How to safeguard slippery winter surfacesWith the unusually warm weather this winter, driveways and sidewalks seem slipperier than usual. Ice-melt and de-icers are a fact of winter, but which products should homeowners consider?
By: Beth Koralia, for the Budgeteer
With the unusually warm weather this winter, driveways and sidewalks seem slipperier than usual. Ice-melt and de-icers are a fact of winter, but which products should homeowners consider?
Since ice-melts and salts vary little in pricing, one way to select a product is to consider how you will use it — for traction or to clear away the ice.
Steve Marshall of Marshall Hardware in Duluth said selecting a de-icer depends on how cold it is.
Calcium chloride is typically the strongest kind of icemelt, working at temperatures of 50 degrees below zero. Others work only at warmer temperatures.
Marshall also talked about sodium chloride mixed with beet juice. “The city of Duluth uses that to spray before and after it freezes and rains,” he said.
Chemical salt mixes can be detrimental to driveway surfaces. “The newer the concrete, the harder the salt is on it,” Marshall said.
Marshall explained that concrete gets harder over time because of the way it cures. An older concrete driveway is more durable than a newly poured one.
“On preformed steps, in the spring, you can see where the salt has chipped away at the concrete,” Marshall said. “Oddly, they add calcium to concrete in the winter to help it cure faster.”
The back of a Morton brand ice-melt package reads “all de-icers can damage concrete because they increase the number of freeze and thaw cycles.” The instructions also caution against using too much salt on brick and
flagstone pathways joined with concrete mortar for the same reason.
Some homeowners may be concerned about the environmental impact of such chemical de-icers. Recently, there has been some concern over the environmental hazards of chemical de-icers, such as those sprayed on airplanes and used on highways.
In a 2009 report issued by the USGS [U.S. Geological Survey?], research found that high concentrations of certain de-icers are potentially harmful to aquatic life as well as other life forms if not contained and allowed to run off into soil, groundwater, and other surrounding water sources.
“All stuff is pretty biodegradable,” Marshall said. The products labeled ‘petsafe’ typically have a lower concentration of the calcium chloride.”
“Dogs can get salt and ice between their toes, which might cause a little irritation and [they] can start to lick,” Dr. Steve Schuder, of the Duluth Veterinary Hospital, said.
According to several ice-melt and salt packages, chemical and salt mixes in large doses can be harmful to lawns and gardens. Others recommended using gloves and cautioned against breathing in the dust of the mixture.
There are alternatives to the chemical icemelts. Ashes work well for traction and are great for the soil and garden, but you also track in a good deal of soot into your house.
You might try cat box litter in a pinch, and as long as you don’t buy the clumping kind you will be able to get a bit of grip. Then there is sand, which is good for gripping, but if you use too much the surface can become
just as slippery as the ice.
Marshall pointed out another nonchemical substance: “Crushed granite, called ‘grit,’ is our most popular. It is insoluble, good on sunny days, and you can sweep it up in the spring. It provides instant traction. It’s better on concrete and metal.”
While there has been little snow to shovel this year, homeowners must still battle freezing rain and ice-causing moisture. They should select a product that best suits their needs and addresses their concerns.
However, the biggest question a homeowner might face is “Will I need 50 pounds this year, or just the shaker bottle?”