From commercial to residential the comfort and efficiency of radiant takes on a new meaning for snowmelt systems.

Most radiant contractors consider comfort and efficiency to be the two major benefits for underfloor heat. The two words take on a slightly different meaning for snowmelt. Certainly, there’s nothing more comforting than knowing you don’t have to shovel snow or wait for a service to plow everybody else first. For the efficiency-minded, there’s nothing better than a clean surface in the middle of a snowfall.

“Safety” might be the single best word to wrap both words inside. Every winter, many who live where the temperature dips below freezing hear of someone falling on ice. This past winter, famed diet doctor Robert Atkins died from injuries suffered on an icy sidewalk.

Here’s a couple of projects in which safety played a role in installing snowmelt.

Copper Mountain Resort

The Copper Mountain resort lacked the residential and retail development to provide “apros-ski” amenities, which are as important to a ski trip as the skiing itself.

A new “village center,” started in 1999, called for condos, restaurants, bars, retail shops and wide walkways.

While the plans added to the resort’s appeal, we think the most appealing part of the development is the approximately 120,000-sq. ft. snowmelt system -- one of the largest such installations in the United States -- that snakes underneath the village center.

It’s the work of Scott Young, R&H Mechanical, Eagle Creek, Colo. Young’s company got its start in the late-1980s and focuses almost 100 percent in radiant and snowmelt. As for snowmelt, three-quarters of the homes he works on have snowmelt systems.

A veteran like Young is used to last-minute notice and last-minute demands. But for the Copper Mountain project, Young received word about the snowmelt after much of the retail shops were up and running and landscaping was in its final stages.

“Everything was about ready to be sealed up,” Young says. “As a result, the whole system amounted to one really big after-thought.”

The system features over 100,000 feet of Wirsbo PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) tubing, powered by a quartet of Viessmann high-efficiency boilers with total gas inputs of over 13 million Btu per hour.

Young recruited a structural engineer to X-ray the existing structures and surfaces, to help guide its installation team’s efforts to run all that PEX in a way that would avoid major interior reconstruction.

A particular sore spot of the installation involved where to position the mechanical room for the four boilers without erecting an eyesore in the midst of the resort. At least one bidder proposed to install the boilers in plain view in the village center.

R&H Mechanical’s design/ build team chose to place them inside a nearby parking garage in two, unobtrusive mechanical rooms built especially for this purpose -- but that still offered “only about 1/4 inch of clearance for equipment,” Young says.

The project commenced in the fall of 1999 and was done in two phases, finishing in late 2002. The system saves the resort management company a substantial amount of money each winter in snow removal and related costs, as well as in liability insurance.

The Adams’ Residence

George L. Dixon describes his business, Lincoln Plumbing & Heating, Boston, Mass., as a “pretty small family-owned shop,” founded by his father in 1953.

“My brother and I had tools in our hands as soon as we could walk,” Dixon says. His dad has since retired and his brother changed stripes, going from plumbing contractor to plumbing wholesaler.

“With what seems to be an endless construction boom here in the Northeast,” Dixon says, “we’ve toyed with the idea of going big, but have always come to the conclusion that in order to give the quality job we insist on, bigger isn’t always better.”

Dixon’s reputation for quality has helped him specialize in higher-end home remodeling and construction. He began marketing radiant eight years ago. “At first it was a tough sell due to the expense,” he says. “But in the last three years, radiant seems to sell itself. Quite a few of the job specs coming in for a bid have at least some if not all radiant heat.”

Snowmelt is an even more recent venture, with much of the work fed from the boiler for small walkways and driveway aprons.

But the work they recently completed for the driveway of the Adams’ household in Lexington, Mass., was large enough to require its own heating plant. His reputation even stretched this far -- the homeowner was a retired architect who had worked on other projects with Dixon.

For the architect’s own home, Dixon worked closely with his local Stadler-Viega rep, who helped engineer the system and supply a full list of materials.

“The main reason for the snowmelt was safety -- the grade of the driveway was particularly steep,” Dixon says. The installation covered 4,600 sq. ft., including the driveway and front and rear walkways. A 1.1 million Btu dedicated boiler was placed on a pad in the backyard and fed with a 2-inch gas main.

“The installation was relatively flawless,” Dixon remembers. “We were the talk of the neighborhood -- the bottom of the driveway was the social gathering point for about a week.”