For those who live in places with mild or warm climate, snow melting is hardly an issue of concern. However, people who live in countries such as Norway, Sweden or the northern parts of Russia, have developed exquisite ways of snow and ice melting. Melting snow is a necessary part of keeping a regular schedule and allows us to be mobile.
One of the areas where snowmelt systems have found a wide application is road maintenance. In winter, when temperatures plummet well below zero and snowfalls are heavy, proper road maintenance becomes an important and often quite costly issue. Many municipalities rely on a large fleet of gas-guzzling snowplows, shovels and trucks that spread ice melting chemicals to keep the roads clear during the cold months of the year.
Ice removing chemicals and heavy shovels often cause considerable damages to the road surface which means that additional expenses are incurred on repair works in the summer. Because of this, many homeowners and municipal authorities have opted for in-slab snowmelt systems to keep their driveways in good condition around the year. It should be noted however, that snowmelt solutions are installed only in existent or newly-built flatwork or road infrastructure, made of concrete and not asphalt.
Two Types of Snowmelt Systems
There are two types of snowmelt systems, hydronic and electric systems. In the hydronic snowmelt system, a mixture of hot water and antifreeze circulates in closed-loop tubing made of flexible polymer or synthetic rubber. The tubing’s diameter ranges between 0.5 and 0.8 inches and is flexible enough to fit in different layout patterns. The tubes texture allows them to resist high operating temperatures, and they are not brittle when weather outside becomes extremely cold. Generally, the fluid’s temperature ranges between 140 and 176 F.
The heating element in the electric snowmelt system consist of hot wires, surrounded by copper grounding braid, some layers of insulation, and a protective outer jacket made of polyolefin or PVS. The cable’s diameter ranges between 0.1 and 0.2 inches and it could be spliced or cut to length to fit different layouts.
The heating element of a hydronic snowmelt system can be powered with different energy sources such as natural gas, oil or coal, as well as with renewable energy sources such as solar collectors. These systems are suitable for residential and light commercial snow melting.
For best results, the cable of an electric snowmelt system should deliver 36,000 watts of heating power (156 amps of electricity) per each 100 square meters of concrete surface or flatwork. The electric cables are buried in the concrete with both ends terminating in a weather-proof junction box above the ground.
Hydronic or Electric?
A hydronic snowmelt system offers a great flexibility of power options, but the installation costs are higher and its response time is much slower than that of an electric system. Besides having shorter response period, electric snowmelt solutions are easier to install in retrofit installations, but they also have some drawbacks that should not be overlooked. These are higher operating costs depending on the consumer price of electricity, and you may also need to create a separate electrical circuit to tower up the system.