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The Rock Salt Health Risks You Need to Worry About

The Rock Salt Health Risks You Need to Worry About

The Rock Salt Health Risks You Need to Worry About

Rock salt is usually not on homeowners' minds until outdoor temperatures begin to drop and winter is "just around the corner." And when thoughts do turn to rock salt, it is usually in immediate connection with melting ice and snow rather than with health concerns.

Although rock salt has, according to recent trends, become popular in health-conscious circles as a substitute for ordinary table salt (called by some "posh" salt) and, purportedly, as a health-enhancing releaser of "negative ions" in Himalayan pinksalt lamps, in the context of applying it to pavements around your home, it has a decidedly poor health and wellness resume.

The Health Risks of Rock Salt

Calcium chloride, commonly referred to as rock salt, can be potentially harmful to pets, kids, and plants, and if you're not careful, to adults as well.

First, you have to take care when handling rock salt because when it contacts your skin, it can cause "salt burns." This is especially a risk when the salt is already wet, either from making salt brine or being left out in the weather before application. Even in less extreme cases, rock salt can cause mild rashes and skin irritations, and the worst case scenario can be quite painful. Dogs often get their paws burnt by walking on rock salt "slush" or otherwise contacting the material.

You also need to wear a mask when applying rock salt, especially on a day with significant wind movement. Rock salt dust can irritate your mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines if accidentally inhaled, and it can lead to severe vomiting/diarrhea. Children who have breathed in or swallowed rock salt need immediate medical attention, adults who are repeatedly exposed to it can develop serious respiratory conditions, and animals can suffer kidney damage or even die if they eat too much rock salt. Birds that consume rock salt may become disoriented and unable to fly unless/until they recover.

Rock salt also inevitably dilutes in the run-off water it creates, or gets carried away in a winter rain storm, and ends up spilling over the edges of pavements. This salts the soil and causes plants to absorb toxic levels of salt, leading to defoliation and/or plant death. Additionally, salt near the roots of plants causes two other problems: it is absorbed instead of other needful minerals, causing nutrient deficiencies, and it acts like a "water magnet," which makes it harder for root systems to draw water into the plant.

"Health Risks" to Your Pavements

Not only does rock salt present a number of health risks to people, pets, and plants, but it also endangers the "health" of your driveway and outdoor walkways.

Concrete is made less stable when rock salt infiltrates it and lowers it pH level. Salts also reach reinforcement metals inside the concrete and increase the likelihood of corrosion. But most importantly, the salt crystals infiltrate pavement pores and draw in extra water that later freezes, causing cracks, fissures, and surface spalling.

Asphalt pavements can also be affected by the enhanced freeze-thaw cycles that rock salt creates, as evidenced by the wintertime damage to our highways that becomes visible each spring.

By melting ice/snow on your pavements with rock salt, you are sacrificing longevity for immediate usefulness. Later on, expensive resurfacing or even structural repairs may become necessary.

Less Risky Deicing Methods

While certain health risks and pavement deterioration are involved, many still use rock salt to avoid other risks — such as slipping and falling on an icy walkway or suffering the effects of hypothermia while shoveling heavy snow in sub-freezing weather. They also choose rock salt because it is less expensive than other deicers.

There are alternative ways to cope with winter's snow and ice, however, and not all of them are overly costly. And when you consider the value of eliminating health risks, pavement damage, and environmental contamination, they may well be worth paying a little more for.

One solution is to use "pet safe" deicers, generally made from corn-based ingredients. They are less irritating to dog paws, and less harmful if touched or ingested (though still get medical attention if the latter occurs.) Some other deicers, like urea and potassium chloride, are safer for plant life.

A second tactic is to mix deicer with sand and use only just as much as needed. Simply use deicers to loosen ice/snow and shovel the rest. Also use it on "stubborn spots."

Finally, you can install a heated driveway or use snow-melting mats. The former is a permanent solution but rather costly; the latter requires seasonal set-up but costs less and can be taken with you should you move.


Rock salt presents multiple health risks and damages your pavements, but there are other available options for deicing. While expense must be taken into account, always put safety first.

Should You Install a Heated Driveway?

Should You Install a Heated Driveway?

Should You Install a Heated Driveway?

Harsh winter storms, snow and ice accumulations, black ice, shoveling and de-icing: It’s enough to make a homeowner seriously consider installing a heated driveway. The idea sounds tempting, but how much does an in-ground system actually cost?

Below is a summary of the average costs of installing and operating different types of underground snow-melting systems. Also taken into account here are ways in which a heated driveway can actually reduce certain related expenses, thus mitigating the overall cost.

Installation Costs for Heated Driveways

There are two types of heated driveway systems: hydronic and electric coil. Which type you choose will affect your expenses, with a hydronic system costing more to install but less to operate. The size of your driveway, or rather, the portion of your driveway to be heated, and whether or not you need to demolish and replace your existing driveway, will also influence the final bill.

In most cases, you’ll need to tear up your existing pavement to install the heated driveway. In some cases it’s possible to cut strips in the surface and retrofit in electric heating coils, or even slip hydronic tubing underneath. However, warranties normally don’t apply unless the heating system is installed in brand new pavement. This means that you could easily be looking at $4,000 to $5,000 for a new asphalt drive and $3,000 to $4,000 for concrete. This, in addition to the demolition costs.

Installation costs for a hydronic system average around $4,500, while an electric coil system will run you about $4,000. However, if smaller areas need to be heated, for instance just two tire lanes, you ought to be able to get the price down to $2,000 or less.

Operating Costs for Heated Driveways

The cost to operate your new heated driveway will vary based on the system used, the square footage to be heated, the snow/ice depth, and the differential between outdoor temperatures and target temperature. In the case of electric coil heating, the cost of electricity in your locality will also be of significance.

On average, a hydronic system costs $0.12-$0.25 per square foot to operate. This would come to about $125-$250 to heat a one-thousand-square-foot driveway during a typical winter.

The average cost of operating an electric coil system is more complex to calculate. For our hypothetical one-thousand-square-foot driveway, it will likely total between $275 and $700 during a typical winter, depending on whether you live in a high or low snowfall region.

This is based on $0.69 per kWh. To customize the estimate, multiply the square footage to be heated by 50 kW to find the kW used per hour of heating. Then multiply that number by your local kWh rate.

Snow Melting Mats

Another option to consider are electrically heated snow melting mats that plug into ordinary outlets. The mats create a snow-free tire lane that can melt approximately two inches of snow per hour. The melt-off does not refreeze as long as the mats are turned on, and mats can stay on indefinitely as long as conditions require it. Using these mats are efficient and economical, and they eliminate the disruption caused by tearing up a driveway.

Additional Benefits of Heated Driveways

To answer the question, then, of how much it actually costs to install an in-ground heating system, the answer is: thousands of dollars for installation and hundreds for ongoing usage. Nevertheless, you will eliminate expenses like paying for a snowplow service, which typically costs more than running an electric coil system over the course of a winter. Also, you will minimize any need for de-icers, thus extending the life of your pavement. Additionally, by installing a heated driveway or using heated mats you will save the plants along the driveway’s edge from salt poisoning, thus saving on spring landscaping costs.

Finally, keep in mind that a heated driveway will increase safety by reducing the potential for slip-and-fall accidents, thus decreasing your risk of liability and of paying for expensive hospital bills.

What are Alternatives to Rock Salt for Melting Ice on Driveways?

What are Alternatives to Rock Salt for Melting Ice on Driveways?

What are Alternatives to Rock Salt for Melting Ice on Driveways?

Rock salt's destructive tendencies on driveway pavements, especially on concrete but on asphalt as well, are well known. It is not surprising, then, that many homeowners are now seeking alternatives to rock salt when it comes to deicing their driveways and outdoor foot-traffic pavements.

Below, we offer 6 chemical deicers that can take the place of rock salt and 4 non-chemical deicing solutions to consider. These options are not all mutually exclusive, so feel free to mix and match and find the approach that works best for you.

Chemical Deicing Alternatives to Rock Salt

Other chemical deicing agents have become more and more common at local home improvement stores and other suppliers, and there are a wide range of products to choose from. These deicers are generally superior to rock salt, but not necessarily in every respect, and they will cost more (whether a little more or a lot).

Here are six of the more commonly available "alternative" deicers on the market:

  • Calcium chloride: This popular deicer will melt ice down to -26º F (-32.22° C) instead of the 15º F (-9.44° C) to 20º F (-6.67° C) range in which rock salt is effective. As it absorbs water quite easily, it must be stored plastic/metal containers sealed with lids. It will not hurt plant life like rock salt can, but it may leave a bit of a residue on your driveway after melting the ice. Because it releases a lot of heat when it contacts ice, calcium chloride will also melt ice faster than rock salt.

  • Magnesium chloride: Whether in liquid or granule form, magnesium chloride is much like calcium chloride but only effective down to 1º F (-17.22° C) and not quite as fast at melting ice. It is still superior to rock salt, however.

  • Potassium chloride: Potassium chloride only works down to 25º F (-3.89° C) but is considered very "environmentally friendly," not hurting plants nor local water supplies. It can be used effectively when outdoor temperatures are not extreme.

  • Urea: Urea, like potassium chloride, only works down to 25º F (-3.89° C). It is one of the most plant-friendly deicers available, but it can cause algae bloom in ponds if run-off water reaches them.

  • Liquid potassium-acetate: This product is not best for melting ice but is effective at preventing ice formation to begin with when applied to your driveway just before a storm strikes. It is biodegradable and environmentally safe.

  • Calcium-magnesium acetate: Like the anti-icing agent just above, calcium-magnesium acetate is good at preventing ice formation. It has very small granules, making it able to cover larger areas with smaller quantities and still work effectively.

Note that alternative deicers will generally accelerate freeze-thaw cycle damage to pavements just like rock salt, though not usually to as high a degree.

Non-chemical Deicing Alternatives to Rock Salt

While it may not always be practical to completely eliminate chemical deicers, you can at least minimize their use and thus the damage they cause. Here are 4 non-chemical deicing methods to help save your pavements and landscaping:

  • Mechanical methods: Removing snow early in the morning and soon after it first falls by shovel, snow blower, or snow plow is best practice. If you have heart or other medical conditions, it is safer to hire out the work, but mechanical removal is 100% safe for your pavement as long as you are careful not to scrape or ding it with any sharp edges.

  • Traction-boosting agents: Another strategy is to lay down sand or sawdust to boost traction on your driveway. This will not melt any ice, but you can mix in "just enough" deicer if necessary. Do not use ashes or kitty litter, however, or your driveway will get rather messy.

  • Heated driveways: Hydronic and electric-coil heated driveway systems are very expensive to install, but once in place, they are extremely convenient and melt away snow/ice effortlessly. This option will likely involve tearing up your existing driveway, however.

  • Snow melting mats: Not only are there effective snow-melt mats for walkways and entryways, but you can also use heated snow melting mats that are specifically designed for driveways. The result is much like having a "portable" heated driveway for a much lower cost.

Rock salt is often resorted to because it seems like the only viable way to melt ice and snow from home driveways, but this is simply not the case. There are many other chemical and non-chemical deicing methods that work well and are cost-efficient. Each homeowner, however, will need to weigh the benefits, drawbacks, and cost of each method to form an overall ice-melting strategy that works best for him or her.