Friday, December 21, 2007
Affordable snowmelt solutions
By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
Snowmelt systems are designed to take the sting out of Utah winters.
Last week we discussed a permanent system to keep snow and ice off your driveway. The system, which can be expensive, features electric cables or hot water pipes running under your driveway.
Today we'll discuss some other options that may add convenience to your winters without sending you to the poor house.
The first option is to use an electric cable system, but to install it judiciously, heating only critical areas. For instance, instead of heating an entire driveway, you could heat only narrow strips corresponding to the wheel base of an automobile.
This would allow vehicular access in and out of a garage without having to shovel the entire area until a more convenient time.
Perhaps you are concerned about the safety to the walkways around your home. Portable snowmelting mats are one solution. The mats are designed to lie on top of existing surfaces as opposed to being imbedded in the walkway. The electric units can be placed in any area where snow and ice accumulate and work on the same principle as other snowmelt systems, continuously melting snow as it comes in contact with the warm surface.
The mats are manufactured with an electrically operated heating element sandwiched between two protective surfaces of nonslip rubber. They are durable and provide a much more secure footing for pedestrians. They are not appropriate for use in driveways.
Portable snowmelt mats operate by plugging them into any outlet. They come in either 110 or 240 volt options and in sizes ranging from 2 feet by 3 feet up to 3 feet by 25 feet. Several mats can be hooked together to achieve a configuration to suit your situation.
The cost of a 2-foot-by-3-foot mat is less than $200, while the 3-foot-by-25-foot version is more than $2,000.
Snowmelt mats come only in black, but there is another option if you already have a mat or outside rug. You can purchase an underlay mat that functions the same way as a snowmelt mat, but it only features a heating element without the rubber surface.
Stairs pose another concern. Electric rubber treads have the same slip-resistant surface as the mats but are sized to fit one to a stair tread. Sizes range from 9 inches by 2 feet ($125 each) up to 11 inches by 5 feet ($205 each). The treads are wired together and operate from a single plug.
There is also a more permanent (though pricey) solution to icy stairs. Heated aluminum stair treads can replace the steps of an existing stairway or be used in constructing a new exterior staircase. These range in cost per tread from $255 for a 9-inch—by-2-foot tread up to $510 for an 11-inch—by-5-foot tread. While the aluminum option is permanent, the mats and rubber stair treads are seasonal — just roll them up and put them away in the spring.
Portable snow mats and stair treads come with the option of automatic moisture and temperature sensors so they can respond automatically to the climate if you are not home to plug them in. They offer the same convenience and safety as a full-blown snowmelt system without melting away all your funds. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.