Electric methods use heat cables, while hydronic methods generate hot water and circulate it through plastic piping. The heating elements are embedded under the surface and radiate to the surrounding area.
Most of these systems use an automatic sensor that detects bad weather and then activates the system. Electric systems tend to be more efficient, need less maintenance, and heat surfaces quicker than hydronic systems.
The other side of the coin is that hydronic heated driveway systems (while slightly more expensive at first) tend to have lower operating costs (depending on local fuel costs). Both systems have advantages, but the electric systems are more popular because of the easier installation and uncertain future of fuel costs.
The benefits of having a heated surface are pretty obvious:
1. Not having to shovel snow.
2. Avoiding injury due to slippery surfaces.
3. Adding value to your home.
4. Preserving the life of your driveway surface.
5. Avoiding damage to the bordering landscape from harmful salts and chemicals.
These systems can be installed regardless of surface material. Concrete, asphalt, pavers, etc. will all radiate the heat adequately for the system to be effective. Asphalt is the only one of these materials where caution is suggested because of the heat of the fresh asphalt. Have a professional do it.
The only time of year when it is not recommended to install these systems is the dead of winter. This is because the concrete or asphalt does not set well if the temperatures are too cold.
The most popular time (and ideal time to do this) is during new construction. But existing driveways can easily by retrofitted with a radiant heat system. Heated driveway systems are controlled by either a manual wall switch, or an automatic activation device.
These automatic sensors will activate the system when there is moisture on the ground and the temperature is below 38 degrees. You can also get the option of a timer to preheat an area before a large storm to minimize accumulation of snow and ice.