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Don't Shovel Snow, Melt It with Outdoor Heat Pads

Snow and ice are major concerns for homeowners throughout much of North America, and that usually means pulling out the snow shovel a few times each winter. Shoveling snow can be strenuous and uncomfortable work, but it's the only way to get those sidewalks and driveways clear -- or is it?

If you're familiar with radiant floor heating -- an HVAC solution that uses heated coils to warm a home from the floor up -- that same technology has applications outside the home, as well. Specifically, it's a great way to melt ice and snow off of walking and driving surfaces without having to grab a shovel or even venture outside.

The Ideal Time for Installation of Outdoor Radiant Heating

If you are building a new home or doing a significant restoration in a place that gets winter snow, you might consider adding an outdoor radiant heat feature—with the help of experienced electricians and others. Some of these features might be called hydronic radiant systems, and as the name implies, use heated water in tubes to warm up the surface. There are still electrical considerations with this type of system such as switches and sensors.

Keep in mind that the equipment and installation can add a significant amount to any home building or remodeling project, especially if the surfaces you want to heat are far from the nearest power source. There can be additional costs for removing the old surfaces and pouring new ones. Bottom line, it might cost well into the tens of thousands of dollars to install radiant heating under the driveway and walkways of an average home.

For this reason, radiant heating is usually only a feature in new construction -- with a plan to install the equipment right from the outset, it's possible to shave thousands of dollars off the installation cost.

There's also the cost to operate the equipment, which can run several hundred dollars per winter for homes in especially snowy, icy climates. But for homeowners who dread shoveling every year, that could be a small price to pay.

Where to consider using outdoor radiant heat:

  • Driveways
  • Walkways/Sidewalks
  • Patios
  • Steps and porches

A feature like this can be part of a whole Smart Home design.

Outdoor Heat Options That Don’t Require Installation

For those not under construction, there are other products you can use that will cost less and not include installation. The are called electric radiant systems or outdoor heating pads or mats.

Some advantages to using these types of systems or pads include:

  1. No need for corrosive rock salt products that can damage concrete walkways and patios over time, as well as pose a risk to pets and plants.
  2. For those with certain health conditions, not shoveling snow or risking a slip on the ice can be a literal lifesaver.
  3. Extend the functionality of outdoor spaces all year-round with less effort.

If you like the concept of using radiant heating outdoors but don't like the price tag, you might find a suitable compromise in heat mats. Available in a wide range of sizes, all-weather mats can be placed on your walkways and powered through extension cords to melt snow and ice as it falls. You'll still need to put them out before the winter weather arrives and stow them away after the storm, but it will at least spare you some shoveling.

Note that these temporary outdoor heating pads do require being in reach of a socket for plugging in, so consider contacting Mister Sparky to avoid creating a power surge or other electrical safety issues.

Look for brands such as HeatTrak and RHS Heated Walkway to see what these devices look like and might cost.

Proper storage space and practices will be needed to keep this seasonal equipment in shape for each use.

Thinking of installing a radiant heated driveway or walkway? Reach out to your local electrician to take the first steps, or just ask for more smart ways you can stay comfortable and safe throughout winter storm season.

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