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Installing a Heated Driveway System

by Kyle Stubbs of Warmquest

Heated Driveways are becoming more and more common. Installed for a variety of reasons, a snow melting system can prevent slip and falls on walkways and steps, allow for 24/7 access, or completely eliminate plowing and shoveling. With more options than ever, most anyone can enjoy the benefits of a snow melting system.

Determine the Purpose and Size of the Snow Melting System

Understanding the purpose/ goal of your heated driveway will guide the entire installation. If your goal is to completely eliminate shoveling, you will need to heat the entire surface. If you have a steep driveway and struggle to get up and down during storms, a pair of heated tire tracks will work wonders.

Also take into account the surface being heated. Heating systems can be installed in new pour asphalt or concrete, in a sand bed under bricks or pavers, or even retrofit into an existing concrete or asphalt surface. The type of installation and the surface being heated can influence the system used, for example some products are more suitable for the heat and pressure involved in pouring asphalt.

Heated driveway and stairs

Decide on a System to Use

Heated driveway systems typically use one of two technologies (see graphic comparison below):

Hydronic systems utilize a boiler to heat fluid which is then pumped through tubes embedded in your driveway.

We work with electric systems, which use electric cables to provide heat to the driveway. The benefits of an electric system include being 100% efficient and providing even heat across the entire length of cable. Electric snow melting systems have no moving parts to maintain or wear out, and are either powered on or off, never idle.

There are several varieties of snow melting cables. We typically use low voltage Tuff Cable or line voltage Hott-Wire in our systems. Both install similarly and are the basis for the steps to follow.

Now is also a good time to decide how to activate the system. Electric snow melt can be activated with a variety of components ranging from a manual switch to an automated snow sensor.

Once you have a system chosen, it is recommended that you revisit Step #1 and ensure you have enough power available to heat the area planned. Often heating only a portion of a driveway can provide the desired results while accommodating any power limitations.

Compare hydronic and electric driveway heating systems

Prepare for Installation

(Note: From this point on, we will be looking at the installation of electrical snow melt systems in new pour concrete. As mentioned, cables can also be installed in asphalt, under pavers, or retrofit via sawcut. )

1) Any existing concrete will need to be removed, and the site prepared for installation including forms for the concrete pour. Locations for control units should be determined so that an electrician can bring the power to them. From this location, plan to bring the cold leads (non heating cables that bring power to the heating element) to the area being heated. Ensure that the ground is properly compacted for the concrete pour and to ensure the system performs optimally.

2) Spacing for the cables should be planned out in advance. The spacing is determined based on the desired heat output, and will vary based on the cables used. We recommend using data from ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) to determine how much heat is needed to effectively melt snow in your geographic location. Based on this information and the product selected you can determine the spacing for the cables.

3) As you plan the layout of the cables, limit the amount of times the cables pass through crack control joints. Plan to use a joint jumper to protect the cable where it does pass through these joints.

Installing the System

With proper preparations, installing the cable should go smoothly. Start by attaching the cable-to-wire remesh following the layout planned in advance.

Once the cable is laid out and attached to the remesh, elevate the remesh on castle chairs. This places the cable in the center of the concrete pour allowing for more effective heating of the surface. Install jumpers at any crack control joints.

Install the activation device and the control units, and make the connections to the control units.

Once the system is completely laid out, run any tests required by the manufacturer.

Heating cable in concrete

Concrete Pour

When pouring concrete over the snow melting system, take care to avoid damaging the cable. Avoid snagging the cable on rakes, shovels, trowels and other tools used.

At this point run any other testing required by the manufacturer and start up the system.

Enjoy Your System

Once installed, your system is ready for use. If an automated activation option was chosen, you have nothing left to do. If a manual switch or timer was implemented, watch the weather and don't forget to turn the system on when snow is expected.

About the author:  Warmquest has nearly 20 years of hands-on experience working directly with electric radiant heat on projects across North America. Their product line includes low and line voltage systems for snow melting, roof deicing, floor and space heating which are tailored to individual project needs.