Are heated driveways worth the cost?

Imagine staying inside on a cold, snowy winter morning and not venturing outside to shovel your driveway. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Janett D. of Carmel, Ind.)

Imagine staying inside on a cold, snowy winter morning and not venturing outside to shovel your driveway. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Janett D. of Carmel, Ind.)

Shoveling snow off of a driveway is one task that many homeowners loathe, either because of the physical demands of the task or the repeated cost of hiring someone to shovel or plow it for you. Modern times seem to have an answer for anything, and snowy and icy driveways are no exception. Heated driveways are starting to gain popularity, and while they aren't cheap, for some people the benefits far outweigh the costs.

How heated driveways work

The basic concept of a heated driveway revolves around keeping the pavement warm enough to melt falling snow when it contacts the surface instead of letting it pile up.

The two popular types of heating systems both work by generating radiant heat underneath the driveway, thus keeping the pavement warm during snowstorms. The first heating method uses an electric current to generate heat on a wire or across a mat, in almost exactly the same manner as most indoor floor-heating systems. The second method uses a series of tubes and pumps to move hot water directly underneath the driveway, warming it up.

Heated driveway
A heated driveway foils snow's attempts to accumulate. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Janett D. of Carmel, Ind.)

Heated driveway benefits

The snow removal benefits are obvious, but that's not the only reason to consider upgrading your concrete or asphalt driveway. Driveways that are heated also prevent ice accumulation during freezing rain or chilly nights after warm, rainy days. This makes the simple act of walking to the car much less dangerous. Such driveways also reduce the need for using salt or other snow-removal chemicals on the driveway, greatly reducing the amount of damage that the driveway absorbs.

Cost of heated driveways

Many factors go into installing a driveway heating system, such as what kind of system you want, how expensive the materials are in your area and whether you currently have a driveway in place. For most homeowners who'll have to demolish an existing driveway to install the heating system, the cost will be around $14 to $24 per square foot. So a 20-by-50-foot driveway will probably wind up costing more than $15,000.

There's also a cost factor involved with operating the system. Water-based systems are usually a little more expensive initially, but they make that up over time as they use less energy during operation than their electrical counterparts that use a mat or wiring system.

Additionally, you can add a sensor system that automatically turns the system on when it starts snowing, which can add expense to both installation and operation.

MORE: Snow and ice removal tips for the home and driveway

Heated driveway installation

With as much as these heating systems cost, installing one is certainly not a task that many homeowners want to tackle themselves. The installation can be long, backbreaking and difficult, especially if you need to demolish an existing driveway before installing the heating system. Professional driveway installers have much more experience with heating systems than the average homeowner, and most are proficient at removing and reinstalling the actual driveway that the project could take weeks less than it would in a do-it-yourself scenario. A professional will also provide some peace of mind when it comes to the system working correctly because a heated driveway isn't something that you can replace very easily.

Heated driveway mats

As an alternate to heating systems embedded beneath or underneath your driveways, consider portable heating mats. You can place heated mats over your driveway, entrances or sidewalks to prevent snow accumulation. Prices vary based on the size of the mat, with larger mats costing nearly $1,000.


Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted in February 2013.


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Is a radiant heating system right for your driveway?

driveway_asphalt_trees.jpg

Installing a radiant heating system under your driveway and sidewalks is a safe and convenient way to remove snow and ice when the temperature drops, says Rabe. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Glenn H. of St. Louis)
Installing a radiant heating system under your driveway and sidewalks is a safe and convenient way to remove snow and ice when the temperature drops, says Rabe. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Glenn H. of St. Louis)

If you live in a cold region that requires snow removal, you may want to consider installing a hydronic radiant snowmelt system under your home's driveway.

Comments

I consider myself an environmentalist, but the Green Police scoffing at everyone in this forum are clearly misguided. They remind me of people in cool temperature locales like Seattle and San Francisco condescending people in Houston and St Louis for using air conditioning. Bolstering the local economy by hiring locals to shovel your drive ??? Today, there's almost never an army or even 1-2 "shovel ready locals" and especially kids eager to shovel out your driveway during any given storm. Snow shoveling locals are like the milkman; they no longer exist. Heated Driveway Green Benefits: 1. far lower emissions than snow blowers and/or hiring out a plow truck (Which may or may not show up when you need it) 2. most "snowbelt" electricity is already generated by natural gas, emission free nuclear and/or hydroelectric (as many Northern utilities buy their electric from hydro or nuclear dependent Canada) 3. NO HARSH MELTING CHEMICALS OR SALTS FLOWING INTO THE WATERSHED BY WAY OF STREET SEWERS (and high salinity in the watershed = kills off amphibians and fish) 4. the driveway lasts 20-30 years longer = less concrete production (and every green devotee knows the environmental faux pas of concrete) And then we have the medical cost benefits which far outweigh the environmental benefits on all levels. Everyone up north knows 10-20 people who've broken hips falling on the ice OR ELSE gone into cardiac arrest while shoveling snow. Is a $25K-$75K hospital bill PLUS $30K post discharge rehab bill "greener" than just melting away the snow several times a winter with a heated driveway ??? Wouldn't that $25K-$75K hospital bill be better spent treating dozens of poor people in need of basic preventative care ???

I'm looking at this option right now. I need to redo my driveway (25x75) and sidewalks (3 x 140) so I have to incur that cost no matter what. Having said that - I live in NJ and I have probably spent over $700 this year alone in snow blower maintenance, salt, gas, having someone clean my snow when on vacation (how was I to get back to my house) and not to mention my time. I expect that I will spend a bit less then $1000 this year (a very heavy year) - but will need a new snow blower in 4-5 yrs). If I were to have such a system installed, and the fact that I have whole house solar (on average I generate a very small amount more then I consume - including charging my Chevy Volt daily), my thoughts are that outside of my initial outlay, my operating costs from a cash flow position will be zero. The added benefit is that my chemical costs will be almost zero and with the side benefit of tis being good for the environment, my lawn borders. Furthermore, my driveway and sidewalk should probably last longer since there is no more (or very minimal) ice build up on my driveway and walkway. The real question is, how does one really calculate the ROI - it seems like its about a $20-25K investment for what I need - with a 25Yr ROI (assuming some cost of money). Am I missing something.

ROI is always an interesting issue when brought up. We install systems year round and these are some of the simple facts. 1. ROI when thought of as a product or service that decays such as the ROI on your 20 or 25 year rated solar panels is not the same as a snow melt system as the system never loses potency as a solar panel does. 2. ROI electric vs hydronic is simple, the cost to install electric is usually half the cost and is over 99.85% efficient Compared to even a 92% gas or a 88% oil systems which still wastes getting the hot water to the driveway and back, never mind getting lengths over 600 foot long driveways. Then figure in oil or gas boiler repairs, maintenance. ROI when including the maintenance of a simple electric system vs oil maintenance and repairs of an electric system is night and day. ROI over gas boiler repairs is almost the same. Now for the real interesting ROI. When you sell the home or business that has a system nobody looks at the electrical cables in the ground compared to looking at a old boiler and says hmm I may need to replace this. An old boiler looks old gas or oil. An electric system almost always looks new. ROI vs a kid with a snow shovel is not fair either. Lastly ROI at the time of sale. Your home with a 10 year old electric snow melt system will sell quicker and for more compared tot he same type home with the same type driveway with a incline "hands down" every time. You may have a new kitchen but you chose that color, the new buyer may not like that and has to figure in a new kitchen or pool or tennis court,etc... but nobody enjoys shoveling their own driveway. Ron SnowMelt Inc

I've been installing hydroponic systems for about 15 years.since i decided to heat my sister's drive, since she was inquiring about the possibility I'm a contractor and civil engineer and very much tuned to the "why din't I do that then syndrome" My recommendation to anyone considering or just thinking about heating a driveway, either during new paving or when replacing pavement is this: 1) Don't even think about electric heat, its terribly expensive to run and not very effective 2) Get a drawing made from a reputable Hydroponic heat supplier and find out from the drawing what size tubing you'll need and what length. Most suppliers on line such as Radiantech will do this free 3) Buy your tubing probably for 50 cents per foot, install it under the proposed paving, on your sub-base, over plastic sheeting, per your drawing. Make sure your inlet and outlet pipes are exposed and capped outside the paving near the house. (it's easy) pave your driveway as planned. For an additional $1.00/SF your more than halfway to your heated driveway... for when ever you have the money or desire to install the rest of the system! Too many friends and customers have said to me "I wish I'd thought of it before i paved!!) Too Late!

Should I lay the piping regardless so that down the road I have the option to hook up the system?

Now i know i may get heat for this, pun intended but really! Hydroponics? Hydronics is the term were looking for here. Electric systems over 99.85% efficient, vs. oil/gas with maintenance and parts is hands down the best prospect. Your oil/gas efficiency goes down when you average in maintenance's and repairs. Solar not happening in northeast at current costs being triple hydronic costs. And the above ground piping stubbing has its own issues even when using antifreeze. I am not sure here what the specific requirements are too post but we are not planting here (hydroponics) were licensed contractors installing systems with 25 year warranties. www.snowmeltinc.com see pictures of 10 foot walkways and 1000 foot driveways.

What does the repair on something like this cost, if one of the element/component on the system breaks, do you have to dig the entire driveway to fix it?

Is there something I can lay down on an existing driveway to do this????

Many have posted that you would have to worry about an ice pond at the bottom of the hill. What is very hard to see in the pictures is a grate at the end where water runs in and either feeds into the storm sewer, or more likely, a french drain. Second, when coupled with a heat pump for your hot water heater, the system can be used to heat all the hot water in the house during non winter months defraying some of the cost and environmental costs. Third, the amount of energy used is less than many are probably considering compared to alternatives. remember, you are only heating the driveway to 35 degrees or so. This is about a 10 to 20 degree difference most days. On a cold day (15f) it would cost about 6 dollars to heat a 100 x 15 foot driveway and another dollar or two to melt the snow on top of the driveway.

I have read points on the return on investment of a heated driveway, including; save your back, plowing costs money, saves time, etc. I am curious if a heated driveway will extend the life of the driveway. My driveway face north and has a slight hill sloping down from the road, so I get a lot of freezing and thawing which leads to cracks and erosion of the concrete. Hoping to hear that heating elements would solve that problem and extend the life of a new driveway I will need to install soon.

Once installed you want any new driveway sealed every 2-3 years max. The snow melting systems we install we explain it like this. No scraping, plows, no chemicals, no waters getting in because of these issue means your driveway will last a very very long time. once water gets in and expands over a cold night it starts a cracking cycle, opening more and lets in more water and chemicals, opening larger cracks and so on... Ron Snow Melt Inc.

Wow, from the practicality and safety of something devised in this century to help people, to the attacks of someone who feels you shouldn't have a 1,000 foot driveway???? Get real!!!!! This is a great idea for our aging parents(or our babyboomer selves) who want to remain independent, but whom we don't want getting hurt doing so. Yes, there are pro's and con's of every system and you can debate them forever. But to condemn someone because they live in the country, off the beaten path, or for that matter, live in a beautiful home with a spacious yard, is beyond me. Someone is very bitter because they haven't gotten off of the butts to live the American dream and want everyone else to be poor and miserable as them, using the environment as an excuse! I plan on building this year(and yes it will be a nice home!) and by planning on my golden years, will have one of these in my 1,000 foot driveway!!!!

Good for you for not apologizing--I completely agree if you can afford a heated driveway by all means it is cheaper than a visit to the hospital with a broken hip. If you have ever lived in snow and ice you would understand, especially as you get older. If you choose not to do this for yourself or your parents so be it. Leave the rest of us alone that have worked hard all of our lives, paying taxes for those that have nothing better to do but pass unasked for judgement and opinion on our choices.

You said the the cost to take up an existing driveway and repave is about $15k right? My question is what if there is no existing driveway to remove, have you any idea what the cost will be? Thank you PG

Excellent article Mr. Drew; g to We have been designing, installing and maintaining residential and commercial snow/ice melting (heated driveways) systems for over 20 years now. As noted heated driveways come with two common heat sources, electric and gas; and are further distinguished by the method of heat delivery, generally electric cable or PEX tubing. As we design heated driveways (snow/ice melting) for professionals and homeowners all over N. America we have some experience with the various configurations. First, most heated driveways use natural gas as a heat source, as in most places the cost of gas is a third that of electricity. Second, even if electricity is the fuel of choice, we prefer to install a hydronic delivery system using PEX as the conduit to the heated concrete, asphalt or paved driveway or sidewalk. The reason for this is simple; we find the PEX more reliable over the long haul with no chance for a system killing short circuit. Third, the bulk of our systems are tied to high efficiency condensing boilers (the "Greenest" technology available in gas-fired equipment), so return on investment is fast (figure more than $1000.00/year for snow removal for a typical driveway in the Twin Cities), performance unmatched and impact on the planet minimal. Keeping in mind the typical driveway heating system will run less than 200 hours here in Minneapolis while the space heating system will operate several thousand hours. Fourth, control systems range from manual to fully automated. The control system may have little to do with the cost of operation depending on the needs of the customer. Many of our customers have driveways that can't be plowed and require automation to assure access to their garage in the event of storm. Many travel and would have to shovel on their return from a trip; hard to do in heels and skirt. Fifth, we are designing snow/ice melting systems for a growing number of permeable surfaces such as pavers and properly drained natural stone. These systems are better for the environment in terms of groundwater quality but still require chemical-free snow removal. Much of the information offered here by people who actually have heated driveways is, not surprisingly, quite accurate. The cost of installation is offset by the longevity of the typical snow/ice melting systems (over 30 years) and the cost of operation (about 25 cents/sq.ft. per year). In contrast the opinions of those who's knee-jerk reaction to such extravagance is predictable. No the ice doesn't form at the bottom of the drive. Our systems, including my own, will even burn off the furrow left by the plow in most cases. Solar panels would be great; figure 10 square feet of solar panel for every square foot of driveway and then the storage tank, etc. etc. If anyone knows of a company plow snow from a driveway and walks for $500.00/year in the Minneapolis/St.Paul please forward that information ASAP. Maintenance is but one aspect of the cost of operating a fully automated snow/ice melting system. I choose to save the planet by installing practical heating systems based on sound technology that people will buy. More important, that will work. The main reason people have heated driveways is for safety. Many driveways are impossibly steep--a major part of my business. Others are afraid of the fall hazard presented by ice build-up on drives and walks. One of our clients had us install a modest heated driveway system at his home after his neighbor, also in his 80's, fell in his own driveway and died of complication associated with his broken hip. My client flew missions at the 'Battle of the Bulge' and did not want to die in his driveway! From the ecological perspective, it is certainly questionable practice to have a large pickup with plow and salt driving from house to house scraping away driveways, landscapes and depositing all Lord knows where, while the better informed use a fully condensing boiler with a carbon footprint, even considering production, a tiny fraction of the snow plowing equipment. What's more: is many of our snow melted driveways are heated by the same boiler that heats the house, shop and domestic hot water. I tried to get my neighbor kids to mow and shovel...they just laugh. Have you seen a kid shoveling a walk lately? Me either. The bottom line is still the bottom line. We have driveways, it snow, the snow has to be removed for us to get to and fro. It costs less and is safer for Man and environment to melt it with a natural gas-fired snow melting system than by any other means currently available. The only rub is the capital investment most are not willing to consider or can ill-afford. In the end it is all about priorities.

Some people don't even consider the fact of health. How many times do you hear of someone having a heart attack or worse die when shoveling snow. or even those that have other health issues that would take them 5 time longer to perform snow removal then the average. A heated drive or walkway can extend and save lives. try to shovel 2000 sq. ft of 4 inches of snow. Its not fun.

Radiant heat is extremely energy efficient and uses renewable energy AND eliminates the need for corrosive snowmelt chemicals and salt - which damages surrounding grass and shrubs. I'm hoping to have a Warmzone radiant heat system in my driveway within the next year. (I hope, I hope . . . )

I've had one for 20 years. It cost about $5k, because I needed to replace the driveway anyway. I still have to use the snowblower, because I still have to dig out the big pile at the end of the driveway thrown up by the plows. So I remove the bulk of the snow all over the driveway with the snowblower and then use the heat to melt what's left down to bare pavement. Pretty much how others use salt. Costs about $10 per storm.

Just curious where the melting snow would run to. Most driveways are sloped to the road and would create quite an icy situation.

now.. THIS is my question to the article exactly! ... the melted ice/snow from your driveway runs down into the road/gutter system... and.. freezes... making a HUGE ice pond problem.. right in front of YOUR driveway! ever tried to pull into/out of.. a driveway where there is a large build up of slick ice? .. on a busy town road? i lived in town.. housing area, but on one of the busiest streets there.. huge ice puddle? what a nightmare that would add!

If properly installed 90% of the time the moisture evaporates rather than running down a driveway.

A few things to consider: * A gas powered snow-blower emits more pollutants in 1 hour of operation than a Honda Civic driving from Seattle to Miami. * If an electric system could be installed for $20K, that's about $60/mo added to your mortgage payment if you're lucky to get a great rate. * If you're in a windy climate, could you power this with a small wind turbine, like the ones available on Amazon that crank out about 5,000 watts? Or some solar panels? * What's the difference between this and heating your house when you're not there, or heating rooms in your house that you never use, or having heat in your house to begin with? * What does it cost in your time / energy to do this on your own? * Concrete itself is very expensive and requires massive amounts of energy to produce, so if you're extending the life of your concrete by not salting it, aren't you saving a little bit here? * What are the risks of doing this on your own - ie slip and fall injuries? * Why are you living somewhere that it snows to begin with? ;-) At first, sure this seems a little ridiculous, but then again there are heated sidewalks all over the place... and what about heated pipes all over cities that deliver heat to buildings... and even chilled water pipes going through cities like Phoenix to deliver air conditioning to their entire downtown, including an air conditioned baseball stadium that keeps the air on while the roof is open. So, all in all, I don't think it's that big of a deal, not like it's going to be on all the time, just when it snows or your driveway is wet and may ice over.

I haves heated driveway and it is great, I work 60 plus hours a week everyweek and not having to worry about taking care of my driveway when I get home or before work is a godsend. When we had a 24" storm it cost me 12 dollars that storm.

A snow blower or a tractor with a plow would be much cheaper

Just remember, the animals are looking for a warm place too. You never know what you'll find on your driveway in the a.m.

Is this even a serious question? This is an example of the core problem. Whether or not you can afford something is not how to make a decision. How much fuel (or other resources) you'll be consuming is what matters. A heated driveway? Are you kidding me?

In a perfect world the electric version with solar panels would be the best environmental option but otherwise it's little more than a matter of convenience for the homeowner and a nice chunk of change for the installer. That being said, I would be shocked if either of the systems held up for 10 years of normal driveway use unless the driveway was very heavily reinforced; even at that, a single crack could render the whole system useless.

We service both hydronic snow melting systems many of which are 20 to 30 years old. With regular maintenance the system should outlast the driveway.

20 years to recoup investment (not including cost to operate the system)? Will you still be in that house in 20 years?

The cost/benefit analysis of heated driveways totally ignored the costs of climate change. Droughts, hurricanes (Sandy, Katrina, Irene) all have cost bilions of dollars and been a result of climate change. And extremies in weather events will only become more common as the carbon dioxide continues to build up in our atmosphere. What a wasteful, extravagant use energy! Not to mention millions of Americans who are struggling in this economy to pay their heating bills......

Wouldn't a snow melting 20x50 ft driveway actually help to save the planet vs everything but shoveling? If I run my 96% efficient natural gas fired boiler to clear my driveway vs a ~15% efficient gasoline burning snow blower with viscous people killing toxic emissions I think I'm actually cleaning up the air for everyone downwind. Additionally I'm not sending my fuel dollar out of the country and incurring military costs to protect the energy supply chain.

Gary, the enviro-police finally got wise and dumped "global warming" for "climate change"; now they can never be wrong! Reporting on hurricanes and other weather events has gotten more broad and deep -- the 24 hour news beast must be fed -- so it seems like big events are happening more all the time - they're not. And recent studies have shown a trend that the climate is more stable over the last fifteen years. You comment about "millions of Americans who are struggling in this economy to pay their heating bills . . ." is a non sequitur. My putting in a heated driveway will not change their ability or inability to pay their heating bills.

Agreed. Heated driveways (HD) are an environmental abomination. And it turns out that quite a few people with the money to afford one do not have a scintilla of environmental awareness. But the thing to do is not condemn, but educate. If they are clueless, give them a clue. I joined fat tire culture in 1983, where I learned about HDs in Aspen in one of my cycling magazines. The author wrote about how he presented the consequences to homeowners, including an economic argument they could relate to. That is, how the sort of demand they were putting on the local utility requires them to build more capacity, which diverts revenue from stock dividends to internal investment. That is, your heated driveway is screwing utility stockholders. Ah, so.

This idea deserves 'Environmental Waste of the Year' notice! Please consider the environmental cost of such a wasteful use of our energy. Perhaps most consumers do not yet care how much carbon they pump into the air; but you do not even provide the consumer with an estimate of what it will cost to operate each year.

About *$1.00 of KW per hour of the storm event per each 300 square feet. our average customer pays about $35 - $60 per storm better than a plow service, no being held hostage waiting on the plow, no slipping breaking a leg or hip, no chemicals, no gas burning blower, no oil boiler, no extra asphalt (oil driveways) to install. * plus utility taxes of course and it raises the value of your home.

not quite kevin, what makes you think running a gas powered snow plow or snow thrower is somehow better ? ever had a 1000 ft driveway somewhere where is snows lots like new hampswhire ? well i have

Greed amd excess are ruining our plant. Why do you need a thousand foot driveway anyway... And if you've got it like that hire some community kids to plow your drive and help the community a bit. All Kevin is saying is the more we invest in non-sustainable solutions the more we hasten our demise.

If I could afford it, I would get one in a heartbeat! You leftists just don't understand, it's your money to do what you want with it.

I am a paraplegic and live with my 87 year old mother. When it snows or ices, we are literally trapped. I am strongly considering this option. Just trying to figure out the cost of installation before a driveway is poured.

If you can afford it, this sounds like a great solution for you and your mom. Hopefully you also have a garage that you can enter through the house, otherwise remember to plan for whatever walkway you need to traverse. You will also need a plan for the end of the driveway where plows will still pile up snow as they clear the street. Good luck!

ave $25 x 20x/ yr here in S. Wi. = $500 yr cost to Plow it If that Heating system Last 20 yrs? = $10,000 + Indexed to Inflation, probably worth $15,000 over 20 yrs savings So It All Depends I would think, the Electric system is the way to go.. Less Maintenance Just like we did to our Gutters Elec. Heating Coil system in them..

Electric snow melting can be "cheaper" to install if you do not have to upgrade your service. But in most places, like here in Minneapolis, the cost of operating a heated driveway is triple that of the same heated driveway driven by a high efficiency natural gas burning condensing boiler.

Electric systems come on during the event and shut off. Water systems throttle (run) hundreds of hours a year. Sorry but over 30 years of radiant heating i have heard all the views... simply put a water based system needs to throttle whether it is using a holding tank or not. Average running time for electric is about 6-8 hours during the storm and then shut off...

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Ron, would an electric "On Demand Water Heater" typically used for a single Bathroom, along with a Circulating Pump, be an alternative to a Boiler type system?

Electric generally costs less to install, if your electric service will handle the extra load, but often 3 times as much to operate. Fact is most snow melting systems will I only operate a couple hundred hours a year.

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