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How to Melt Snow and Ice Without Rock Salt

How to Melt Snow and Ice Without Rock Salt

How to Melt Snow and Ice Without Rock Salt

Rock salt is easily the cheapest option when it comes to melting snow and ice on U.S. roadways as well as on pavements at U.S. homes.
Over a third of the salt sold in the United States every year is rock salt, which is basically the as-is salt mined from natural salt deposits left underground by "ancient oceans."

Rock Salt Damages Your Pavements and Landscaping

However, while rock salt is relatively inexpensive, accessible, and easy to apply, its use also brings with it a number of negative consequences.

First, rock salt (calcium chloride) does more than just melt the snow/ice on your driveway and other pavements. It also infiltrates the porous surface of your concrete and lodges, more or less permanently, inside. This might not be a problem in itself, except that salt is acidic enough to lower the pH level of concrete and render it more prone to deterioration. Salt crystals inside of concrete also has the effect of drawing water toward them and of increasing the saturation potential of concrete by 9%. Finally, if there are any uneven spots on your concrete pavement's surface, melt-off water will tend to collect there and seep slowly into the pavement below.

The end result is that water-laden concrete is cracked and spalled by internal pressures and surface abrasion caused by the expansion of water as it freezes into ice. The more freeze-thaw cycles in a winter, the worse the damage will be.

Asphalt surfaces also suffer from the salt/water infiltration and freeze-thaw cycles, though not quite as much as does concrete. Brick and stone used in home walkways and landscaping paths suffer a similar fate.

Grass, trees, flowers, bushes, and other vegetation planted near pavements where rock salt is applied will also often be damaged/killed off. The tell-tale sign is leaves, twigs, branches, or even the whole plant browning and dying. Salt absorbed in snow-melt run-off gets into the soil along pavements and causes plants to reach excessive internal salt levels. Since plants cannot "sweat off" salts like animals, they have to shed leaves/twigs. Salt also reduces soil quality and attracts water to itself, which makes it harder for root systems to pull the water into the plant.

Alternatives to Rock Salt for Melting Snow and Ice

If rock salt is not to be used, then some alternative methods of melting snow and ice and maintaining safe walking/parking areas on your premises must be found.

Here are some of the main options:

  • Use a different deicer: Calcium chloride, which is more effective at lower temperatures than rock salt and does less damage to concrete is one popular option. Urea is one of the safest deicers for plant life since it does not contain chloride. CMA (calcium magnesium acetate) does less damage to pavements/plants than rock salt, but it is better at preventing refreezing than at initial melting. There are many deicers available today, each with its pros and cons and each at a different price range.

  • Focus on mechanical removal: Using deicers minimally, and even mixing them with sand to dilute them and increase traction, is an option. Use enough chemical deicer to loosen ice and pre-brine pavements so snow does not stick and less deicer is needed later. Shoveling, snow blowing, and plowing then finish the job. The health risks of snow shoveling, the expense of plows/blowers, and the cost of hiring others to manually remove snow/ice are all potential drawbacks.

  • Install a heated driveway: Snow-melt systems under driveways, and sometimes also under walkways/sidewalks, are a great convenience. Simply turn them on as needed or pre-set them to activate automatically at certain times of day or at specific temperatures. No shoveling or salting will be needed to maintain the necessary snow and ice free areas. However, thousands of dollars must be invested to put in a new driveway that incorporates heating coils or hydronic heating tubes.

  • Use seasonal snow-melt mats: Snow melting mats provide a clear, dry, slip-resistant surface to walk on. They can be installed at entryways, along walkways, on outdoor stairs, and even as a tire lane on driveways. Snow melting mats essentially give you the convenience of a heated pavement at a lower cost and with the ability to remove and store the mats seasonally.

In summary, we can say that rock salt creates at least as many problems as it solves, making it desirable to find an alternative deicing method. Alternate chemical deicers are superior to rock salt in some respects but cost more. Mechanical removal is cheap and safe for your pavements/plants but presents dangers such as hypothermia and accidental slips and falls. Heated driveways are a convenient solution but one that has high upfront costs. Snow melting mats are good for providing a snow/ice free zone without reconstructing your pavements.

How to Melt Snow and Ice Without Damaging Your Driveway From Salt

How to Melt Snow and Ice Without Damaging Your Driveway From Salt

How to Melt Snow and Ice Without Damaging Your Driveway From Salt

Every winter, homeowner's in the northern half or so of the United States and all around Canada face the dilemma of how to rid their driveways of snow/ice build-up without doing any damage in the process. Rock salt and other deicers are typically used to melt down snow and ice, while shoveling may still be needed to remove loosened but slow-melting "tough spots." Yet, both concrete and asphalt drives can suffer harm from the use of deicing salts.

Salt Damage to Concrete Driveways

Concrete is a highly durable driveway material that withstands the pressure of even extremely weighty vehicles rolling over it. However, something as seemingly weak as salt can do significant damage to concrete.

When salt crystals make their way into the concrete through its surface pores, they then attract water, increasing the water-saturation of the concrete by as much as 10%. Additionally, if  run-off from ice and snow melted by deicing salts is not quickly shed off of your driveway, it will puddle and seep inside the concrete, exacerbating water-saturation yet further. Once temperatures drop below the freezing point, the water inside your concrete will expand and cause small cracks/fissures and surface spalling. A winter with numerous freeze-thaw cycles can do serious damage to a driveway with excess water content.

If you have just had concrete poured before winter, it is especially critical that it was installed correctly. You should have at least 30 days for the new pavement to thoroughly dry out before winter sets in. Concrete with additional water added to it or to its surface during construction will be especially susceptible to salt damage during winter, so make sure your contractor takes this into account if your driveway is being poured in the fall.

Salt Damage to Asphalt Driveways

Some will tell you that "asphalt is not affected by salt." And while it is true that salt can lower the pH level of concrete in a way that weakens it but not of asphalt, asphalt can also be indirectly damaged by salt and deicers. Additionally, deicers containing acetate and/or formate are prone to damage asphalt driveways.

Just consider how potholes and surface damage occurs on the public highways, and you will understand that the same process can deteriorate your asphalt driveway. Rock salt and other salt-containing deicers will melt snow and ice and, as with concrete, encourage water to seep in through surface pores. The freeze-thaw cycle takes over from there, and as asphalt is rather brittle in the winter time, the damage can be quite significant.

Non-Salt Driveway Deicing Solutions

Aside from just letting the snow accumulate or shoveling/chipping off the ice and snow as best as you can, there are four other solutions to clearing off your driveway in winter that do not involve salt.

  1. Sand: It is possible to only use sand on your driveway. This will not melt the snow/ice, but it will provide extra traction. Mixing sand and salt is a compromise solution that is also popular. If conditions are too slippery, however, sand will not be a safe alternative.

  2. Concrete coatings: Clear film are available that will coat concrete and prevent water absorption. Many of these coatings containing chemicals like siloxane/silane, which allow concrete to "breathe," but others, often using silicone/paraffin do not, which can trap water inside (soaked up through the underlying soil) and lead to surface spalling.

  3. Heated driveways: Installing electric heating coils under an asphalt driveway or hydronic (water-antifreeze circulating) plastic tubing in a poured concrete driveway can effectively melt surface snow/ice. You will have control over temperature settings and can heat only a portion (even just tire lanes) of the driveway if wished. A heated driveway will require an initial investment of at least several thousand dollars but will last for many years to come.

  4. Snow-melting mats: While snow melting mats are frequently used on outdoor walkways, stairways, and entry areas, you can also turn your driveway into a heated snow melting powerhouse with heated driveway mats. These mats, consisting of a powerful heating element sandwiched between two layers of rubber, can melt several inches of snow in only an hour or two. They are slip-resistant, do not allow melt-off to refreeze, utilize your normal power outlets, and can be easily taken up and stored for next year.

While salt is the most commonly used deicing method, it is also a method that does major damage to concrete and asphalt driveways each and every year. Finding alternative ways to rid your driveway of ice and snow will minimize your salt use and extend the life of your pavements.

How to Melt Snow and Ice Around Your Home Without Rock Salt

How to Melt Snow and Ice Around Your Home Without Rock Salt

Rock salt sales skyrocket each year as winter rolls around, and if it turns out to be a particularly snowy/icy season, rock salt sells so fast that stocks run low, prices soar, and rationing policies are sometimes instituted. However, the truth is that rock salt is one of the most damaging deicing options available, both to home pavements and nearby grass and plant life.

How to Melt Snow and Ice Around Your Home Without Rock Salt

You cannot control how the roads are deiced, but you can control how deicing is done on your own premises. First, we will look at the problems caused by rocks salt, then at some other deicers, and finally, at non-chemical solutions to ice and snow removal.

The Truth About Sodium Chloride (Rock Salt)

First of all, we should acknowledge some of the good qualities of rock salt that have made it the most popular deicer in use today. It is relatively cheap, easy to find, simple to apply, and does a good job melting ice and snow.

However, it only works down to a temperature of about 19° F (-7.22° C), "browns" vegetation by contaminating the soil, corrodes the undercarriages of cars, contaminates local water supplies used by fish/wildlife, helps to corrode metals it contacts, and (last but not least) accelerates the deterioration of pavements.

What About Alternative Deicing Products?

Depending on where you shop, there will be a number of other deicing products available to melt the snow/ice off of your driveway, walkways, and entryways. These products cost more than rock salt but are superior in certain respects. Many of them, however, also share some of rock salts problems, including pavement damage and environmental contamination.

  • Potassium chloride (potash), though normally a fertilizer, is sometimes used as a deicer. It only works down to 25° F (-3.89° C), however, and can actually damage plants when used in high enough concentrations to be effective as a deicer.

  • Calcium chloride is effective in smaller amounts than required for rock salt and works down to -9.5° F (-23° C). It is a somewhat "greener" option due to its lighter use but still has the same detrimental effects.

  • Urea, also normally used as a fertilizer, does less damage to plant life and does not cause metal corrosion, but it does cause algae bloom in local water supplies. It works down to only 23° F (-5° C) and costs five times more than rock salt.
  • Potassium acetate also does not cause metal corrosion, and it is partly biodegradable. It works down to -15° F (-26.11° C) and is often billed as the "greenest" deicer of all. However, it can cost ten times as much as rock salt or even more.

You can also mix rock salt or another deicer with sand to reduce its negative impacts. This will reduce its effectiveness, but if you get the mix just right, it can often be "sufficiently effective," while the sand provides extra traction. And finally, salt brine mixtures can be applied before a big snowfall to make for easy, quick snow removal and prevent black ice from former. This still puts salt on your pavements, but at least, not in as high concentrations.

How Can I Deice "Without Deicers?"

While chemical, salt-containing, applicants are traditionally called "deicers," there are other ways to deice your pavements during the winter season.

Top non-chemical snow/ice removal methods include:

  1. Mechanical removal: A good snow shovel, an ice pick, and a snow blower will "get the job done" as long as the ice is not too tightly attached to the pavement. This method is simple and fairly cheap, but it is also intense and physically demanding. Long exposure to low temperatures can lead to hypothermia, and slip and fall accidents are a major danger.

  2. Professional plowing: Hiring a snowplow service to clear off your driveway is an easy solution if you don't feel 100% safe doing it personally or if you simply don't have the time. But a typical driveway costs around $40 (approximately $53.76 CAD) to plow, and $75 (approximately $100.80 CAD) per hour is a normal rate. Depending on your driveway size, the local market, and how snowy the winter is, you could be paying hundreds of dollars each year.

  3. Heated pavements: It is possible to install a snow-melt system under your driveway and/or walkway that will keep all/part of it free of snow/ice. However, whether electric-coil or hydronic systems are used, it will normally cost thousands of dollars to install since a new driveway typically has to be poured.

  4. Heated snow-melting mats: Snow-melting mats do the job of a heated sidewalk, while costing much less, and driveway mats are the perfect solution for a heated driveway. This option allows seasonal usage only and the ability to take your mats with you if/when you move.

While rock salt and other chemical deicers may have a place in deicing your home, non-chemical methods like heated driveways and snow-melt mats avoid damaging your pavement and ensure an ice-free walking/driving path.