Concrete 101: Winter Maintenance
This post is the first of many by Williamson Concrete Solutions that will hopefully give you a better understanding of concrete, care and maintenance, life expectancy, and much more! This post will be about winter maintenance to your sidewalks, patios, and any other outside concrete you may have.
First, the best way to maintain your concrete in the winter time is to remove all snow in order to prevent ice from building up. When snow melts whether by heat or salt/de-icer it becomes liquid, which probably will freeze when overnight temperatures drop below freezing. Unless you're looking to live in YouTube infamy or make "fun" trips to the ER, you need to remove the possibility of ice forming where you'll be walking. If ice builds up then there are a few options to remove it, but the most common way can (and will over time) damage your concrete!
Step one, make sure you remove as much or all of the snow. Step two, you should try to put sawdust, ashes (wood stove, coal ashes, etc), or some other material that will help you have grip and traction when you walk over the concrete. The ashes or sawdust are used in lieu of salt or de-icer. You’ll still have ice in this scenario possibly, but you should be able to walk over it safely by spreading ashes or sawdust. This method won't cause any real damage to your concrete. However, most people use salt, or de-icers, to clear snow and ice from their concrete. Most salts and de-icers will eventually start to deteriorate the concrete., especially if used heavily and repeatedly. In simple terms, here is how this happens:
“Deicing chemicals used for snow and ice removal, such as sodium chloride, can aggravate freeze-thaw deterioration. The additional problem caused by deicers is believed to be a buildup of osmotic and hydraulic pressures in excess of the normal hydraulic pressures produced when water in concrete freezes. In addition, because salt absorbs moisture, it keeps the concrete more saturated, increasing the potential for freeze-thaw deterioration. However, properly designed and placed air-entrained concrete can withstand deicers for many years.” (Types and causes of concrete deterioration, 2002)
If and when you do use a de-icer on your concrete, I would recommend removing it after it’s done its job of removing the ice. Leaving it on the concrete and letting it build up over the course of winter can drastically reduce the life of your concrete. The first signs of deterioration is when the top “pops,” which means the top of the concrete starts flaking away and you can see the stones in the concrete. For the most part the damage will be cosmetic for quite some time (especially if it’s a sidewalk, patio, driveway, etc.), so it won’t be dangerous, life threatening, or a great cause for concern. However, if the concrete further continues to deteriorate over time it would be recommended to replace it.
All of this can be “prevented” or slowed down by the use correct concrete loads, air, cure and seal, etc. It won’t protect your concrete forever, but it will last for several years and possibly decades.
Types and causes of concrete deterioration. (2002). Skokie, IL: Portland Cement Association.