Snow removal tips: salt your spaghetti, not your sidewalk
Polar Vortex. Snowmageddon. Snowpocalypse. Whatever hysterical term the news calls it, you're still stuck shoveling and salting.
In recent years, most of us have learned that salt is bad for your plants and lawn, bad for pets (those poor little paws), and devastating to local streams and rivers. Most de-icers, including salt, contain chlorides that are hazardous to fish and other things living in streams. If you wouldn't poor a bag of salt into your favorite fishing hole, you don't want to be over-salting your sidewalk.
According to the Huron River Watershed Council, "road and sidewalk salt has a huge impact on our waterways. Melting snow carries all that salt into our lakes, rivers and streams." They add that a small five pound bag of salt can pollute 1,000 gallons of fresh water.
Salt also ruins your concrete, your car, your tools, and your floors. If you think salt is cheap, think about what it costs to replace all the stuff it ruins.
Before applying any de-icer, there are several things you can do to remove snow safely.
1. Get a good shovel and broom.
For light snows, a simple broom works great.
Chances are you have a shovel or two you use for snow removal. Chances are also pretty darn good that you're using the wrong shovel. I love using a 30" wide or more plow style shovel with a steel blade. Even in six inches of snow I can push the snow in a few single passes down the walk with no lifting or throwing needed. The plow shovel pushes the snow to the sides just like the plows on the trucks. The wide blade let's you do as few as two passes - one down and another back - in order to clear the snow. For deeper snow, a third and forth pass cleans up the bits that fall off the back of the shovel. You rarely need to lift the shovel.
The steel blade is much heavier than most shovels. But since you push rather than lift, the weight helps keep the blade under the base layer of snow and leaves a good, clean path. Another benefit is that the steel blade is very durable and can be recycled at the end of its useful life as a shovel.
2. Shovel early and often.
Really. It's easier to shovel two inches of snow three times a day than it is to shovel six inches of snow once. And the longer you wait to shovel, the harder the snow packs and the harder it is to remove.
3. Scrape ice when needed.
If you've been too lazy to follow step two, then you'll need to keep a good ice chisel or scraper handy. Once snow gets compacted by driving or walking on it, it can quickly turn to a sheet of ice.
Chisels and scrapers require a lot of work. So, just follow step two.
4. Kiss-my-grit. Traction control.
To keep the residual snow from becoming slippery and dangerous, you can apply a small amount of sand, ash (from fireplace), sawdust, or kitty litter to give some traction to the surface. It won't melt the snow or ice, but will make it less slippery. Again, use any of these sparingly as they can also clog storm drains.
5. De-icers as a last resort.
As a last resort, when all other methods have been tried, you can add a small amount of de-icer to your sand, ash, or kitty litter. You should use as little de-icer as needed to get the job done. About a coffee-cup full (1 pound) of deicer will treat about 1,000 square feet. Spread it sparsely and evenly. Mixing it with your traction grit will help minimize the use of your deicer.
For deeper freezes, you'll need a de-icer with a magnesium or a calcium chloride or a glycol. And if the temperature is below 0°F, you probably shouldn't bother with any de-icer. No matter what the label says, most are useless when it's brutally cold.
And check out this great VIDEO from: Outdoor Winter Maintenance: Good Choices
Also check out Huron River Watershed Council's Use Less Salt page