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What’s The Best Snowmelt System for Concrete?

When the weather outside is frightful, a snowmelt system is so delightful! 

Installing a Snowmelt System in concrete driveways and plazas is a convenient method for snow removal. It’s also a great way to keep your concrete looking nice in the long run compared to other snow removal methods. In this blog post, we will outline some key tips from the Colorado Hardscapes experts on installing a snowmelt system that will last.

Traditional Snow Removal VS a Snowmelt System

People choose to install Snowmelt Systems for a variety of reasons. The number one reason is safety. Preventing slips and falls is a priority, no matter which removal method you use. But which method is the best for the maintenance of your concrete? Besides the convenience of saved time and material, a snowmelt system is the best at eliminating wear and tear from snow removal equipment and chemicals.

Running snow removal equipment over concrete day after day, year after year not only leaves permanent scratches and chipped edges but leaves shards of metal that rust. You’ve seen those rusty spots on concrete before! 

How about chemical de-icers? Do they damage concrete? 

Again, yes. In short, the chemistry between the calcium oxychloride in salt and calcium hydroxide in concrete lead to joint and crack deterioration. Cracks then become more susceptible to freeze-thaw which destrays the surface of your concrete.

Even without direct chemical damage, the process of keeping water from freezing when the ambient temperature is below freezing and allowing that water to penetrate the surface of the concrete can result in freeze-thaw damage. The only way to prevent this is by washing off the salt as soon as possible, and refraining from using it when temperatures are below freezing.

At Colorado Hardscapes, we always suggest using sand instead of salt on concrete at least for the first year of installation. Continuing, we neither suggest, nor oppose the use of chemical de-icers, but rather choose to inform our clients about the potential risks.

The Best Way to Install a Snowmelt System

The Monarch Casino, Blackhawk, CO

Now that we know WHY to install a Snowmelt System, let’s talk about the best way HOW. (Although there are electric snowmelt systems, our experience and success have been with hydronic systems- addressed here)

There are a few key things to make sure your Snowmelt System is installed correctly and lasts for years to come: 

1. Install concrete at least 5” thick- that’s at a minimum! 

2. Design the system with insulation board between the subgrade and the concrete.

3. Make sure the tubing is tied to something on your plans.

  • Over the insulation, place light-duty mesh, place and tie the tubing, and then place heavy-duty mesh or rebar  2.5” from the top of the concrete. NOTE: Colorado Hardscapes subs out the installation of the tubing itself. 

4. Add an automated sensor to the snowmelt system that measures temperature and moisture. You don’t want to get up in the middle of the night to turn it on!

By following these tips, you’ll protect the tubing from being damaged from sawcutting control joints. Moreover, these steps will still allow the tubing system to run efficiently.

Fun Fact: Did you know that concrete is known to be the best paving material for snowmelt systems? This is because it retains the most heat- even compared to brick pavers and stone! 

Snowmelt System Examples

After going over what makes a quality snowmelt system, here are just two examples of projects that we suggest our clients use as a standard for all snowmelt systems going forward.

Market Station

1200 LF of snowmelt tubing and 15,000 SF of Sandscape concrete. 

Private Castle Pines Residence

800 LF of snowmelt tubing and 4200 SF of Sandscape concrete. 

If Anything, Know This…

Despite being a higher price point, making the choice to install a snowmelt system will create a safe environment for pedestrians in a convenient way and protect your concrete from snow removal equipment and chemicals. If you have any questions about snowmelt systems in concrete or are looking to get numbers on one of your projects, don’t hesitate to contact us! You can always email us at [email protected] or give us a call at 303-750-8200. 

Colorado Hardscapes

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