When the city of Saskatoon wanted to invest in heated sidewalks in 2013, the CBC wrote: “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.”
This may have led to a perception that most streets in Reykjavík, or even all of Iceland, are heated for snow removal. While this is not the case, many of Reykjavík’s busiest streets and sidewalks are, indeed, heated.
Iceland began installing these systems in the early 2000s. And while the energy cost might be prohibitive elsewhere, the availability of environmentally-friendly geothermal energy makes the system more or less environmentally neutral once it’s installed. Additionally, around two thirds of the heated water used in these systems is return water from space heaters. The water in space heaters in homes and businesses throughout Iceland averages 35°C [95°F], making it ideal for this task.
While many new outdoor parking lots feature such heating systems, there are still plenty of sidewalks throughout the capital region without these, as many travellers discovered this winter.
In general, only new developments and the densest part of downtown are heated. Other municipalities throughout Iceland also have such systems, but the majority can be found in and around Reykavík. Of the 920,000 m2 total area covered by snow removal systems in 2008, 690,000 m2 was in the capital area.
Approximately one-third of these systems are in use in commercial areas, one-third by private homes, and one-third are installed in public areas.