Is A Heated Driveway Snow Melt System Right For You?

by Ben Bowen

Driveway Snowmelt Systems in Portland?

It doesn't snow that often here in Portland. We get snow an average of 4 days a year, and ice another 4-5 days. That's not a lot, but when we get 3 weeks of snow (like we did last winter) you just might start thinking about alternatives to shoveling snow off your driveway.

Could a snow melting mat system, installed under your driveway, be the solution?

Maybe. 

There is no doubt that snow melt systems work. We install low voltage mats from Warmup. At the first sign of snow or ice they power up and heat your driveway or walkway. Sounds amazing. Is amazing.

But....

And this is a very big but, you need to be able to power the system. Most residential properties will not have enough available power to melt snow for the entire driveway. Most will have enough available power to melt a walkway or wheel strips, but even then you may need a panel upgrade. If your power supply is very limited there are still options: you can "zone" the system, which means running one section at a time and gradually clearing the driveway.

Clearly, one of the first steps towards a snowmelt driveway system is to consult with an electrician. We recommend that you turn to Parkin Electric since they have experience with these systems.

Once you determine that you have electrical supply adequate for the system you can really start planning. What else is involved?

 

Planning Your Snow Melt Driveway Project:

Budget.

I won't beat around the bush. These systems are not cheap. They are a luxury item in places where it snows all winter, even more so in Portland. 

Removing your existing driveway or walkway, installing heating mats, then installing pavers over the top will cost you $45-$60 per square foot plus the cost of the electrician.

Location.

Decide what the goal of the project is. Perhaps you want to be able to get one car up and down a steep driveway. Or you may just want to have a safe front walkway in all weather. A lot of work goes into installing these systems, so be absolutely sure what you want out of it.

Materials.

We install Warmup mats under pavers. So, not only are you adding a new feature (snow melt system) but you get to upgrade your concrete driveway or walkway as well. Consider what style of pavers will work for you home. This post can help can help you choose a driveway paver.

 

Installing Snow Melt Mats Under Pavers

Curious what is involved in installing a Warmup system under a new driveway or walkway?

Demolition & Excavation.

Your existing driveway has to be removed and recycled. It is hard work.

Base Preparation.

Over your native soil goes commercial grade filter cloth, compacted 3/4"- gravel that is 6"-8" deep, and then a thin layer of sand.

Warmup Mat Installation.

The mats get carefully rolled out over the sand. Another thin layer of sand goes over the mats. It is important to avoid damaging the mats. They get tested at this point to make sure there are no breaks.

Concrete Paver Installation.

The pavers you have chosen get installed on the sand. Other than being careful not to damage the mats this part of the project is just like a typical paver installation.

Warmup Controller Installation.

Your electrician will now come and connect all the wires from the mats to the controller/relays. The controller is connected to your power supply.

Wait For Snow or Ice!

As soon as ice or snow is on the ground the sensor will be triggered and turn the system on. It gently heats up and keeps your driveway, wheel strips, or walkway clear.

 

snow melt mat installation under pavers
heating mat system electrical schematic

Snow Melt Mat Installation Tips:

What Our Client's Think About Snow Melt Systems:

Here is a review from our Lake Oswego clients Tim and Fran N. (You can also read it here.)

 

"The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."  Mark Twain.

If you want the very cheapest, cost cutting contractor as a partner to bring your project vision into reality, stop reading my review of Ross NW Watergardens' performance on my project.  You're wasting your time. 

But if you want your job to be done exquisitely the first time, with unequalled real time communications with your contractor as your project unfolds, please continue reading. 

Our 175 foot sloped, curved,  aggregate cement driveway was disintegrating after 32 years of use, Portland weather and some salt applied over the years.  After years of falling on our butts and shoveling the driveway during/after snow events, we finally decided to do something different.  We're both geezers over 70 years old.  Broken hips can easily ruin your day.  Same for your life.

After much research, I discovered electric snow melt mats from WarmUp.   Wow, this makes so much sense, everyone in Portland must be using these I thought.  No chance!  Almost unheard of in Oregon.  Undeterred, I pressed forward to bring this great technology to our driveway/part time bob sled run.  Our neighbor across the street had installed driveway pavers several years ago and we really liked the look.  So we decided to find a contractor to help us install WarmUp snow melt mats under pavers after tearing out our old driveway. 

I should have been asking paver contractors to install pavers on the dark side of the moon!  Several said they wouldn't touch it.  Others said they couldn't guarantee that such a system would work.  Ross NW and two other contractors said they'd take a look at the WarmUp website.  Ben at Ross NW got back to me within 24 hours to schedule an appointment to meet with us.  The other two got back to me after about two weeks.  I met with all  three.

From my notes, I discussed the vision of our project with the three representatives.  One contractor was unable to ever present a proposal.  The second contractor gave a proposal without covering most of the elements of our project, said it would take seven (7) days to demo the old driveway and install the snow melt mats and pavers and would charge what most likely would be a loss leader fee.  This company installed my neighbor's driveway pavers.  It had to be redone three times after initial installation to prevent water infiltration into their garage.

During my interview with Ben, he took extensive notes, took numerous pictures of our site and gave me voluminous useful information about what to look for in paver selection, substrate requirements for the WarmUp mats and suggestions to smooth the steepest parts of our driveway gradient that always caused problems going up and down the slope.  Shortly thereafter, we received in an email the most detailed, informative project proposal I've ever received from a contractor with a breakdown of costs including "wish list" items we'd discussed.  We accepted online.

During the five weeks of demo and construction, Ben responded quickly to our input, updated the timeline when needed and was able to give a quote on a new French drain.  Every member of the crew who worked on our project was courteous, cleaned up at the end of each day and treated our project as if it was their home. 

The end product, our new driveway with the snow melt mats and new drains clearly exceeded our expectations.  I give my highest recommendation to Ross NW Watergardens.  If you want your project done right the first time, look no further.