The holidays are upon us. During this magical time of year, it’s important to remember that while our hearts grow warm (and grow three sizes, depending on who you are), external temperatures tend to plummet, and with that change comes the formation of ice. Ice is something we need to be mindful of everywhere we go during the winter, but we can do something about icy driveways, our own little patch of cement.
The Dangers of Ice
While ice has a beauty and mystery all its own, it is responsible for many injuries in the winter, upwards of 20,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the incidents of occupational injuries and illnesses related to ice, sleet, or snow which caused employees to miss at least one day of work occurred at a rate of 1.8 cases per 10,000 full-time workers in 2017. Not much has changed in five years.
Preventing Icy Driveways
With ice-related injuries being so common, it is important that we take precautions during the winter months to prevent them on our own front door. Skating rinks are great for a fun day out. They are not good for driveways. Fortunately, there are quite a few ways to prevent icy driveways.
Rock salt is the most common hack to prevent driveway icing. It is relatively cheap and available in almost every store. Salt melts ice by chemically bonding with it, loosening its hydrogen bonds. Unfortunately, this isolates its two components, sodium and chloride, and the latter is toxic for pets and plants. Rock salt can burn your grass and kill other plants, to say nothing of its effects on pets. If your pets ingest rock salt or show symptoms of having done so, call animal poison control right away.
If your rock salt gets into your flowbeds or lawn, it can also disrupt the microbiome of the area, setting future growing endeavors up for failure. Salt is also corrosive. If left on icy driveways too long, it can actually damage or even crack the concrete. It can also cause the undercarriage of vehicles to rust when combined with moisture for prolonged periods of time.
Alcohol is a very common ingredient in commercial de-icers. It has a very low freezing point, and for rubbing alcohol which is usually a combination of isopropyl alcohol and water, the higher the proof, the lower the freezing point. This solution for icy driveways is something most homes have readily on-hand. Apply it to your driveway with a spray bottle and let it gradually melt the ice. Rubbing alcohol is good for loosening up the ice so you can better scrape it off. A mixture of water and vinegar works in a similar way.
Magnesium chloride is a commercially available de-icing agent which can melt heavy ice buildup at temperatures around 5°F. Its biggest perk is that it is less toxic than calcium chloride and other similar salts. Pellets are easy to disperse.
A Bit of Grit
Sand creates traction which can minimize the dangerous slipperiness of icy driveways. While it doesn’t melt the ice, it does provide better grip for vehicles and foot traffic. Kitty litter can be used in the same way. Unfortunately, both methods also create a terrible mess.
It may sound counterintuitive, but you can use water to melt icy driveways. It just needs to be hot enough. Sprinkle boiling water on your driveway to break up the ice, but be careful not to burn yourself. This solution can be tedious but it certainly one of the most eco-friendly options.
Keep It Clean
Keep up on your shoveling or, even better for your back, snowblowing. When snow sits on the driveway, the lower levels tend to freeze, creating a double threat: snow on the driveway that is hidden from view. It is certainly not convenient, but clearing away the snow before it has considerable time to settle is preventative against ice formation.
Install Heat Mats
Some people, when they build a new home, choose to include heat mats in the design. For most people, this option is prohibitively expensive, but it is an environmentally friendly and hands-off way to keep a driveway free from ice.
Preparing for Winter
Before the winter chill settles in for the season, there are some steps you can take to make sure your driveway comes out on top at the end of it. Sealing your driveway is an effective preventative measure against the worst effects of the freeze-thaw cycle of water. It is also a good idea to check for drainage problems before the winter weather sets in.