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FALL HOMES 2014: Heated driveways draw more interest after rough winter

This undated photo provided by Warmzone, a Utah-based radiant heating company, shows a heated driveway and what it looks like in action after a big snow. After last year’s rough winter, heated driveways are more popular than ever, with a rising number of homeowners putting away their shovels for good. (AP Photo/Warmzone)

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This undated photo provided by Warmzone, a Utah-based radiant heating company, shows a heated driveway and what it looks like in action after a big snow. After last year’s rough winter, heated driveways are more popular than ever, with a rising number of homeowners putting away their shovels for good. (AP Photo/Warmzone)

While the rest of the neighbourhood was digging out, Alex Geier had little problem leaving his Hinsdale, Illinois, house around 7:30 each morning last winter, no matter how much snow had piled up during the night.

No, Geier didn't pay some kid to shovel at the crack of dawn, and he didn't hire a private plow service.

He and his family were able to navigate even snowy mornings with relative ease thanks to a heated driveway, which melts snow as soon as it hits it.

"It's a classic example how you can't put a price tag on peace of mind," says Geier, who put in the (pricy) heated driveway when his house was built in 2005. "Given the climate of Chicago in the winter, it was really nice not to have to shovel."

As posh as it sounds, a whole lot of people are looking into heated driveways after an unusually harsh winter in much of the country.

"It's becoming more and more popular because of an aging population of boomers who are just tired of shovelling ," says Bryan Morris, director of sales for Warmzone, a Utah-based company that designs and supplies radiant heat systems. "We sell a great deal . to whoever gets snow."

David Veron, who owns The Veron Co., a landscape and design business in Marlborough, Massachusetts, sees the popularity of heated driveways as part of a larger trend: Homeowners are trying to build outdoor spaces they can use year-round.

In addition to driveways, his customers are heating walkways that lead to amenities such as hot tubs and fire pits. "It's nice to sit around those in the winter," Veron says. "But if you have to shovel first, it's too much of a chore."

Morris says the uptick in business started last winter: "People were calling us saying, 'I can't keep up.'"

Interest has persisted, since the warmer months are prime time for doing the work to install heated driveways.

That generally entails ripping up the existing driveway and laying down snow-melting cables and mats, which can then be covered with asphalt, concrete or pavers, Morris says.

You can zone a driveway so that one part of it is heated and another isn't. And heated driveways can be programmed to turn on automatically when the temperature drops to a certain level.

Although heated driveways unquestionably qualify as luxury items, Morris says there are so many ways to design and build them that they don't have to be cost-prohibitive. Prices range from, say, $6,000 for a small driveway that's about 30 feet long to the $50,000 that Geier paid for his 200-foot-long driveway.

The cost of electricity is also a factor. Again, it depends on the size of the driveway, although Morris says that heating a small driveway for the duration of a typical six-hour storm could cost as little as $13.

A driveway heated by electricity is also cheaper than one heated by hydronics, or hot water systems. The choice often depends on the house's heating system, Morris says.

And many homeowners, he says, heat just enough of the driveway to drive their car out.

Despite his peace of mind last winter, Geier, who is selling his Hinsdale house, says he doesn't think he'll put a heated driveway in his new home given the cost and other issues, like having to still shovel walkways and sidewalks.

But you never know. "We haven't been through winter in our new home yet," he says.

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