Clearing snow off your driveway in the winter is an arduous task that, with a bit of pre-planning and a chunk of change, could be a task you never do again. Here’s how much it costs to install and operate a heated driveway.
How Do Heated Driveways Work?
If you’ve never lived in a blustery cold climate before, there’s a good chance you’ve never even thought about heated driveways before. And if even if you do live in the land of the ice and snow, you might not have stopped to consider how the fancy luxury that is a heated driveway even works.
There are two kinds of heated driveway designs on the market, and both take a design found inside homes and move that design outside.
The first design uses electrical resistance to heat your driveway. When your driveway is installed, a layer of heavy-gauge wires is laid down before the concrete is poured or the pavers are set. This looping pattern of wire looks like the interior of an electric blanket made for a giant, and in a way, it is.
The system works exactly like electric heated floors people put in bathrooms or the electrical blankets they put on their beds. Electricity flows through the wire, the wires heat up, and the heat radiates into the driveway, melting the snow.
The second style of heated driveway is similar to the hydronic radiant heat flooring found in many homes. Instead of wires laid down in a looping pattern, a long flexible hose is laid down instead. The hose is hooked up to a boiler system and it melts the snow by circulating boiling water through the tubing to heat the driveway, just like radiant floor systems in homes do the same to heat your floors.
You can manually turn heated driveway systems on and off, but you can also have them installed with a snow sensor. The sensor is a cup-shaped device that detects when there is snowfall and activates the heating system automatically to prevent the snow from building up.
Installation Costs: There’s No Free Lunch Here
There are two cost elements to a heated driveway: installation and operating costs (which we’ll talk about in a moment).
Installation costs can vary wildly depending on where you are located, the local labor market, and other factors. Nationally, in the United States, the installation cost of a heated driveway is around $10-15 more per square foot compared to the equivalent driveway without the heating element.
So, for example, if you could have a new concrete driveway put down for $10,000, then the same driveway with a heating system would easily cost you $15-25,000. You’ll pay more for a hydronic system, but the operational costs of the hydronic system are lower over time.
There is a substantial up-front cost to installing a heated driveway including not just the cost of the heating element but, for anything short of new construction, a teardown and removal of the old driveway, too.
Operating Costs: Your Driveway Is a Toaster Now
While installation costs are eyewatering, you might be surprised to find that operating costs aren’t as extreme as you’d expect—especially when you factor in spending less money on snow removal services, less money on maintaining snow removal equipment, and so on.
Hydronic systems are more energy efficient than resistive electric systems, but calculating the operating cost is much trickier as it’s not a strict “wires are electrified or wires are not electrified” calculation. You’ll pay less per hour of operation for a boiler-based system than a wire-based system. How much less varies, but you safely expect to pay at least half what you would pay for an electric system.
Calculating the cost of a wire-based resistive system is really straightforward by comparison to hydronic systems, however, so we’ll calculate based on that.
Residential ice melting systems use around 35 watts of power per square foot. Using basic electric cost calculations and the current U.S. average price per kWh of 15.59 cents per kWh, we can see that each square foot of the driveway will consume $0.006 per hour of operation.
The average driveway is around 850 square feet, which means the system would use 29,750W per hour with an operating cost of $4.63.
How much that will cost you over time depends on your climate, but you do some rough back-of-the-envelope math based on your local weather. Consider you’ll need to run the system for about 4-5 hours, minimum, per snowstorm. Our projected costs for the average 850-square-foot driveway are about $23 per snowstorm. Over the course of the winter, you could easily end up spending $500 or more on heating your driveway.
That might seem like a chunk of change. Still, if you compare it to paying for a plow service (which can cost $30-60 per plow session) or to the hassle of spending hours of your life shoveling or snow-blowing when you could be doing anything else, it suddenly looks a lot more reasonable.
And hey, if you’d just like to keep the sidewalk clear or make a small path to the garage, you don’t have to tear up your yard and driveway—you can retrofit your steps, sidewalk, or deck with snow melting mats.