But in the mean time we have to survive the cold temperatures and most likely a fair amount of ice and snow. And so does your hardscaping.
I get asked all the time what the best way is to keep walkways and patio surfaces ice-free during the winter months. No matter what the surface material is, just a little bit of ice or compacted snow can really be a safety hazard. Even a well-shoveled surface can become slippery quickly as the surrounding snow melts and re-freezes. Something needs to be done.
But first, what not to do. Remember these three words: “Rock Salt, Bad.” Sure it’s relatively inexpensive, and yes, it does keep the walkway ice-free. But it also will destroy nearly any hardscaping surface. Rock salt, or sodium chloride to be more precise, is extremely corrosive. It will cause mortar joints to deteriorate, cause flagstones to flake, discolor bricks or stones, eat away at concrete, and potentially harm nearby vegetation. And it’s bad for the overall environment. And it can wreak havoc on your four-legged friends’ paws. To summarize again, “Rock Salt, Bad.”
There are however a number of alternatives that can help keep walkways safe without harming the hardscaping, your pets’ health, or the environment.
Most hardware stores, home centers, and even pet stores will sell some version of “chloride-free” de-icers. The active ingredient in these products is generally Calcium Magnesium Acetate, or “CMA” as it’s sometimes referred. A 20-lb bag typically runs in the neighborhood of $20, -- yes, it is slightly more expensive, but considering how you’re saving that big ticket patio you just had installed, a few extra bucks is well worth it. There’s a number of CMA-based products out there, and they’re often marketed as pet-friendly de-icers. Just ask your local supplier what they have available, and be sure to stay away from the chloride-based products.
And speaking of pets, another chloride-free alternative is good ol’ fashioned kitty litter. Kitty litter does lack some of the ice-melting qualities of CMA-based products, it tends to work a little slower, but it is inexpensive and provides welcome grit and traction to any icy surface.
Basic sand is another inexpensive, environmentally-friendly alternative. And since that dry-set paver or brick patio was swept with sand upon completion anyway, it certainly won’t hurt things as the snow disappears come spring.
Of course, there’s also my favorite strategy – keep your fingers crossed for a mild winter and repeat this mantra, “pitchers and catchers, pitchers and catchers, pitchers and catchers…” Spring training (and warmer weather) is getting closer by the day! In the mean time, stay warm and stay safe.