When cold weather arrives, you’re bound to see ads all over social media for those snow-melting mats. It’s a pretty alluring pitch—you put the mats out, and you never have to shovel your sidewalk or steps again. But do they work, and are they worth it?
How Electric Snow Melting Mats Work
If you’ve never heard of them before, here’s a crash course in how electric snow melting mats work. Take the concept of a heating pad, like the kind you might put on your lower back after a round of shoveling heavy winter snow did a number on you.
Then scale it up, waterproof it, and make it durable enough to repeatedly walk on (and in some cases even drive on), and you have a snow melting mat.
They come in a variety of sizes, from long and wide enough to cover a wheelchair access ramp to small enough for individual steps. Just like you string together Christmas lights, you can string together the mats using connector cables so each step connects to the next and then to the larger mat on your landing, or whatever arrangement you have.
You turn the mats on when it snows and they heat up around 40º Fahrenheit above the ambient temperature which both melts the snow and accelerates the evaporation of the resulting water. The time-lapse video above demonstrates how the mats keep snow from accumulating.
If you don’t have them on during the snow fall, you can expect the mats to melt about 2″ of snow per hour if you’re firing them up after the fact.
The Initial and Ongoing Expense of Melting Mats
Purchasing and running a melting mat system is, as you probably imagined, a wee bit more expensive than just buying a shovel at the local hardware store and getting to work.
The most popular company in the market is HeatTrak, and we’re going to use its product for our estimates. There are a lot of places in life to save a penny or two, but if you’re planning to put down electrified mats in wet conditions that you plan on walking on all winter (as well as having around your kids and pets) that’s probably not the place to pinch pennies. You’ll find no-name brand mats, but we certainly can’t recommend them.
The Initial Purchase Price of Melting Mats
You can check out the HeatTrax Amazon store or use their website directly to build up an order and check prices for your particular needs. For the sake of example, I’m going to build an order for my home’s front and rear walkways.
To cover the front, I’d need 4 stairway mats ($90 each), two walkway mats ($210 each), and a landing mat ($270). So that’s $840 for the front walk.
If I wanted to replicate a similar experience in the back, I’d need five walkway mats , at $210 each that’d be $1050.
Add in an outdoor smart plug to control them each, like this Kasa outdoor smart plug, and you can add another $25 to each daisy-chained section you need to control. So depending on the size of your walks and whether you want to do the front and the back of your home, it’s quite reasonable to estimate you’ll spend at least $800-1000 on the project.
The Operating Expense of Melting Mats
Once you have them purchased and installed you, naturally, have the expense of keeping them toasty warm to melt the snow.
The operating cost isn’t fixed because you only need to run them when it is snowing. So let’s figure out the hourly operating cost of the mats I picked out above. The landing mat uses ~380W, the walkway mats use ~300W, and the stairway mats use ~100W each. For my front walk that’s ~1,380W, and for my back walk that’s ~1,500W—for a total of ~2,880W total draw.
Using the U.S. average price of 15.95 cents per kWh, that works out to around $0.22 an hour for the front walk and $0.23 an hour for the back walk, with an overall hourly operating cost of $0.45.
Assuming consistent enough snowfall that I have to use the mats for at least 2 hours a day on average, it’s safe to estimate that thawing out the front and back walk would cost around $30 a month—halving that if I opted to only do the front walk.
Are Melting Mats Worth It?
With the purchase cost and operating expense estimates out of the way, the question is are the mats worth it?
There are three factors to look at: time, money, and safety. Running the mats certainly saves you time. Every square foot you cover with the mats is a square foot you don’t have to shovel.
Although, you should certainly factor in other places you need to shovel that you won’t (or can’t) put the mats. For example, I can put the mats on my front walk, but I can’t put them on the city sidewalk in front of my home. I’m responsible for shoveling that, so I might ask myself if it’s worth the expense of the mats if I’ll have to go out and shovel the sidewalk anyway. Maybe you live in a condo, though, and the maintenance crew takes care of the public sidewalks for you. In that case, never shoveling your porch or walk sounds pretty great.
On the money side of things, if you’re paying somebody to clear your walk or taking the time to clear your walk is delaying you from getting to work every time it snows, then perhaps the install costs and the minor bump in your electric bill is worth it.
And finally, perhaps the best argument for melting mats, is safety. Not just the safety of your walks automatically getting de-iced at the flip of a switch but the safety of not having to shovel in the first place. For folks that live somewhere where they need to keep their walks clear but age or physical limitations prevent them from doing so safely, having a system in place that automatically removes the snow without any physical activity or risk of falling is a worthwhile investment.
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