The extensive use of snow melt is common in upscale mountain communities such as Vail.

For an area that receives more than 290 inches of snow a year, snow-melt systems seem to be a standard item for luxury buildings such as the Solaris in Vail, Colo. Photo courtesy of Solaris Vail.


Vail, Colo., is no stranger to snow-melt systems. Vail was built in 1966, four years after the establishment of Vail Ski Resort, the largest single-mountain ski resort in the United States. The town of roughly 4,500 people is at the base of the resort, which brings an influx of skiers and snowboarders to the town each winter.

What Vail lacked was a real town center. In 2010, it appeared in the form of Solaris, a mixed-use facility with six stories of whole-ownership condominiums (79 units) over three stories of retail, office and parking space. “The early design was developed in 2004 through early 2006, when the town of Vail approved the project,” says Thomas Ogg, project manager at Solaris, adding that the entire project was modeled in 3D CAD. Weekly meetings with all project subcontractors were held to advance the model development.

Additional amenities include a 10-lane bowling alley, three movie theaters, an indoor pool and fitness area and a spa. The facility wraps around a plaza that functions as a central gathering place for Vail residents; the plaza includes an ice-skating rink in the winter and a landscaped multifunction plaza in the summer.

All outdoor walkways, stairways, patios, unit balconies, and garage and loading dock entrances were outfitted with REHAU snow-melting systems.

“The extensive use of snow-melt systems at Solaris is common for luxury mountain residences,” explains Gerald Poye, Solaris project executive. “It is also not practical to maintain snow removal on the number and size of areas that Solaris has in a location that receives more than 290 inches of snowfall annually.”

Installing snow melt on the outside stairways, which have an open design, was a logistical challenge for Design Mechanical. Photos courtesy of Rick Thomas, KenKo Co.

Mike East, REHAU account manager for the Rocky Mountain region, agrees: “Snow removal is labor-intensive, and there is nowhere to put it - space is at a premium in mountain towns such as Vail. You’d have to put the snow in trucks. Snow melt just seems to be a standard item.”

Automated snow-melting systems have temperature/moisture sensors embedded in walkways and driveways along with the PEX tubing to tell the system when to turn on. Sensors take the place of room sensors or thermostats used with radiant flooring systems.

“The biggest difference (between the two systems) is the amount of energy required,” says Bob Statler, part of Louisville, Colo.-based Design Mechanical’s Preconstruction Services division and the installing contractor for the Solaris project. “A snow-melt system will use four to eight times the amount of energy, depending on the requirements of the zone(s).”

Design Mechanical designed and installed the snow-melt and radiant floor systems, and installed the plumbing for Solaris. “We always have a lot of snow-melt projects in the works,” Statler says. “It’s not a growing part of our business, it’s more of a given. However, the ‘just to have’ snow-melt projects are not abundant any longer. Most of the systems are for life safety (roads) access or functional in purpose.”

A few of the snow-melt projects the company has completed include parking structures, retirement homes, hospitals, retail stores, driveways and roofs. Design Mechanical even installed snow melt in a koi pond to keep it from freezing.

Statler’s favorite snow-melt project, however, is a golf-cart path at the top of a mountain with an elevation of 10,500 feet. The path is for a series of custom homes accessible only by a gondola and the path.

For the upscale Solaris project, more than 400,000 feet of tubing was used for the snow-melt and radiant floor heating systems, says East, along with 44 different snow-melt manifold locations.

Snow melt is installed in more than 60,000 square feet around the Solaris property - all outdoor walkways, stairways, patios, condo balconies and the community plaza.

“A design challenge for the site’s snow melt was providing zones in locations from a large plaza to walkways, from building perimeter show window protection to rooftop equipment platforms eight floors above the plaza,” Statler explains.

The REHAU RAUPEX tubing and PRO-BALANCE manifolds for the project were sourced through wholesale distributor Winnelson, as were 224 Taco variable-speed Delta T circulators and large Armstrong pumps, notes Brandon Pease, sales manager of Winnelson’s Grand Junction, Colo., location. Material had to be stored at the Grand Junction facility with weekly deliveries to the project because there was no room for extra material at the jobsite. The Bryan boilers installed on the project were direct-purchased by Design Mechanical. 

Snow melt is installed in more than 60,000 square feet around the Solaris property. “Most of this is served from a ‘site’ manifold system, but some of the ‘unit’ snow melt is served from the mixing/manifolds within the units, incorporating radiant and snow melt from a central point within each unit,” Statler says.

The only electric snow melt installed on the property is the room for the Zamboni machine, which “resurfaces” the ice in the ice rink, he adds.

One of the project challenges was installing snow melt on the stairways, as that is not a typical application, East notes. “The stairs have see-through risers, which required some really creative strategies from Design Mechanical,” he says. The PEX pipe was looped on each stair and threaded through a hole in the riser.

Statler assisted the architect in designing access covers that blended into the tile or natural stone walls and floors of the building to hide the numerous manifolds for the large system.

Solaris has yet to weather its first winter, but Bob Statler and Design Mechanical designed the hydronic snow-melt and radiant-heating systems to be as energy-efficient as possible.

Solaris Radiant

All 79 26,000- sq.-ft., four-bedroom residences have radiant floor heating as well as snow melt on the outside patios. “Radiant heating in the units was utilized due to the comfort provided,” notes Ogg. “It is the quietest and most comfortable way to heat a residence.”

The condos had two phases of installation for the radiant floor heating systems and the snow-melt systems, which is typical for these projects, Statler notes. Throughout the 79 units there is more than 200,000 square feet of radiant floor heating. East says REHAU EVERLOC fittings were embedded in the patio concrete and used to join the two systems.

“The radiant floor system is served from about 120 quite large manifold/mixing stations that required a considerable amount of coordination with the architectural and electrical consultants to thicken walls and provide power for injector and loop circulators,” Statler explains.

Numerous manifold/mixing stations are installed in the facility, including 44 locations for snow melt.

Each condo unit has two or three manifold locations, Pease says. Some of the manifold/mixing stations are almost 40 inches wide and 72 inches tall, so placement of them within the units was a logistical challenge.

Solaris completed and opened in 12 phases this year, with the first one in March and the last in August, Poye says. The first retail tenant opened in July. This winter will be the first for condo owners and retail businesses, and Poye and Ogg are very interested in the operational costs for the snow melt and heating systems.

Retail business owners that moved their businesses to Solaris are hoping to increase their revenues after a bad year. Vail residents are eager to use their new “town center” for shopping and entertainment. And Vail Resorts intends to host many Vail Mountain events at the Solaris public plaza, says Vail Mountain’s Marketing Director Adam Sutner, as reported by dailyvail.com.

“Solaris has been well-received by both Vail guests and long-time residents,” Poye notes. “The project has many elements to interact with and enjoy, from the interactive art to the boutique shops and restaurants.”

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