Heated mats make quick work of snow

Pads: With a little electricity, keeping walks and driveways clear of snow and ice becomes an easy job.

March 18, 2001|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Imagine never having to shovel snow again. Never having to drag out the snow blower. Never having to depend on the neighborhood kids to clear your walk. And never, ever having to worry about slipping on that "invisible" patch of ice that brings you down every time you go out to get the mail during the winter.

No, we're not moving you to Florida.

We're talking about one of the newest trends in snow removal, ThermaProducts Inc.'s "portable snow and ice elimination systems."

We have to warn you, this kind of convenience comes with a price. And at $17 per square foot, it might be a little out of the typical homebuyer's range.

But again, the idea is basically no shoveling ever again. And a safe sidewalk no matter what the weather.

The ThermaProducts system is a series of custom-made heavy rubber mats - manufactured with a heating element inside - which melt snow and ice on contact. They can be used on sidewalks, steps, ramps and driveways. The company even offers a heated shingle that can be installed on the roof.

Locally, the mats are being marketed by Heat Tracing Specialties Inc. in Sykesville.

Mike Jennings, sales representative with the company, says it takes about 20 minutes for a ThermaProducts mat to heat to 128 degrees. The mats melt up to 3 inches of snow and ice per hour, Jennings said. They use only 40 watts of electricity per square foot. And because they're UL-approved and come with ground fault protection, "you can't step on the mat and get shocked," he said.

ThermaProducts offers a 36-month replacement warranty, but Jennings says the mats tend to last much longer.

The mats can be permanently fitted to a walk or driveway. But Jennings says residential customers usually prefer to have the mats custom-cut and left portable. Some people wait to lay out the mats until a storm is forecast, "but most people find they want to put them down at the beginning of the season and just leave them," he said.

To activate, the mats are simply plugged into a regular 110-volt outlet. When not in use they're easily rolled up and stored in a garage or closet. Developed in Denver in 1997, the ThermaProducts mats have found residential and commercial success in Colorado. There, where the snow tends to be heavy all winter, one of the most popular uses of the mat is lining the path to an outdoor hot tub, Jennings says.

Here on the East Coast, Heat Tracing Specialties has sold ThermaProducts mats primarily for commercial use. The company has handled contracts with the University of Maryland, College Park, the Federal Reserve in Washington and a large grocery store in Denver, Pa.

In those cases, the safety feature of the mats - namely keeping customers and staffers from slipping and falling during inclement weather - was the primary selling point, Jennings said.

"It's an alternative to sand, salt and ice melt," he explains. "And when you're paying manpower [to clear commercial walks and parking lots] plus the chemicals, the mats [cost] equal or better."

Scott Lederer, owner of Lederer and Company Inc., a Mount Airy real estate company that handles new- home sales and marketing for Rylea Homes and other area home builders, says Rylea found the mats appealing for that very reason.

Lederer said the ThermaProducts mats are a safe alternative for showing homes in the winter. "It's a safe, clean entrance in front of the model for prospects."

Lederer said Rylea might consider offering the mats as a custom option to its buyers if enough people express interest. With that cost of $17 per square foot, however, Lederer said he thinks the mats would appeal mostly to empty-nesters and even older buyers who worry about slipping on ice.

Jennings says that as Heat Tracing Specialties enters the residential market with the ThermaProducts mats, the price seems to be the only hurdle for many prospective customers.

"People think. `I'm not paying $1,200 for a mat for my sidewalks,'" he said. "But then again, it's going to last 20 years and you're not going to be out there shoveling."

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