Although the Chicagoland area has enjoyed mild temperatures for the last few days, the respite will undoubtedly be brief and subfreezing daytime highs will soon return. Likewise, more snow is in the near-term forecast.
Slippery sidewalks and driveways are a common safety hazard found outside homes and businesses and are aggravated by the continual freeze-thaw cycle that is all too familiar to residents of the Midwest.
Falls are the leading cause of injury in the home, and falls of all types are the second most common cause of injuries treated in emergency rooms after motor vehicle accidents, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Seniors are particularly at risk; falls are the leading cause of injury related death in persons over the age of 65. One in every three adults in this age group falls each year. Children are also more likely to suffer from falls and related injuries than adults.
Controlling the accumulation of ice and packed snow on outdoor walks and driveways is an effective way to prevent many painful and dangerous slip and fall incidents, and to reduce homeowner or business liability.
Commercial ice-melting products are available in a wide variety of formulations and styles and are the best way to reliably keep outdoor surfaces clear. The selection of an ice-melting product should be matched to the unique conditions and concerns of a given application.
Rock salt is the most common and lowest-cost ice melting product available. Comprised of Sodium Chloride (NaCl), rock salt is a cousin of the salt found on your table. It will melt snow and ice at air temperatures as low as +16 (-9 C) degrees, but performs best from +22 (-6 C) degrees to just below freezing. The downsides of rock salt include its tendency to be tracked into homes and buildings on the soles of shoes, and the damage salty runoff can do to landscaped surfaces, particularly grass lawns.
Ice-melting products containing Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2) are available in pellet, flake, crystal, and liquid formats. Mag Chloride is prized for its ability to melt snow and ice at temperatures as low as -13 (-25 C) degrees. This material is sometimes blended with rock salt to provide a relatively economical product with a wider effective temperature range than rock salt alone. Another advantage of MgCl2 is very low environmental impact; it doesn't track like salt, and is easy on plants and pets.
Found in the highest-performance ice-melting products, Potassium Chloride (KCl) will power through ice and snow at temperatures down to a bitter cold -25 (-31 C) degrees. The trade-offs are higher cost than Mag Chloride and higher environmental impact than even rock salt. Available in pellet, flake, and liquid forms, KCl-based ice-melters are usually marketed as premium products, with a price to match.
In addition to selecting the correct product, the surface to be treated should also be carefully considered.
Wood or composite decks should typically not be treated with any Chloride-containing product. Metal fasteners (screws, nails) and other metal components - even stainless steel and galvanized metals - will be degraded by Chloride-based preparations. Instead, sand can be used to improve traction on icy wood decks.
Concrete surfaces less than one year old should not be treated with chemical ice-melters. Sand can be safely applied to improve traction. Even mature concrete walks and driveways should be treated with extra care. Slush should be cleared off the surface as the ice-melter works, to minimize the amount of moisture that seeps into the pores and cracks of the concrete. This moisture will expand as it later re-freezes, causing surface damage by spalling and aggravating existing cracks.
Asphalt is a low-maintenance surface when it comes to the application of ice-melters, which is one reason asphalt is widely used for roadways. Still, slush and melted snow should be removed as soon as is practical, so it can't refreeze into a glazed ice surface later.
Brick walkways and driveways are beautiful and growing in popularity, but pose special challenges for snow and ice removal. In general, chemical ice-melting products are not recommended for brick materials, which are porous and can easily absorb moisture which will re-freeze later. For specific recommendations for care and treatment, consult the manufacturer of the brick used in your walkway or driveway.
Winter weather can create precarious conditions outside your home or business that are a threat to you, your family, guests, or customers. But with the proper selection and use of commercial ice-melting products, you can control these hazards and make outdoor areas safer for everyone.