I’ve been a resident of Reno most of my life and remember many winters that have had snow on the ground and freezing temperatures for weeks. We are very fortunate that in our area of the country the sun shines most of the time, even in winter. And usually, the sun’s warmth keeps the snow and ice from remaining on the streets for not more than a few hours. But there have been times when inversions, overcast days and freezing temperatures keep the snow and ice on the roads, driveways, and walks for weeks. Many city ordinances require homeowners and business owners to keep sidewalks clear of snow and ice, and our community’s efforts to comply are usually evidenced by local shortages of snow shovels and ice melt products.
While road salt and de-icing products seem like a necessity in cold temperatures, the damage caused by the use and mis-use of these products is now evident on many concrete driveways and walkways. While these compounds are helpful in softening snow and ice, they are often overused or mis-used to the detriment of the concrete. Damaged concrete can spall or scale (the flaking or peeling of the top layer of your concrete), destroying the integrity of the concrete and the overall appearance. The instructions on most de-icing products state that the slush should be removed quickly from the concrete or surface that it was applied to. With some products, “quickly” means in as little as ten minutes.
The moisture from rain and snow works its way down into the porous surface of the concrete. Upon freezing, the ice creates a bond with the concrete. De-icing products are designed to break this bond, which allows the user to shovel the ice and slush off of the concrete. Damage to the concrete occurs when the de-icing product is left on the concrete for long periods of time or indefinitely. Additionally, if the product is over-used or excessively used, damage will occur. Most de-icer instructions stipulate the correct amounts to use and they are usually in the range of ¼ to ½ cup per three square yards. This amount is equivalent to a small handful in your cupped hand used over an area of 9 feet wide by 9 feet long or approximately 4 small handfuls applied to a typical residential driveway.
How many of us believe that if a little is good, a lot is better? Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth with de-icers and your concrete. Additionally, these products should not be used on driveways and walkways that are chipped or cracked, that are already showing signs of spalling or flaking, or that are less than one year old. If de-icing products must be used, follow the recommended application quantities and shovel your driveways and walkways as soon as possible and always within the product recommendations.
What can you, as the owner, do to maintain and protect your concrete? I recommend cleaning and sealing your concrete at least once a year (usually in the fall). This should be done even if you choose not to use de-icing products. Public road maintenance crews often use a combination of de-icers and sand. Our vehicle’s tires track the de-icer/sand mix onto our driveways and garage floors, where it is usually left until the next storm or until we spring clean!
The annual use of a good penetrating sealer will help protect your concrete against damage from road salts and de-icers. It will extend the life of your concrete and will also guard against too much moisture working its way into the porous surface (which on its own can cause damage during freeze/thaw cycles). I recommend a penetrating sealer because the surface sealers may be a little slick for our climate. Clean you concrete thoroughly. Let it dry completely. Then seal the concrete with a good commercial grade sealer (available from construction supply companies or concrete supply companies).
So, winter weather is here. Seal your concrete annually! And if you do opt to use de-icing compounds, follow the product manufacturer’s instructions and keep that snow shovel handy. Remember to remove the resulting slush “QUICKLY” and you will have concrete to be proud of.