"It doesn't matter if you read the Old Farmers Almanac or you watch the Weather Channel, you will get a forecast on how harsh our winter will be this year.
No one can guarantee the weather, but one thing I can guarantee is that you will need to keep your walkways, front steps and porch free of snow and ice so no one will slip and fall on their way up to your house.
Shoveling your walkways when the snow falls can do the trick, but that's not always practical with a busy lifestyle. Even when you do shovel, you're often left with a layer of slush that turns icy and slippery.
That's why it's a good idea to use ice melters as a preventative measure after or in place of shoveling. But all ice melters aren't created equal, and you need to know the pros and cons of the different types of products available.
The least expensive variety of ice melter is good old-fashioned rock salt, which is made from sodium chloride. However, it can be very harmful to vegetation and concrete, and it doesn't work when temperatures fall below 22 degrees. When it comes right down to it, rock salt is great for making ice cream.
Potassium-chloride-based products can melt ice down to 12 degrees and are less harmful to your vegetation and concrete. Products made from sodium acetate and calcium magnesium acetate are also less harmful to vegetation, and are effective down to 5 degrees.
The most powerful and effective ice melter is calcium chloride, which melts ice the fastest and is effective down to minus 25 degrees. There are also many products that feature a blend of these ingredients.
Remember that nowadays the more effective and environmentally friendly something is, the more it costs.
"Our top seller is the ACE Ice Melter that is made from potassium chloride and sodium chloride and can melt ice down to minus 10 degrees," said Bob Jones, operation director at Trevarrow ACE Hardware in Troy, (248) 689-8030, www.trevarrowace.com. "But a lot of people still buy basic rock salt because it is the cheapest."
At Trevarrow ACE, Bob said a 50 pound bag of rock salt costs $7.99, while a 40 pound bag of the ACE Ice Melter is $14.99. The most expensive product is the calcium chloride, which retails for $32.99 for a 50 pound bag.
Pet owners face a special challenge in keeping their cats and dogs safe from harmful ice-melting ingredients.
"For many people, buying ice melting products comes down to economics, but pet owners who already spend a lot on their dogs and cats and don't mind spending more for a product that is pet-safe," said John Wesolowski, senior vice president of Milazzo Industries, www.milazzoindustries.com.
While Wesolowski's company makes a variety of ice melting products, the company's chloride-free Safe Pet Ice Melter is a favorite among pet owners, even though it is priced at the higher end of the spectrum."