I always loved snow. I just hated shoveling the driveway as a kid.
Some of my neighbors had snowblowers, but one house down the street had a heated driveway, so they never had to go outside in the cold to shovel snow.
Installing a heated driveway is an effective way to keep snow and ice away without any manual labor, but there are things you consider before you do so.
In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know about heated driveways, including average costs and the basic installation process.
Heated Driveways: The Basics
Heated driveways use radiant heating systems that professionals install beneath the surface of your driveway. It works well with any driveway surface (concrete, asphalt, bricks, pavers).
What that means is that it sits underneath the surface of the floor – inside the concrete or asphalt.
They’ve been popular in commercial settings for several decades, but only recently entered the residential market. Heated garage floors also use the same radiant heating system, as well.
Up North, where we’d commonly get dumped on with snow pretty regularly, heated driveways are offered as an option in most new construction.
There are two main types of heated driveways: electric or hydronic.
Each has its advantages and disadvantages to consider.
Electric Heated Driveway Systems
Electric systems consist of heating cables, laid out in a grid pattern, that sits beneath your driveway’s surface. The cables are resistant to corrosion and other possible damage, allowing them to last several decades.
When the system is powered on, the cables instantly start heating the entire driveway evenly. There is little-to-no delay in getting the system up to the appropriate temperature.
Consumers tend to love them because there’s no moving parts to an electric heating system, making it easy to maintain.
Electric driveway heating systems are less expensive to install than a hydronic system, however it usually has higher operating costs. Depending on where you live, the cost of electricity in your area may make electric heated driveway systems impractical.
Additionally, part of the up-front installation costs include hiring a certified electrician to install a dedicated 240 volt circuit.
If that sounds unappealing, you could consider installing electrically heated tire tracks instead.
Tire tracks will only melt the snow from a smaller portion of your driveway, just wide enough for your tires. However, they require far less power, making them a good option if a full heated driveway is too expensive.
- Lower installation costs
- Easy to maintain
- Instant on\off
- Attach to small, mounted wall-unit
- Provide even heat across the entire driveway
- Higher operating costs (depending on electricity cost)
- Usually needs heavy-duty wiring and dedicated breaker box
Hydronic Heated Driveway Systems
Hydronic heated driveway systems use hot water instead of electric cables to keep your driveway snow-free.
This can be either a network pattern of PEX pipes, or heavy-duty flexible plastic tubing that sits beneath your driveway’s surface.
Running through them is a solution of propylene glycol and water, which keeps the liquid from freezing. The liquid solution is heated in a boiler, preferably one that’s close to your driveway.
That means putting the boiler in the garage, or outside. Installing the boiler in an insulated garage can significantly enhance efficiency, saving money on operating costs.
In general, operating costs are significantly lower for hydronic heated driveway systems. However, they will cost more to install due to the additional cost of the boiler.
Additionally, hydronic systems, though extremely powerful, don’t heat as evenly as electric systems. That’s because the heated liquid solution has to make it’s way through the piping in your driveway, losing heat as it goes.
Typically, the areas closest to your garage, where the boiler is, will melt the snow first, while the farthest parts of your driveway will take considerably longer.
- Lower operating costs
- Capable of delivering more heat without excess power requirements
- Heating can be uneven
- High installation cost
- Boiler takes up garage space
In general, heated driveways are all low-maintenance.
Barring unforeseen issues, like physical damage to the cables, you shouldn’t need to do any routine maintenance with an electric system.
However, with a hydronic system, there will be periodic maintenance on the boiler and the piping connected to it. Usually, this is dictated by the warranty itself. Often, this is nothing more than a regular inspection schedule that you should keep up with.
Most warranties stipulate that you have your boiler inspected at least once per year. This is usually done in the fall, just before the snow season begins.
Manual vs. Automatic Controls
One additional thing to consider is how you want to control your heated driveway system. Most have the option of either manual or automatic controls.
Manual systems are usually less expensive to operate, but they’re also more inefficient. They require you to physically turn them on and off. That means an unexpected storm, or one that begins when you’re not at home, can be a problem.
By contrast, automatic systems run continuously at a very low power level. Sensors, attached to the system, detects changes in temperature and moisture levels.
If the sensors detect snowy conditions, the system increases the power to melt the snow and keep your driveway warm.
Automatic systems are more “hands-off”, but, if it doesn’t snow all that much, running the system continuously may end up costing more than it needs to.
No matter which system you have, if you start the system after the snow starts falling, the thin layer of snow touching the driveway will melt first. This creates a layer of “dead air” between the driveway and the rest of the snow layers.
The “dead air” acts as insulation and keeps the upper layers of snow from melting as fast as they would otherwise.
How Much Does a Heated Driveway Cost?
Heated driveway costs can vary, but on average, you can expect to spend somewhere between $12 and $21 per square foot. This is in addition to any costs associated with removing your old driveway.
There are rare cases where you can retrofit a heated driveway system into an existing driveway, but that’s the exception, not the rule.
Removing your old driveway can easily cost several thousand dollars. You may be able to save yourself some money by taking a DIY approach. With a jackhammer and a little sweat equity, you can remove an old driveway yourself.
Personally, I’d much rather pay the extra cost to make sure it’s done correctly.
If instead, you’re thinking of installing a driveway as part of new construction, the overall cost goes down substantially. Even then, however, several factors can influence the final price point.
- whether you choose an automatic or manual system
- whether you choose electric or hydronic
- local material costs
- size of driveway
How Do You Install a Heated Driveway?
Installing a heated driveway is a long, but straightforward process that usually takes several days.
In most situations, a demolition team will remove your existing driveway. Then, heating professionals will lay down either an electric grid or a hydronic pipe system.
If you’re installing an electric heated driveway system, they’ll connect the grid to a mounted wall unit somewhere in the vicinity.
If you opted for a hydronic heated driveway instead, they’ll connect the pipes to a nearby boiler, probably in your garage.
In both cases, you’ll then install a new driveway surface on top of the heating elements.
If you’re one of those are cases where they can retrofit a heating system into your existing driveway, the process changes slightly.
First, a team will come in and cut slots into your current driveway that are slightly wider than the heating elements.
Next, they’ll drop heating elements into the slots and connect them to leads that run to the heating controls.
Finally, they seal the slots with hot asphalt, joint sealer, or mortar, then cover the entire driveway with fresh asphalt.
How Long Does a Heated Driveway Last?
Heated driveways have a long lifespan, often lasting between 15-20 years. Some companies even offer warranties that last up to 30 years!
When you consider that most homeowners need to redo their typical asphalt driveway approximately every twenty years or so, the average lifespan of a heated driveway lines up perfectly.
Ideally, you would install a heating system when you go to replace your old driveway.
One thing to be aware of: if you choose to retrofit your heated driveway into an existing driveway, verify first that it doesn’t void your warranty. Many companies specify that their warranties are only good for installation into new driveways.
Should You Buy a Heated Driveway?
Though a heated driveway system can be pricey to install, it does come with a few obvious advantages.
Personally, any time I can avoid shoveling the driveway, I’m a happy man. Even if you use a snowblower, it will save you hours of time each winter.
Plus, if you were using a snow removal service in the past, you’ll gain those costs back.
A heated driveway may also help lower your homeowner’s insurance. Each year, ice-induced slips and falls that lead to serious injuries, either for yourself or for other members of your family.
A safe, snow-free driveway also ensures that you’re protected from litigious actions.
Finally, using rock-salt or other chemicals to melt the ice can shorten the lifespan of your driveway, and can damage the undercarriage of your car.
Plus, rock salts and chemicals can be dangerous to nearby plants and pets. So, not having to use them can be a huge advantage.
On the flip side, heated driveways will increase your utility bills, whether it be in your electric or natural gas expenses. Often this is under $7 per snowfall. However, that depends on the cost of electricity in your area.
You should also be aware that repairs, if needed, can be pricey.
A minor repair, like one to an electrical control board, could cost as little as $200. However, a major repair, like a new boiler, can cost upwards of $5,000.
If those repairs require a technician to get to the grid underneath your driveway, you may have to pay for complete resurfacing, which is extremely costly.
Heated Mats vs. Radiant Heating Systems
Instead of installing a radiant heated driveway system, some homeowners choose to use cheaper, heated mats.
Heated mats are typically rubber and sit on top of your existing driveway. They’re usually the size of tire tracks and plug into a regular outlet.
That makes installation much easier, and can often be done by a single person in under an hour.
Although heated mats are much less expensive, they struggle to handle a real winter storm very well.
So, for example, if you live in Buffalo and get lake effect snow off the Great Lakes, heated mats likely won’t have the power to keep your driveway warm in extreme weather.
Frequently Asked Questions
Installing a heated driveway is sure to spark lots of questions. Here are the ones I hear most often.
Do Heated Driveways Crack?
Although heated driveways shouldn’t crack the concrete or asphalt surface, it is theoretically possible. Cracking is caused if the concrete is rapidly heated and cooled in quick succession.
This is a big reason why hydronic systems have a low-power mode, so the changes in surface temperature aren’t as drastic.
Do Heated Driveways Add Value to Your Home?
If the heated driveway is relatively new when you go to sell your home, it can add significant value.
If it’s older, though, and potential buyers see it as something they’ll have to replace, it might not add much to the selling price.
How Long Will it Take to Install a Heated Driveway?
If everything can be scheduled back-to-back, it should take around five days to install a heated driveway. This can vary due to availability of the different contractors that need to be involved.
How Much Snow Can a Heated Driveway Handle?
Heated driveways can melt up to two inches of snow per hour, making them highly effective in most climates.
Remember, though, if your system has manual controls, you have to turn it on before the snow starts. Otherwise, there will be a significant lag.