With the average winter snowfall number for Southern Ontario around 107cm annually many homeowners dread those early morning or late evenings where they are forced to clear their walkways and driveways in order to maintain a safe and functional property. The burden of having to dig one’s property out from the white blanket of cold has made for some real frustrating and negative stories. From the homeowner in mid-town Toronto who has no where to store the snow once shoveled due to lack of property space, to the homeowner who lives on a hill where shoveling is the equivalent of running a 10K marathon, to the most tragic cases of people having fatal heart attacks and dropping dead on their driveways, shoveling snow is never considered an activity that we Canadians look forward to. So what have many of us done to avoid risking death by snow shovel, well, the ever popular Snow blower has been a solid alternative, but between it’s initial cost, bulky footprint when it comes to storage, and the fact that you still have to go out into the cold and maneuver about this heavy machine, many stick to the conventional method. Another alternative is to turn to snowplowing contractors, but if your driveway is not that large the cost of hiring the contractor will probably outweigh the job itself, plus many snowplow contractors will not shovel walkways, and the reality is that snow is unpredictable, if it doesn’t snow you still pay. Based on these questionable alternatives to snow shoveling the result has been the rapid growth in popularity of pre-installed heating systems by an ever-increasing amount of Canadians as a method of relief.
There are two type of heating systems that exist on the market that have been adopted over the years. The first and more traditional style for in ground heating is called a “Hydronic” system and the other is called “Radiant” heating systems. With the Hydronic system liquid glycol is heated in a boiler and is constantly circulating through a network of pipes in order to heat the floor and thus melt any snow or ice. On the positive side this system is very robust, it is great for really large areas, and it has been observed that its total cost of use, natural gas heating the glycol is low. The downside to the Hydronic system is that its initial set up cost is exorbitantly high. The boiler alone can cost over $10,000 making it very expensive as this does not even cover the piping, walkway/driveway base labour/material, walkway/driveway finishing labour/material, and the ongoing cost of natural gas used to heat the glycol.
Radiant heating systems, the more modern and ever-becoming preferred choice amongst Canadian home owners for exterior in ground heating uses electrical cables to transfer heat to the material around it thus melting all snow and ice that come in contact. One of the primary reasons for radiant heating being the preferred choice is that unlike the Hydronic system, the initial set up cost is comparable to any other standard home renovation project. The reality is that if you need to redo a driveway or walkway, radiant heating can be installed for a marginal cost. Chances are your home is already equipped to handle a radiant snowmelt system. With the electrical code calling for 100amp service and panels that accommodate, one can compare the amperage needed for a snowmelt system to a home’s air conditioner unit. In the summer the panel capacity is utilized by the A/C and in the winter the panel capacity is utilized by the snowmelt system thus there is a high probability that a panel upgrade or addition a pony panel is unneeded. This is all contingent on your home’s current electrical set up and the total load amount of your home’s appliances used at any one consecutive time. This is just one good example as to why incorporating a licensed electrician is mandatory for pre-installation diagnosis and installation. Systems are available in 120v and 240v cables for different scenarios. Cable systems can come in the form of mats, which generate approximately 50 watts per square foot and loose cable, which generate approximately 12 watts per linear foot. Matts are generally used for square runs and loose cables are used to fill in rounded areas, but these two types can be installed based on preference and professional recommendation. The approximate wattage used can be used to calculate the operating costs over time if you wish to calculate the impact on your electricity bill. We have frequently encountered these types of questions from perspective clients about the severity of the increase in ones electrical bill, but the answer is simple. Yes your bill will increase, but generally not by much. The fact is the system will be most commonly used over a four-month period from December to March. The system uses smart sensors to detect moisture and will only arm at certain thresholds, both temperature and moisture. Different sensors and controllers are available, which give you more control over the operating parameters. As an example the average cost of use on a standard size driveway (300 square feet) over the normal January with 10 snow days is an increase of $40 to your electrical bill. If that were the case over one winter you would see an increase of about $160 to your electrical bill, which is quite reasonable considering a snowplowing contractor would change a lot more for the year. As a way to give home owners complete black and white control over their system we have installed a shut off switch or a manual control switch, which allows the system to be powered and turned off as desired, thus giving the user the full confidence that the system is either on or off. This is advantageous for in between seasons where a non-bothersome light dusting or cold/freezing rain may occur and the user does not want the system activating. This is also a fantastic feature in the case where a homeowner is away for an extended period of time and doesn’t want the system used. Radiant heating systems should last easily over 20 years if properly installed. Proper installation is key to the operation of the system and it’s longevity. In theory installation is easy, but in order to have a proper and efficient functioning systems homeowners must hire a truly professional contractor with an expert team of tradespeople. Regardless of the pathway finishing material such as concrete, asphalt, or interlock pavers the precision needed to install the entire system is contingent on care, knowledge, expertise, and skill. Contractors and radiant heating system suppliers should stand behind their work like with most if not all home improvements by providing a warranty.
As time goes by the price of in ground radiant heating systems continues to decline making it more affordable and more accessible to a larger variety of homeowners. What once was considered only a luxury is becoming more commonplace. The days of having no choice, but to shovel, blow, or contract your snow removal out is coming to an end. The unanimously positive feedback from our clients speaks volumes about how impactful installing an in ground radiant heating system is.
As a side note radiant heating can also be used in a few other applications including interior radiant heated flooring say in an entrance way, bathroom, or kitchen to make it more comfortable on those cold winter mornings. Radiant heated towel racks can be used to warm up towels as if they were fresh out of the dryer or even assist with drying towels so they don’t build up that soggy smell. Radiant heating cables can also be used for deicing the roof and gutters so ice dams do not form and damage the home or even worse act as a danger by failing on someone. Finally Radiant heating can come in the form of panels, which essentially act as visually appealing space heaters that not only discreetly add heat to a room, but also save energy costs and eliminate the circulation of allergens such as dust.
As Canadians this simple science of Radiant heating will become more prevalent in our homes as time goes by because of the simple fact that it really works. As pricing normalizes and the reliability of the products improves more and more homeowners are going to jump on board. It is important to reiterate that the installation of these products is key and thus hiring an experienced contractor is necessary. If improperly installed cold spots may be the result or even worse the system won’t work and the finishing material will have to be taken up and redone. If you have any questions regarding the installation of any of these systems or products mentioned in this blog post then please do not hesitate to get in contact with us as we would love to answer any questions you may have.