors taking a fall on an icy driveway. There’s also reduced risk of a negligence lawsuit being filed against you if a visitor slips and is injured.
- A heated driveway may increase the fair market value of your home, depending on where you live and the age of the system when you sell your house.
- A heated driveway won’t melt the snow and ice on steps or walkways. You’ll either have to install radiant heat in those areas as well or be prepared to keep shoveling them.
- Installing a heated driveway usually involves tearing out the old driveway and pouring a new one. In rare cases, a contractor may be able to install a radiant heating system over the existing driveway by using a resurfacing technique. This method, however, may void the warranty associated with the radiant heating materials, so it should be used only when replacing a driveway is not a feasible option.
- Utility bills will increase as the use of the electricity (or gas) required to operate the heated driveway also increases. If you live in an area where utility bills are already high, it may be more financially beneficial to hire a snow-removal service.
- Putting a heated driveway is a pricey proposition, and pro installation is required—you’ll need to hire a licensed contractor to do the work. If the existing driveway has to be removed, expect to pay $13,000 to $16,000, or more, depending on the size of the driveway. If the driveway is small, or the radiant system is installed during new construction, it could cut $3,000 to $5,000 from the bill.
- If the heating system malfunctions, repairing it could entail tearing out part or all of the driveway. To reduce this risk, hire a contractor who specializes in installing heated driveways and make sure you get a warranty. Standard warranties run from 10 to 20 years.
Once a radiant system is installed, your driveway should require no special maintenance. Treat it as you would any other driveway. You can drive and park consumer vehicles (including pickups) on all driveways, but it’s a good idea not allow heavy trucks, such as concrete mixing vehicles, to pull onto the driveway to reduce the risk of cracking. However, if you get a hydronic system, have the boiler inspected once a year (or as specified in the warranty), typically in the fall. No special maintenance is required for electrical elements.
Heated Driveway Repair Concerns
When installed correctly, a heated driveway will give you 15 to 20 years, or more, of dependable service, but like any mechanical element, it won’t last forever. Small repairs, such as replacing an electrical control board, can run as little as $200, but replacing a hydronic boiler could cost as much as $5,000. If the tubing in a hydronic system ruptures beneath the driveway, technicians can use a thermal imaging device to locate the leak, but a section of the driveway will have to be torn out to make repairs, which could cost over $1,000. Your warranty details which repairs are covered and which ones you’d be on the hook for.