Ice, Ice, Baby (and her klutzy parents)
November 25, 2014 7:18 PM   Subscribe

I want -- nay, NEED an icy sidewalk to be clean and bone-dry. What are your best, most hardcore ice melting and sidewalk clearing solutions, particularly those requiring less specialized equipment and/or money?

My parents (who, like me, live in Wisconsin) have a janky old concrete sidewalk and never, ever manage to get it clear. We're already past our first snowfall, and while my own super-diligent landlords have the sidewalk down to bare concrete, my parents' walk is already developing its yearly inch or two of packed glare ice. My husband is not surefooted under the best of circumstances... and we are now carrying a baby.

We also have to walk from the street to the house via the driveway, and the melted water often pools in the corners of the driveway cut, producing giant puddles and/or even larger sheets of ice.

Finally, their wooden front steps are also not great.

So. What can we do to melt ALL of that ice, and what can we do to make sure it never, ever, ever accumulates? There's not a ton of it, but what there is is bad news. The house faces south and I think the street is fairly shady, because as long as I can remember the street has had the same packed snow/ice issues when my own street (similar age, on the other side of town) has not.

Difficulty: environmentally friendly would be nice, because everything eventually ends up in the lakes. Also, I am going to have to convince my Luddite parents to do this.

Thank you!
posted by Madamina to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Chemical snowmelter. I'd be willing to bet that's probably what the landlords are using.

They have "greener" versions than salt, although if you live in a municipality that salts the roads it's a drop in the bucket compared to what they'll be using. (The real concern is pets' feet and any nearby grass.)

I've used calcium chloride as well, but I don't like it as it tends to cement itself together into a brick unless you keep it in tightly-sealed buckets. Finely ground rock salt seems to work just as well.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:36 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's somewhat pricey, but has great reviews: Electric melting walkway mat. It looks like they have different models for stairs, etc, and it's pretty environmentally friendly since it's just melting water, aside from the fact that you're essentially using electricity to heat up snow.
posted by suedehead at 8:12 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Non-solution but definitely environmentally friendly. Get some spiked slip-ons and no more slipping on ice.
posted by lucia_engel at 8:32 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Two words: yak trax.
posted by notsnot at 8:48 PM on November 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Totally get Yak Trax, even if you do figure out something to do with all that ice! I'm clumsy and I have to traipse around New York streets all winter and it used to be horrible and now it isn't. I'd totally carry a baby now.
posted by houseofdanie at 10:15 PM on November 25, 2014

Response by poster: I've had Yak Trax in the past and wasn't thrilled (mainly because it requires me to remember them and take them off/put them on, which should be easy for a person who is SMRT like myself but anyhow). See, a solution for the sidewalk itself would be a solution to benefit all who traverse said sidewalk!

Is there a particular kind of chemical snowmelt that works well? My mom throws stuff at the ground every so often, but she does it as if she's throwing birdseed at a single anorexic pigeon.
posted by Madamina at 11:58 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Throw down sand over the ice, won't necessarily melt it but will give it traction.
posted by Toddles at 3:06 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

The ultimate solution, if price is not an issue, is an automatic electric heater system. Like this one.

An electrician can install it, and set it up on a thermostat, so if the temperatures drop to a certain point (below freezing), it turns on. The electric cable automatically heats up just enough to clear the snow off a drive way and sidewalk.

Generally, these systems are installed when getting a new driveway and a new sidewalk. You will have some sidewalk and driveway repair if installing under existing driveway and sidewalk.

But, once in place: no ice, no thinking.
posted by Flood at 4:07 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Once glaze builds up, weaken the ice with the salt/calcium chloride mix, then spend a couple of hours attacking it with a chopper. There's something quite satisfying about levering up huge slabs of ice, though your wrists will be murder for days afterwards.
posted by scruss at 4:28 AM on November 26, 2014

When I lived in Michigan, I learned to walk in the snow next to icy sidewalks--unless it was too deep.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:05 AM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

First scrape all the ice off with a shovel/ice breaker, then sprinkle a generous amount of salt. Check the minimum temp rating on your salt. Here in southern ohio, I can usually get away with normal rock salt, which is good to -5 or so. If it gets colder in your neck of the woods get some salt mixture that is rated to a lower temp. After it's clear and salted, you just have to be diligent about resalting. If we have snow on the way, I'll preemptively salt the driveway and it usually does the trick.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:53 AM on November 26, 2014

In NYC it was always salt and more salt, sometimes those weird spongy-things (styrofoam, I think - non green). Here in Germany it's sand/grit and no salt. At first I was suspect but the very big advantage is that the grit melts into the ice and even there's a new, light layer that gets added on top, the grit still works. So my suggestion is a combo of the two.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:19 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can fix the drainage around the puddle areas, so you don't get the puddles, that could help a lot.

Maybe super-deep stair treads would help too.
posted by amtho at 8:47 AM on November 26, 2014

Sounds like your mom isn't using nearly enough salt.

A handheld spreader might help. Depending on the size of the sidewalk, you probably want to use a spreader-full (a pound or so) each time you need to de-ice. You want a very liberal amount, evenly-spread and not in clumps. I'm not sure of a guideline on how much to use, it's just something you sort of determine by effect.

If the salt is cheap and clumpy, you need to break it up before putting it in the spreader or it'll just jam. For admittedly larger quantities of salt, I have used a metal bucket and a piece of rebar to beat it into submission. (Or you can just buy better grades of salt, or the expensive manufactured ice-melter products that are coated to prevent clumping.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:55 AM on November 26, 2014

Random idea: keep some aquarium gravel in the car, so you can sprinkle it on the sidewalk, if needed, when you visit. Also won't kill plants like salt will, and is immediately effective (don't have to wait for melting).
posted by amtho at 12:11 PM on November 26, 2014

In the vein of a weed-killing flamethrower, I've seen people clear ice with a roofing torch and a shrinkwrap torch (on slippery docks in the Great Lakes).
posted by kiwano at 12:12 PM on November 26, 2014

Kitty litter. then if you have animals that walk on it they won't get hurt.
posted by hippychick at 3:37 PM on November 26, 2014

Chemical snowmelters or even plain salt, are never under any circumstances going to be waterway-friendly, especially if you want to use the amount needed to keep a sidewalk completely dry throughout an entire winter. But an electric heating system, or an electric mat, will definitely do the job if you can foot the bill.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 4:31 PM on November 29, 2014

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