Hydronic vs. Electric: Choosing the Right Snow Melting System

17. April 2024 | 9 min read

When winter strikes, homeowners, businesses and municipalities are challenged with keeping their outdoor surfaces safe and functional in the face of accumulating snow and ice. From residential driveways to commercial warehouse plots and public walkways, snow melting systems are seen as an effective addition to traditional snow removal methods and an alternative to excessive salting, which has adverse environmental impacts.  

In this article, we take a look at the two main types of snowmelt systems — hydronic and electric — to determine which is the most productive, sustainable and cost-effective option.

Winter, snowy view of the house behind trees

Beneath the Surface: Understanding Snow Melting Systems

Though similar in objective, the two systems achieve ice-free surfaces in different ways:

Hydronic systems work by running warm fluid through pipes that lie beneath outdoor surfaces. As the fluid circulates, the surface is heated above freezing temperatures and, therefore, melts the ice layer on top.

Electric systems, on the other hand, send electric currents through underground heating cables which heat the surface from below, achieving the same outcome.

While seemingly similar, the difference in methodology can have a significant impact on the cost, efficiency and sustainability of the snowmelt system you choose. 

Snow Melting System Comparison, hydronic or electronic

How Do They Compare?

Since both systems are able to melt surface snow and ice, the question remains: Why choose one over the other?

Energy Efficiency

Our experts estimate that, on average, electric systems operate at a 1:1 input-to-heating-output ratio. In other words, 1kW of electrical power equals a maximum output of 1kW of heat energy.

On the other hand, more efficient hydronic systems can produce 4-5 times as much heat energy from the equivalent input when paired with a heat pump. Hydronic setups are often combined with heat pumps and other low-energy renewable systems because their low operating temperatures make them highly compatible.

While electric systems produce higher temperatures, they have to cycle on and off to avoid wire burnout or damage to paving materials. This is a particularly inefficient process.

An additional efficiency consideration is whether the system has been set up with an accompanying drainage system. Without adequate drainage, the meltwater will either refreeze or systems will have to use significantly more energy to evaporate it. Electric systems are likely to evaporate the water faster but at a significantly higher energy expenditure.


The greater energy efficiency of the hydronic method has a positive effect on the system’s running cost — with lower energy consumption amounting to lower bills.

But their cost effectiveness goes further than this. Since they run at low temperatures and, therefore, have low energy requirements, hydronic systems function well on a variety of energy sources and systems, including natural gas, oil, photovoltaic, ground-source, heat pumps, etc. This allows the user to choose the energy source that is most economically available to them.  

However, of the two systems, electric setups tend to require a lower initial investment due to having fewer components and a less complicated installation process. But, given their higher operating costs, this saving might be short-lived. 

Green Energy Compatibility

The low operating temperatures of hydronic systems make them ideal candidates for integration with renewable energy systems — such as heat pumps, which operate most efficiently at lower temperatures. 

Electric systems can also utilize renewable energy sources, like photovoltaic, but given the energy intensity they require, renewables might not always be up to the task. Beyond this, the process involves multiple energy conversions (e.g., from photovoltaic to electricity, and then from electricity to heat), each with an inherent efficiency loss.

In contrast, hydronic systems harness renewable energy sources to heat the fluid directly, making the process more efficient and effective.

Space and Equipment

Hydronic systems require a boiler and manifold to heat and distribute fluid throughout the underground pipe network. These systems are relatively large and can take up a lot of space depending on where they’re housed. However, if you already have a hydronic setup for indoor underfloor heating (UFH), you can link your snow-melting system to the existing boiler and manifold — there’s no need for an extra setup.

With an electric system, all connections are linked to a relatively small junction box that can be installed outside, underground or inside walls — as long as it’s still accessible. Indoors, all that is required is a small wall-mounted temperature controller. However, electric systems do not share the efficiencies of multiple setups. Given the power they require, new snowmelt systems cannot be linked to existing electric UFH setups, and therefore require additional power connections, controllers and units that need to be separately installed.


The primary concern of snowmelt system users is, of course, how well they can mitigate the impact of winter on surface safety and navigability. And while both electric and hydronic systems address this, hydronic systems have the added benefit of application in summer, too.

Paving materials, like asphalt, are prone to cracks and deformities when exposed to extreme summer heat — especially when used for surfaces that require a high load-bearing capacity, like roads and car parks.

In this context, a hydronic snow melting system can be used in reverse, pumping cool fluid throughout the underground pipe network to bring the asphalt temperature down to safe levels. This also helps to reduce urban heat island effects.

Longevity and Durability

Hydronic systems are generally considered more durable than their electric counterparts. This is largely due to the robust piping materials used, such as raised-temperature polyethylene (PERT), which is corrosion-resistant and can endure extreme temperatures and physical stress.

However, hydronic systems tend to require more maintenance than electric systems, as components like boilers, pumps and valves need regular inspection, as well as periodical checks and treatment of the circulating fluid.

While electric snow melting systems boast fewer mechanical parts, which translates to less maintenance, they are potentially more susceptible to damage during installation and their heating wires are vulnerable to burnout over time. 

Couple walking through a snowy winter park

A Clear Path Ahead: Deciding on Your Ideal Snow Melting Solution

The choice between hydronic and electric snowmelt systems depends on a range of factors spanning energy efficiency and cost to material impact and system durability.

Hydronic systems excel in energy efficiency, lower operating costs and are more environmentally friendly — making them the ideal choice for those prioritizing sustainability and long-term savings. Electric systems offer ease of installation, lower start-up costs and require less space, which may appeal to those with limited capacity and immediate budget constraints.

Ultimately, the decision should align with your individual needs and long-term prospects. By carefully weighing these factors, homeowners, businesses and municipalities can make an informed choice that not only ensures safe, ice-free surfaces but also contributes to a more sustainable and cost-effective future.

Get in Touch

Please choose your preferred way to get in contact with us. We will get back to you as soon as possible.



Frequently Downloaded

Find here the most popular downloads

Download Center
Did you not find what you are looking for?

Find a country near you

Get in Touch with our Team

Please choose which way you want to get in contact with us. We will contact you as soon as possible.


Call back service
We will get in touch with you by phone
E-Mail service
We will get in touch with you by e-mail