While the so-called “Polar Vortex” seems to be easing up; winter is far from over. That means several more months of slippery conditions which is a problem for anyone who drives or walks outside.
There are a lot of options for clearing snow and ice from roads and sidewalks, but some innovative government leaders have taken a new approach – snowmelt systems.
Snowmelt systems are becoming more and more popular in cold climates, but it is safe to say that many people are still unacquainted with this alternative to snow blowers, plows and shovels.
Snowmelt systems use tubing that is buried under the sidewalks and streets and then activated by running hot water through it to melt the snow and ice. Snow melt systems eliminate the need for salt and other harsh chemicals which is a cost savings as well as being much easier on the environment.
Some of these systems use relatively low cost sources of energy such as low grade or waste heat from power plants or geothermal ground loop systems. Such sources of heat offer an advantage to the owner as well as reducing the impact on the environment.
There are installations of snowmelt systems in cold weather climates all across the world, but the 3rd largest installation is in Holland, Michigan. Holland installed about 460,000 (10.5 acres) of tubing underneath the pavement and sidewalks of its downtown area and there are discussions about significantly expanding it. Having been named one of “America’s Fifteen Prettiest Towns” by Forbes Magazine, the city wanted to improve accessibility so that the town could remain a year-round tourist destination.
According to Steve Shultz of GMB Architecture + Engineering, Inc. (GMBae) who designed the Holland system, “The system can melt approximately 1 inch of snow per hour at 15 – 20 degrees F. The recent extreme weather slowed down the melting process a bit, but for most of the winter the system works exactly as designed.”
Designing and operating a snowmelt system requires considering many aspects including weather data, surface materials and conditions, subsurface materials, source of heat and several other factors. “A detailed design by qualified engineers is critical for the snowmelt system to perform as desired,” according to Shultz.
Even though we will not know if snowmelt systems could have saved lives during the recent storm, we can positively say that it could have increased safety. In the coming years, more and more governmental agencies, businesses and even home owners will see the value in terms of safety, convenience and saving of time and money.
To learn more about GMBae and review its experience with snowmelt systems, please go to www.gmb.com.
About GMB Architecture + Engineering, Inc.
GMB Architecture + Engineering is a full-service architecture and engineering design firm serving the higher education, healthcare, corporate, industrial, and K-12 education sectors. With over 45 year in business, GMBae prides itself on its creativity and service, helping each client improve and strengthen its business. GMBae has been a sustainable design advocate for years. LEED® accredited professionals are in all disciplines and positions of leadership throughout the firm. GMB is based in Holland, Michigan with offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Indianapolis, Indiana.