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#1
Old 02-04-2015, 12:40 AM
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Why Not Heated Streets?

[Dear Cecil:]

Like most of us, I am coping with the recent Midwest snow storms as best as I can. But I have wondered something for some time now.

Why don't we just have heated streets--and driveways for that matter? We have zillions of miles of pipes and cables already running thru our streets. Why not heating coils? It wouldn't take too much energy, I would think. Just like your rear window defrosters, it only has to raise the temperature above freezing. And surely it would easier--and more cost-effective--than all the money we spend on snow plows and rock salt.

Where am I wrong in this? And why hasn't anyone else ever thought of this?



P.S. I primarily submit this to the SDMB. But I offer it to Cecil Adams as well.
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Last edited by Jim B.; 02-04-2015 at 12:42 AM. Reason: P.S. and 'Dear Cecil'
#2
Old 02-04-2015, 01:14 AM
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  • Frost depth varies across the country. Those "zillions of miles of pipes and cables already running thru our streets" are below frost depth. How do you expect to heat the road when frost depth in Minnesota ranges from 40-60 inches in winter?
  • I can take you to lava tubes in Washington State where it's 100*F at ground level on a hot summer's day, but five feet below that in a lava tube it's solid ice a foot thick. (Sorry I can't give you a cite. Some exact locations are deliberately not on public maps.)
  • Anaheim, California, is burying its entire power transmission system underground. It will take 50 years and cost $3 million a mile.
#3
Old 02-04-2015, 01:24 AM
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A while ago there was some guy selling the idea of solar panel roads. There were a few very good scientific debunking of the concept he was selling. He made the claim that the solar roads could heat themselves thus melting the snow and eliminating the need for plowing. The scientific conclusion was it would take more total energy to melt the snow then the totality of energy required to use equipment to move it.
#4
Old 02-04-2015, 01:33 AM
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Heated driveways

I've seen them. They are neat.
#5
Old 02-04-2015, 01:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
Why not heating coils? It wouldn't take too much energy, I would think.
I won't pretend I've done the figures. But my intuitive thought would be that this idea would take a huge amount of energy.

The other problem is that when you melt snow, it doesn't disappear. It turns into water. And that water is just going to flow to someplace where you haven't heated the ground and turn into ice, which is generally a worse problem than snow is.
#6
Old 02-04-2015, 03:15 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bone View Post
Heated driveways

I've seen them. They are neat.
They are generally a clear indication the home owner has money to burn. A few of the properties I deal with run them. They are enormously costly. 30-50 watts per square foot. A small driveway in my area can cost a $1000 bucks a year to keep clear of snow with this method. Paying someone to plow or shovel the same driveway would cost less than half that per year. They are nice though, never need to worry about slipping in those driveways.
#7
Old 02-04-2015, 04:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
I won't pretend I've done the figures. But my intuitive thought would be that this idea would take a huge amount of energy.

The other problem is that when you melt snow, it doesn't disappear. It turns into water. And that water is just going to flow to someplace where you haven't heated the ground and turn into ice, which is generally a worse problem than snow is.
I'd think conduction to the rest of the environment would be the biggest energy sink. Melting ice takes a lot of energy, but unless it's snowing constantly, once it's melted (and transported away in your new, heated drainage system), it's gone. Heat loss to the environment will be constant and high, unless you insulate the entire road with an insulation scheme that can stand up to the forces of heavy trucks.
#8
Old 02-04-2015, 05:10 AM
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I have seen heated driveways and heated sidewalks. They are neat. I worked in a place that installed a heated driveway--it went down into the company parking garage and was a bitch to keep clear of snow. Probably saved the company $$$ in repair costs.

I used to work on a campus that had some kind of hot water line going right under a couple of the larger sidewalks. I don't know if they intended it, but those were always, always clear of snow.

Also the old downtown 16th street in Denver, before the mall, had some kind of underground pipes that heated it in places, which was very convenient as tall buildings block the sun downtown so the snow doesn't just melt.

I actually think some kind of solar panel could work as a snow melter, if the street in question had access to the sun. Of course, if the sun was shining on the street the snow would probably melt anyway...
#9
Old 02-04-2015, 06:40 AM
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Yesterday, in response to a weather thread I discovered for the first time in my life that sports pitches have had Under-Soil Heating ( and God Knows why ); in England at least since 1958.


This seems an extension. Whilst I personally can see slight flaws --- for instance the run-off from all the melting snow that nature purposed to land and stay --- the energy bit may not be that onerous in maintenance: use Geo-Thermal instead of Solar.
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#10
Old 02-04-2015, 07:34 AM
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Edinburgh had one of it's main streets heated for years, starting in 1959*. It was quite a steep hill (the Mound, connecting the Old and New towns) and very treacherous when icy. So they installed under surface heating they could switch on if necessary to prevent it icing up in winter.
It worked fairly well but not so well they were willing to spend money repairing it after it started needing serious attention to keep it working properly. I think the last time it was used at all was back in the 1970s, but info about it seems quite scarce.

*the online discussion linked to from this page puts it at 1959, not 1955 as the page states.
#11
Old 02-04-2015, 08:05 AM
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The town I grew up in has had heated sidewalks in the downtown area for years --

Holland, Michigan's "Snowmelt" system.
#12
Old 02-04-2015, 08:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by naita View Post
I'd think conduction to the rest of the environment would be the biggest energy sink. Melting ice takes a lot of energy, but unless it's snowing constantly, once it's melted (and transported away in your new, heated drainage system), it's gone. Heat loss to the environment will be constant and high, unless you insulate the entire road with an insulation scheme that can stand up to the forces of heavy trucks.
Eh, never mind that. No need to keep the street heated when it's cleared of snow.
#13
Old 02-04-2015, 08:57 AM
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I know a guy with a heated sidewalk from the driveway to front door. He never uses it due to cost.
#14
Old 02-04-2015, 09:11 AM
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I would vastly prefer moving sidewalks, if we are going to spend that kind of money. Just imagine how much faster we could get everywhere!

And right there you have it. You need to not only get the money to pay for it, you also need to get everyone to agree it's what we need.
#15
Old 02-04-2015, 10:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boytyperanma View Post
They are nice though, never need to worry about slipping in those driveways.
The sheet of ice formed by the runoff at the bottom of the driveway is a different story, however.

#16
Old 02-04-2015, 04:18 PM
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Why not just move everybody to the southern states, where snow is far less of a problem?

(I'm pretty sure we have the technology to do this!)

Last edited by SimonMoon5; 02-04-2015 at 04:19 PM.
#17
Old 02-04-2015, 04:25 PM
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I stayed in a condo in the mountains of Colorado where the whole neighborhood had heated streets. It was really nice. They had a very good drainage system to keep the runoff from being a worse problem somewhere else. We were actually able to walk barefoot from the hot tub back to the condo when it was 0 degrees outside.
#18
Old 02-04-2015, 04:30 PM
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These are being tested in Sandpoint, Idaho: Solar Freakin' Roadways!

There are still bugs to work out, but going forward, perhaps improvements can be made and they will become viable.
#19
Old 02-04-2015, 04:39 PM
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First we need to find the money to do the needed repairs on our current infrastructure.
#20
Old 02-04-2015, 05:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aspenglow View Post
These are being tested in Sandpoint, Idaho: Solar Freakin' Roadways!

There are still bugs to work out, but going forward, perhaps improvements can be made and they will become viable.
No.
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Joker and the Thief View Post
Uh, no. Some people wanted a bunch of saps to fund their science project and implied that the project was actually possible, when there are a million things wrong with it. Looking at the video absolutely suggests that all the roads in the US would be solar panels.

Here's a non-comprehensive list of everything that's wrong with it:
  • Cost: in the trillions of dollars for that much glass alone, plus the cost of solar panels, installation, wiring (>$1 million/mile for buried lines), LEDs, maintenance, networking, etc. Estimates run as high as 50 trillion dollars for only parts of the project.
  • Safety: glass has a lower coefficient of friction when wet than pavement, so car crashes would increase
  • Efficacy (1): the glass would eventually be covered in tiny scratches that would reduce the amount of light generated
  • Efficacy (2): very little direct light reaches city streets due to high buildings, while electricity generated in the middle of nowhere would dissipate almost entirely before reaching population centers because no high voltage power lines are used
  • Efficacy (3): the road would be covered in grime and dust, which would reduce the amount of electricity generated. New roads are black while old roads are grey due to all the debris on them
  • Efficacy (4): panels would have to be heated using inefficient electric heating to prevent snow, would suffer heavy losses from ideal conditions, would have to maintain a network of sensors and computers, and would use LED lighting. There are no calculations that show that solar roadways would even generate net electricity.
  • Security: Having roads that can be hacked increases the amount of threat vectors that our enemies can use to cause us harm
  • Snow: the panels have a raised pattern that means they cannot be effectively plowed
  • Comfort: Driving over panels would be somewhere between driving over concrete panels on a bridge and cobblestones. It would also increase wear on car suspensions and other parts due to the vibration
  • Nighttime: Panels only generate power during the day but need power at night, so traditional sources of energy would still be needed
  • Freeze/Thaw: if something breaks and the panels cannot melt the snow on them or prevent it from freezing, freeze/thaw cycles would wreck the roads quickly
  • Pressure: Solar panels and the circuitboards underneath cannot take the 100 psi pressure that truck tires would put on them

This is such a horrendously bad idea I'll probably be back with more reasons why it won't ever work.
#21
Old 02-04-2015, 05:29 PM
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[QUOTE=Aspenglow;18108561]These are being tested in Sandpoint, Idaho: [URL="http://solarroadways.com/intro.shtml"]Solar Freakin' Roadways![/URL[quOTE]

Just a random question, but: Solar panels generally aren't mean to radiate heat, so how does this work at all? And wouldn't the snow kinda block the solar panel itself?
#22
Old 02-04-2015, 08:01 PM
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I don't think that this is really going to be a debate. It has a pretty factual set of answers.

Off to General; Questions.
#23
Old 02-04-2015, 08:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaamika View Post
I would vastly prefer moving sidewalks, if we are going to spend that kind of money. Just imagine how much faster we could get everywhere!
You want to make America even fatter?
#24
Old 02-04-2015, 08:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
I won't pretend I've done the figures. But my intuitive thought would be that this idea would take a huge amount of energy.
it would. water's incredibly high specific heat capacity means it takes a tremendous amount of energy just to change its temperature. Never mind getting it to change phase.

this would be an (IMO) criminal waste of energy.

Quote:
The other problem is that when you melt snow, it doesn't disappear. It turns into water. And that water is just going to flow to someplace where you haven't heated the ground and turn into ice, which is generally a worse problem than snow is.
yep. like under that heated roadway, thus heaving it up and leaving it a potholed mess come spring.
#25
Old 02-04-2015, 08:22 PM
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I believe there are some heated sidewalks in both Aspen and Vail, CO (luxury resort sorts of places, of course.)
#26
Old 02-04-2015, 08:31 PM
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And Oak Park IL.
#27
Old 02-04-2015, 08:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bone View Post
Heated driveways

I've seen them. They are neat.


Yup. There a lot of people around here with heated driveways.
#28
Old 02-04-2015, 08:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Joker and the Thief View Post
No.
I'm not here to defend it or advocate for this caper, I was simply pointing out it was being pursued as an idea. It apparently has enough merit for the Federal Highway Administration to fund it experimentally. Twice.
#29
Old 02-04-2015, 09:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Aspenglow View Post
I'm not here to defend it or advocate for this caper, I was simply pointing out it was being pursued as an idea. It apparently has enough merit for the Federal Highway Administration to fund it experimentally. Twice.
I think that may speak more to the competence of the people who decided to fund it than to the merits of the idea.
#30
Old 02-04-2015, 09:37 PM
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Entire resort towns/developments have heated streets in the more ritzy skiing towns of Colorado (Aspen, Vail). Seriously, like the WHOLE downtown attraction area. It's crazy.
I think one of the reasons it makes sense financially is because of the crazy liability we have
#31
Old 02-04-2015, 10:03 PM
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Originally Posted by davidm View Post
I think that may speak more to the competence of the people who decided to fund it than to the merits of the idea.
Of course you do.
#32
Old 02-04-2015, 10:06 PM
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Heated roads or driveways also make the most sense in places that get huge amounts of snow but don't get too cold, which describes most "destination" ski regions but not a whole lot of other places.
#33
Old 02-05-2015, 06:46 AM
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Originally Posted by Aspenglow View Post
Of course you do.
Correct.
#34
Old 02-05-2015, 07:22 AM
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I lived in Cardiff as a teenager in the 50s where I learned to drive. There was a hill which was notorious for accidents when it froze and the City council experimented with heating it. I did drive up it once after a light fall of snow and it was clear. What happened to the experiment I have no idea.

Can't find a cite either
#35
Old 02-05-2015, 10:57 AM
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In 1969, the Eisenhower bridge was completed across White River in Anderson, Indiana. It has quite a hump in it so it could go over the railroad tracks. Therefore, it had an electric heating system for the winter. Unfortunately, road crews still salted it. The salt permeated the heat strips, corroding them. They never worked again.
#36
Old 02-05-2015, 11:02 AM
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The idea of solar roads to melt snow is so silly, ignorant and foolish I have trouble believing it is not a media prank. Just... wow. Besides Joker's short list of faults, if there is enough energy falling on the road to melt the snow....

Entertaining outlandish ideas long enough to evaluate if they are feasible can lead to impressive achievements. Seems to be Elon Musk's modus operandi. Some things shouldn't make it past the stoned musing stage though.
#37
Old 02-06-2015, 05:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
It wouldn't take too much energy, I would think. Just like your rear window defrosters, it only has to raise the temperature above freezing. And surely it would easier--and more cost-effective--than all the money we spend on snow plows and rock salt.


It would take absurd amounts of energy. It would be vastly more expensive than current methods.

A single lane of freeway is 12 feet wide. A cubic foot of fresh dry snow is about 10lbs of snow. Melting ice requires 334J of energy per gram. So, melting 1 foot of snow on a single lane of a road one mile long takes:

334 J / g * 454 g / lb * 12 feet * 1 foot * 5280 feet * 10 lbs / ft3 = about 100 billion Joules of energy. There are ~ 125000 J in a gallon of gas, so that would take 800+ gallons of gas. For a single lane of road, one mile long.

How much do you think the snowplows are using?

And, even if possible, it would be incredibly dangerous, since you'd end up with a thin layer of water underneath the ice and snow on top, which would give any people or vehicles trying to move around on top of it no traction whatsoever.
#38
Old 02-06-2015, 05:51 PM
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That was supposed to be 125 million Joules per gallon of gas. The result is correct, I just typoed the input.
#39
Old 02-06-2015, 06:19 PM
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It almost sounds like it would be cheaper and more efficient to just have in sheds along the roadway permanently installed robot snowplows. These machines would sit there year round until there's snow, then leave their storage sheds and plow the section of road they are dedicated to.
#40
Old 02-06-2015, 06:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by iamthewalrus(:3= View Post
A single lane of freeway is 12 feet wide. A cubic foot of fresh dry snow is about 10lbs of snow. Melting ice requires 334J of energy per gram. So, melting 1 foot of snow on a single lane of a road one mile long takes:

334 J / g * 454 g / lb * 12 feet * 1 foot * 5280 feet * 10 lbs / ft3 = about 100 billion Joules of energy. There are ~ 125000 J in a gallon of gas, so that would take 800+ gallons of gas. For a single lane of road, one mile long.
Slight nitpick: your calculation seems to assume that one foot of snow = one foot of solid ice. Snow is usually about 90-95% air, so it would take significantly less (though still a huge amount) of energy to melt it.
#41
Old 02-06-2015, 07:08 PM
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Originally Posted by boytyperanma View Post
They are generally a clear indication the home owner has money to burn. A few of the properties I deal with run them. They are enormously costly. 30-50 watts per square foot. A small driveway in my area can cost a $1000 bucks a year to keep clear of snow with this method. Paying someone to plow or shovel the same driveway would cost less than half that per year. They are nice though, never need to worry about slipping in those driveways.
DO what???
Mine runs off of a separate 30 gallon water heater, gets pumped through pipes in my driveway and back. Doesn't cost much at all really. I think my gas bill is maybe a few bucks more when it's on if that but I only run it when it snows and gets icy.

However it is awesome, my driveway is always clear. I don't even own a snow shovel but I typically have to broom off the porch is about it.
#42
Old 02-06-2015, 07:08 PM
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I guess you are talking about this: Solar Panel Roads ?
#43
Old 02-06-2015, 07:15 PM
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We certainly have solar-heated roads in Bangkok. And man, do I wish sometimes that I could turn it off!
#44
Old 02-06-2015, 07:34 PM
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I would think that would be costly to repair if roads needed to be dug up.
#45
Old 02-06-2015, 07:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Siam Sam View Post
We certainly have solar-heated roads in Bangkok. And man, do I wish sometimes that I could turn it off!
Quote:
Originally Posted by purplehearingaid View Post
I would think that would be costly to repair if roads needed to be dug up.
Fortunately, our solar heating comes from above.
#46
Old 02-06-2015, 08:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boytyperanma View Post
They are generally a clear indication the home owner has money to burn. A few of the properties I deal with run them. They are enormously costly. 30-50 watts per square foot. A small driveway in my area can cost a $1000 bucks a year to keep clear of snow with this method. Paying someone to plow or shovel the same driveway would cost less than half that per year. They are nice though, never need to worry about slipping in those driveways.

My first thought was that it would be incredibly expensive (I mean like really, really expensive - pushing a trillion a year). Doing some number crunching shows it's only really expensive.

Assuming the above cost is true and that only half of the country would need it gives a total cost (only for the heating, installation and upkeep are to be added on) of about $!45,000,000,000 a year.

There are 4,090,000 miles of public highways in the US. Assuming 15% of these are 4 lanes. Assuming the miles of streets to population ratio is the same everywhere as in Los Angeles (a bit of a stretch I know, but this isn't a PHD dissertation so work with me here) there are about 650,000 miles of streets of which 5% are 4 lane. Further assuming a driveway is 100 feet long (most are much shorter but a whole lot are much wider than a single lane of a road).

While a butt-load of money it's not nearly as high as I first thought.






My 2,000th post by-the-way.

Last edited by SandyHook; 02-06-2015 at 08:18 PM.
#47
Old 02-06-2015, 08:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Skald the Rhymer View Post
You want to make America even fatter?
Actually, widespread installation of long moving sidewalks – assuming it were practical – would have the opposite effect. People sit on their asses in their cars and drive a hundred yards to get from the store to the restaurant. With moving sidewalks, they would be standing, perhaps holding a moving handrail, for miles on end, stepping from one to the next where they would be interrupted for access points. Standing takes more effort than sitting, so overall, a large-scale moving sidewalk scheme in the suburbs would make people a little less fat because they would spend less time on their fat asses.

Last edited by eschereal; 02-06-2015 at 08:20 PM.
#48
Old 02-06-2015, 08:56 PM
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Originally Posted by SimonMoon5 View Post
Why not just move everybody to the southern states, where snow is far less of a problem?
Air conditioning is less efficient and costs more than heating. So the additional cost for AC would outweigh any savings.
Also, the costs for people to commute back up north to grow food would be high,

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidm View Post
First we need to find the money to do the needed repairs on our current infrastructure.
Right. Before we do heated roads, could we make sure that every person has a home with heat first?
#49
Old 02-06-2015, 09:06 PM
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Originally Posted by SandyHook View Post
There are 4,090,000 miles of public highways in the US. Assuming 15% of these are 4 lanes. Assuming the miles of streets to population ratio is the same everywhere as in Los Angeles (a bit of a stretch I know, but this isn't a PHD dissertation so work with me here) there are about 650,000 miles of streets of which 5% are 4 lane. Further assuming a driveway is 100 feet long (most are much shorter but a whole lot are much wider than a single lane of a road).

to further reduce cost, you dont need to heat the entire road, keeping a single lane clear would be totally fine for most places.


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Originally Posted by SandyHook View Post
My 2,000th post by-the-way.
WOOT!
#50
Old 02-06-2015, 09:16 PM
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Originally Posted by GreasyJack View Post
Slight nitpick: your calculation seems to assume that one foot of snow = one foot of solid ice. Snow is usually about 90-95% air, so it would take significantly less (though still a huge amount) of energy to melt it.
No it doesn't.

A cubic foot of ice weighs about 60 lbs. I took the 10lb/ft3 from the first website that suggested it as the density of snow. It might be off by a bit, but it's not off by that much.

Last edited by iamthewalrus(:3=; 02-06-2015 at 09:16 PM.
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