I hated shoveling snow as a kid.
Some neighbors had snowblowers, but one lucky house on my street had a heated driveway. They never had to go outside in the cold to shovel snow, and it kept their whole driveway clear, no matter the weather.
Installing a heated driveway is an effective way to keep snow and ice away without any manual labor. However, there are things you consider before you do it.
This article will cover how heated driveways work, the different types of radiant heating systems, average costs, and the basic installation process.
Heated Driveways: The Basics
Instead of trying to melt through the ice or snow sitting on top of your driveway, heated driveways use a radiant heating system installed beneath the surface of your driveway.
In winter, it’s common for the ground to be colder than the ambient air temperature. That’s why you can have frost on the ground when the thermometer reads above freezing.
Radiant heat has been popular in commercial settings for several decades. However, they’ve only recently entered the residential market. Heated garage floors also use the same radiant heating system.
They work with any driveway surface (concrete, asphalt, bricks, and pavers).
Headed driveways are very popular in Canada and the northeastern United States, where we’d regularly get dumped on with snow. Many builders offer some kind of snow-melting system in most new construction.
There are two main types of heated driveways: electric and hydronic.
Let’s look at each in more depth.
Electric Heated Driveway System
Electric systems consist of heating coils in a grid pattern sitting beneath your driveway’s surface. The cables are resistant to corrosion and other possible damage, allowing them to last several decades.
The electric coils start heating the entire driveway evenly as soon as it’s turned on. Because it’s electric, the system wastes little time getting up to the appropriate temperature.
Homeowners love them because there are no moving parts to an electric heating system, making them easy to maintain.
Electric systems tend to be less expensive to install than hydronic driveway heating systems, which we’ll discuss next. However, part of the installation requires installing a dedicated 240-volt circuit.
An electric snow melting system typically has higher operating costs.
Depending on where you live, the cost of electricity in your area may make an electric heated driveway system impractical.
If heating your entire driveway sounds too much, consider installing electrically heated tire tracks instead.
Heated tire tracks only melt the snow from a smaller portion of your driveway, just wide enough for your tires. They require far less power, making them a good option if an entire heated driveway is too expensive.
In general, electrically 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.
- 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 a dedicated breaker box
Hydronic Heated Driveway Systems
Instead of electric cabling, hydronic heated driveway systems use hot water to keep your driveway snow-free.
Hot water flows through 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 heated water, which keeps the liquid from freezing.
The liquid solution is heated in a boiler, usually in a nearby shed or garage. Installing the boiler in an insulated garage can make it more energy efficient,, saving money on operating costs.
In general, operating costs are significantly lower for hydronic heated driveway systems. However, the additional cost of the boiler means that initial installation costs are considerably higher.
Hydronic systems, though extremely powerful, don’t heat as evenly as electric systems. As the heated liquid solution goes through the piping in your driveway, it loses heat as it travels.
This means the areas closest to your garage, where the boiler is, will melt the snow first. The farthest parts of your driveway will take considerably longer.
With a hydronic system, there will be periodic maintenance on the boiler and the piping connected to it. Usually, this is stipulated in the installer’s warranty and is nothing more than a regular inspection.
You should also expect to inspect your boiler at least once per year. Most homeowners do this in the fall, just before the snow season begins.
- Lower operating costs
- Capable of delivering more heat without excess power requirements
- The heating can be uneven
- High installation cost
- The boiler takes up garage space
Manual vs. Automatic Controls
Another consideration is how you want to control your heated driveway system. Most radiant heat systems can be controlled manually or automatically.
Manual systems are usually less expensive to operate. However, they are less efficient, requiring you to physically turn them on and off.
An unexpected storm, or one that begins when you’re not home, can be a problem.
By contrast, automatic systems operate like your home’s thermostat. Sensors attached to the system detect changes in temperature and moisture levels.
When the sensors detect potential snowfall, the system increases the power to melt the snow and keep your driveway warm.
Automatic systems are more “hands-off.”
However, running the system, even at low power, may cost more than needed if you don’t get much snowfall.
No matter which system you have, you’ll want to start the heating system before the snow starts falling.
If there’s already snow on your driveway, a thin layer of snow will melt first, creating “dead air” between the driveway and the rest of the snow.
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 you can expect to spend between $12 and $21 per square foot. This is in addition to any costs associated with removing your old driveway. Usage costs are typically under $7 per snowfall, depending on the cost of electricity in your area.
In rare cases, you can retrofit a heated driveway system into an existing driveway. That’s the exception, not the rule.
However, if you’re already considering replacing your driveway, this may be the perfect time to invest in a heated driveway.
Removing your old driveway can easily cost several thousand dollars. You can save yourself some money by taking a DIY approach. You can remove an old driveway yourself with a jackhammer and a little sweat equity.
Personally, I’d rather pay the extra cost to ensure it’s done correctly.
Several factors can influence the final cost, whether you install a heated driveway system as part of a new construction or replace your existing driveway.
- whether you choose an automatic or manual system
- whether you choose an electric or hydronic system
- local material costs
- size of driveway
How Do You Install a Heated Driveway?
Installing radiant heat systems is a long but straightforward process that usually takes several days.
In most situations, a demolition team will remove your existing driveway. Then, heating contractors will lay down either the electric grid or a hydronic pipe system.
Electrically heated driveway systems connect the grid to a mounted wall unit inside your home. Similarly, hydronic heated driveways connect the pipes to a nearby boiler, probably in your garage.
In both cases, separate contractors will install a new driveway surface on top of the heating elements.
The process changes slightly if you can retrofit existing driveways.
First, contractors must cut slots into your current driveway 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?
Driveway heating systems have a long lifespan, often lasting between 15-20 years. Some companies even offer warranties that last up to 30 years!
Most homeowners need to replace their typical asphalt driveway approximately every twenty years, so the average lifespan of a heated driveway system lines up perfectly.
Ideally, you should install a heating system at the same time you replace your old driveway.
A word of caution: if you choose to retrofit your heated driveway system into an existing driveway, verify first that it doesn’t void your warranty. Many manufacturers of heated driveway systems 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, it has 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 each winter.
Plus, if you used 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 lead to serious injuries, either for yourself or other family members.
A safe, snow-free driveway also protects you from being sued.
Finally, using rock-salt or other chemicals to melt the ice can shorten your driveway’s lifespan and damage your car’s undercarriage.
Rock salts and chemicals can also be dangerous to nearby plants and pets. So, not having to use them can be a huge advantage.
There are some drawbacks, however.
Heated driveways will increase your utility bills in your electric or natural gas expenses. Typically this is under $7 per snowfall, but that depends on the cost of electricity in your area.
However, when the heating system malfunctions, repairs 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 access to the electrical cabling or water tubes, you may have to pay for complete resurfacing. That can easily cost thousands of dollars.
Heated Driveway 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 more manageable 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.
Does a Radiant Snow Melting System 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, installing a heated driveway should take around five days. This can vary due to the availability of the different contractors that need to be involved.
How Much Snow Can a Driveway Heating System Handle?
Heated driveways can melt up to two inches of snow and ice per hour, making them highly effective in most climates.
Remember, if your system has manual controls, you have to turn it on before the first snow falls. Otherwise, there will be a significant lag.