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February 7, 2014 8:04 AM   Subscribe

My house is becoming an ice fort complete with ice moat. I would like to at least get out the front door without killing myself. Please help!

This winter has just been brutal in NY, and my house has been stuck in a bad cycle- it snows, the gutters fill, it finally gets above freezing, the snow melts from the gutters onto the concrete, and then freezes overnight. We were ok giving up on our side door for the winter, but its creeped around to the front door and the driveway is starting to get troublesome too (attached garage...same gutter issue). We have been trying to salt the hell out it (with Safe Paw, for the resident corgi), but it melts it.....and then the whole mess just refreezes into blue color ice. Im willing to take some time this weekend to try and free the front stairs. Whats my best strategy? Also, for the future, how can I avoid this.....besides moving from the tundra. Thanks!
posted by zara to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
 
You may want to invest in a roof rake, so that you can deal with the snow before it melts drips over everything.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:12 AM on February 7


Cover the ice with sand for traction. If you can't beat it, at least keep it from breaking your bones.
posted by harperdrew at 8:17 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


If you're willing to go out there and get some exercise, we use tools similar to this to chop ice to remove it from sidewalks. They're calling it a sidewalk chopper, but I'm not sure if that is really the generic term. It does well at breaking up the ice so you can shovel it away.
posted by sciencegeek at 8:19 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


What you need is a mix of salt and semi-fine gravel. The salt melts the surface of the ice helping the gravel to half-embed. Repeat when necessary. Try to spread this mixture evenly, leaving no important patches un-graveled. It's the only way, apart from emigrating.

(This is expert advice. We have this every year down the driveway and around our front door, last year for months in a stretch.)
posted by Namlit at 8:24 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


We had this - I either put a little salt on it (in which case it melted the very top layer a little and it made it crunchy ice, which had surprising amounts of grip) or I chipped it up and got rid of it. The idea that I had to get my head around was that if it is too cold to get rid of the ice (ie it won't be above freezing long enough for it to melt and run away over frozen ground) then you just need to manage it.

We had completely clear ice across our whole back yard. I sprinkled some of the pet safe stuff along the path to the garage, but only a little. It melted the top surface and instead of clear ice I had a layer of crunchy white looking ice. That was the best I could do until it warmed up.

Alternatively, a little salt and gravel/sand would do it. It's modifying the surface friction that you need, not necessarily removal of all the ice.
posted by Brockles at 8:25 AM on February 7


The first problem is that Safe Paw, in my experience, doesn't work worth shit.

Also, while Safe Paw in particular really is different stuff that should be pretty safe (it seems to be mostly propylene glycol), there are no regulations about what's pet safe and what isn't. You could take rock salt, mix it with razor blades, and call it pet safe.

I just apply calcium chloride; it melts really well, even down into the freaky cold we're having this year, and it's also okay to stuff into pantyhose to bust through an ice dam. On the one hand, if you're taking the resident corgi for a walk, he or she is going to be walking on lots of sidewalks or streets that have been salted with God only knows what anyway, and your few feet of driveway and stoop aren't going to make much difference. On the other hand, if you're taking the dog for a walk, you can also (probably) just step from your stoop directly to the yard and bypass the driveway entirely, so what you put on it doesn't matter.

Whatever ice melt you're using, you can always apply some and let it melt some, and then do whatever combination of shoveling and busting is necessary.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:00 AM on February 7


To get rid of the ice you will want something like what sciencegeek noted. I use the side of a metal snow shovel but I was doing that the other week and my neighbour came out with his sidewalk chopper and it made the job much easier.

Spread the salt to melt the ice, wait 10-15 minutes and then start chopping. If there is a day where the temperature gets close to 0/32 or there is liquid rain that will make things easier but the salt will still do the job.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:02 AM on February 7


What you need is a mix of salt and semi-fine gravel

We do this (we're in Maine, and I grew up with ice storms in rural Maine), except we use the cheapest possible unscented clay cat litter instead of gravel. The cat litter absorbs the water as the ice melts, and digs in (the way the gravel would) but it also biodegrades nicely as spring comes, so you don't have to deal with all that cleanup.

For future reference, though, if you ever have the option to heat with wood, the thing that works the absolute best is slightly warm ash from the fireplace or woodstove -- melts things, nice and gritty and grippy. I have very fond memories of tractioning the path from the house to the barn with a scod full of warm ashes on a cold winter morning.
posted by anastasiav at 9:03 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


For the future heat tracing in your gutters will prevent them from icing up thereby preventing water dripping where you don't want it.
posted by Mitheral at 9:20 AM on February 7


As a warning, long term and heavy application of ice melt/salt on concrete will ruin the concrete. It changes the chemical composition and literally 'melts' the binder (cement) and make the top spall off. You end up with really ugly concrete and it doesn't take much. A special additive can be put in the mix when the concrete is poured, but after it is set, there is nothing you can do to mitigate this damage or repair it. If you have cracks that let the brine get into the concrete it is even worse. This stuff will also melt asphalt given enough time. Most highway department use magnesium chloride instead of calcium or sodium chloride for this reason (and it is more environmentally friendly as well). This stuff will still damage the binder but it takes a lot longer and mag chloride is a liquid solution so it washes off easier.

the best fix is to ensure you have adequate melt water drainage (in the middle of winter this really isn't helpful advice I know) that prevents pooling and to shovel the snow off the surfaces before it melts.

I second the roof rake idea and gravel/sand on the surface. The kitty litter thing works really well also and it is usually easier than securing the large amount of sand/gravel to fully treat your driveway. And when warms up so the ice is starting to melt use a mechanical device (like a large crowbar or small sledge hammer) to break it up and shovel it off.
posted by bartonlong at 11:02 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Cat litter is commonly used. (disclaimer - I live in NC, where de-icing technology isn't perhaps at the cutting edge)
posted by amtho at 11:20 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


we have similar thaw/refreeze cycles here in Boulder, coupled with shaded areas and poor drainage that have made the area between our house and our neighbor's driveway a hazardous skating rink (many thanks, O City of Boulder for comprehensively ignoring our repeated pleas to unclog the storm drain...).

we've done wood ashes too in the past, it was an old remedy I used on the farm as a kid, but be warned they can be pretty hard on pets' feet (they're fairly caustic). Cheap cat litter is probably the fastest and safest bet. Other tricks can include sawdust / wood shavings if you have a wood shop. But the only thing we've found to do the trick with the stubborn ice pond that forms on the bottom of our driveway, sadly, is to go out with the aforementioned mechanical remedy and have at it with the ice chopper. It's great exercise, satisfyingly noisy / destructive in its own way, and thus a good stress reliever. We paid the teenager up the street $20 to take care of it last week when we were both sick with a head cold, and he happily obliged.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:55 PM on February 7


When it gets a bit slushy, rake through with a metal rake as it's starting to freeze up again.
posted by yohko at 4:47 PM on February 7


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