Heated sidewalks: Iceland has them, Saskatoon wants them

The new city centre plan for Saskatoon includes a plan to help people in the city better enjoy the winter with heated sidewalks.

The City of Saskatoon has visions of heated sidewalks, while they're a reality in Reykjavik

Geothermally-heated sidewalks in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. (Courtesy of Reykjavik Energy)

Imagine a city with snow-free sidewalks all winter long without having to be plowed or shovelled. 

This isn't a magical land — it's Iceland, and the City of Saskatoon is looking towards it and a few other Scandinavian countries for inspiration. 

Eirikur Hjalmarsson, head of communications at Reykjavik Energy, said the Icelandic capital has been saving money on snow clearing since it began installing heated sidewalks and streets in downtown Reykjavik about 10 years ago.

It's quite simple, when you've already installed it.- Eirikur Hjalmarsson, head of communications at Reykjavik Energy

Saskatoon's City Centre Plan proposes heated sidewalks in the downtown area. Not only would it make walking easier and avoid back aches from shovelling, it would also save the wintry city money.

"I am sure that in several ways we have saved money because snow plowing is bad for the streets," Hjalmarsson told Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski. "So we are saving on renovations of the streets and we are saving on snow plowing and we are saving on accidents to people." 

"It's quite simple when you've already installed it," he said, though it might not be as easy in Saskatchewan. 

The northern lights over Reykjavik, Iceland. (Ragnar Th Sigurdsson/Visit Reykjavík)

On the volcanic island of Iceland, ground water from the earth's crust is used to heat Reykjavik homes. The water is between 100 and 300 C. The run off water, which is about 30 C, is then piped into plastic tubing inside the city's streets and sidewalks. 

Although there aren't any volcanoes on the Canadian prairies, Hjalmarsson said it's still possible to develop heated sidewalks in the city.

The city's plan says that sidewalks could be heated through connections with nearby public buildings or through the recapture of waste energy. It says that warmed pavement could also be incorporated with existing sidewalk infrastructure and they would be located in "strategic locations," such as City Hall Square, 21st Street and major bus stops.