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Contractors and their customers must consider many factors before choosing the type and size of snow melting system thats best suited for a particular application. A system design that works well in one city may be inadequate in another.

"Not all snow melting systems are created equal," says Larry Drake of the Radiant Panel Association, an organization for radiant heating and cooling contractors, wholesalers, and manufacturers. He offers the following tips for making wise planning and selection decisions.

Utility costs and availability.
The cost and availability of utilities vary widely nationwide. The owner should consider the cost of electricity versus other power options such as propane, oil, natural gas, and solar. "With an electric system, the only utility you can use is electricity," says Drake. "With an hydronic system, you can use whatever power source is available, be it natural gas, propane, solar, or even electric."

Space availability.
An electric system simply plugs into a junction box. For an hydronic system, the owner must have the space to accommodate the water heater or boiler, circulating pump, and manifold.

User expectations.
Does the owner expect the driveway or sidewalk to be free of snow at all times, or is gradual melting within a few hours after snowfall acceptable? The former will result in higher equipment, installation, and operating costs.

Run-off.
Have provisions been made for where the melted snow is going to drain? In some cases, a drainage system may need to be installed, especially if heavy snowfalls are expected.

Retrofitting.
If the snow melting system is to be installed in an existing slab, its easier to retrofit an electric cable because it has a smaller diameter. "You can groove the concrete and lay the cables in the grooves," says Drake. For hydronic tubing, more concrete removal is required.

Maintenance.
A hydronic system typically requires more maintenance. In addition to maintaining the boiler and pump, "you must inspect the propylene glycol fluid levels periodically, just like the antifreeze in a car," explains Drake.

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