How can you stop salt from damaging concrete and asphalt? Applying rock salt or a similar deicer is necessary to stop winter slip-and-fall accidents, but it may damage the surface.
Most of us understand the principle behind applying a deicer to our sidewalks or driveways: Choose a product that has a lower freezing point than water so that, when applied to ice, it melts the ice. We also know that not all deicers have the same freezing points. Calcium chloride works in the lowest temperatures down to about -25° F, and it’s a highly recommended choice. Sodium chloride, or “rock salt,” will work through temperatures to about 12° F. It’s one of the least expensive options and a popular choice. Products like these will keep your walkways free from ice, so all’s well until spring comes and you see miniature potholes in your sidewalks and driveway. Stupid deicer! Not so fast. The problem may not be the deicer you chose. It’s more likely the concrete itself. When a deicer melts the ice, it turns into salty water. That water is then absorbed into the cement (you knew that cement was porous, right?). The excess water inside the concrete goes through freeze-thaw cycles with varying temperatures, and, of course, when something freezes, it expands. With all that added water from the deicing, the expansion puts more pressure on the concrete. The result? Surface cracks and holes. What should you do? Well, you can remove the slush that occurs as the deicer does its job. That decreases the amount of water available for your concrete to absorb. But it’s a lot of work, and you need to do it right away to decrease the amount absorbed by the concrete.
You could use a non-deicer product. Popular choices are kitty litter, mulch, fireplace ashes, and sand. These are traction aids placed on top of the ice. They don’t melt anything, which means it may not be the best choice if you have a lot of foot traffic. Plus, they leave another spring cleanup job. Instead, look at your concrete. High-quality concrete mixes are more resistant to the freezing-expansion problem, but even that concrete must have been cured properly, or it will break. A commercial sealant can help protect the concrete and decrease the absorption, but that’s no help if you’re already dealing with pits and potholes. They need to be fixed first. If you’ve got a lot of damage, replacement is your best option with a sealer on top of that for prevention. Do-it-yourself concrete installation is not easy, but it’s doable. However, if you need to remove old concrete first, it’s hard labor with disposal issues.
Many experts recommend epoxy concrete patches for small areas that need repair (you may have a spotted-looking surface, though, due to color match). Or, you can resurface the area with a polymer- or resin-based cement. Then, consider that sealer. Note: If your sidewalk is over 20 years old, go back to that replacement idea.
Posted on February 19, 2021
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