Everyone loves a winter wonderland -- until they have to shovel the snow and de-ice the driveway. Photo: D'Arcy Norman, Flickr
Rock salt may be effective at melting ice on your sidewalks and driveways, but at what cost? Numerous studies cite salt's ability to wreak havoc to the natural environment
. The heavy use and overuse of traditional rock salt (sodium chloride) can corrode concrete and asphalt, as well as damage plants. Plus, rock salt is your four-legged friend's worst enemy. It can get stuck in the paws of dogs and burn or irritate their skin.
So how do you prevent a walkway or driveway from becoming dangerously slippery slope while still being kind to the environment and keeping paws and asphalt intact? Luckily, there are numerous natural de-icing options, ranging in price from ten to a few thousand dollars.
Here are our three top ways to de-ice driveways and walkways the natural way, depending on your budget.
NATURAL SUBSTANCES FOR TRACTION ($10-$15)
Salt de-icers will get the job done, but are often harmful to the environment. Photo: Arvind Grover, Flickr
Opt for less harmful substances to scoop onto your driveway after a snowstorm.
- Cat litter:
Make sure the type you use to lay down on ice and snow buildup is natural and biodegradable. Options range from Yesterday's News
(made from recycled paper and available in 5-, 15- and 30-pound bags) to Arm & Hammer Essentials Natural Clumping Litter
(consisting of corn fibers and baking soda in a 10.5-pound bag).
Sold at most landscaping and home-improvement stores, sand is a better alternative than rock salt, but still comes with a host of potential problems. It can easily wash into waterways, disrupting stream life. So make sure not to use sand near storm drains, as excess sand can clog drains and cause flooding. You also want to be careful about tracking sand into your home -- via the bottoms of shoes and boots -- because it's abrasive particles can damage wood flooring
and carpet. To keep damage to a minimal, park shoes and boots on an entryway rug or inside the garage or mudroom.
- Other household items:
To get traction on icy surfaces, you may also use sawdust, shredded corn cobs, peanut hulls, gravel, straw and wood chips. All are environmentally friendly and readily available.
ORGANIC ICE MELTER ($20-$30)
De-icers containing chlorides can be harmful or irritating to pets, concrete, asphalt, plants and the environment, but there are a handful of products designed specifically for sensitive paw pads and general eco-safety (though they're primarily marketed as pet-safe). Safe Pet Ice Melter
costs around $30 for a 20-pound bag, or $20 for an 8-pound jug. The chloride-free product is sold at places like Ace Hardware
. Also available is Safe Step's "Sure Paws"
. A 20-pound bag of the organic, natural salt-free deicer costs $20, and an 8-pound jug slightly less. Another popular option is Safe Paw
, available in an 8-pound jug for $20 on Amazon
HEATED DRIVEWAY ($300-$5,000)
Heated driveways, walkways and parking surfaces are becoming increasingly popular, as they eliminate the time-consuming and labor-intensive aspects of snow removal. Photo: All Warm
If money is no object and you desire an effortless snow removal system, think about installing a heated driveway
, which uses radiant heating to melt ice from below. The standard design features cables or tubing under the driveway and sidewalk that are heated by electricity or hot water.
"A lot of our calls are from serious DIY people, who do a lot of research and then they turn it over to us," says Tracy Stanger, CEO of WarmZone
in Salt Lake City. The company installs two kinds of radiant heating for driveways: hydronics or electric cables from a Scandinavian company (costing between $8-$9 a square foot). "We're seeing electric as the fastest-growing segment," Stanger explains. "There's no moving parts and no maintenance."
These are more often installed under concrete or asphalt for new-construction houses, only because the cost to rip up the driveway is astronomical. "We don't really recommend retrofitting," says Stanger. "It can be done, but it's almost like getting a new driveway." If you choose to install under brick pavers, a sand base is added as the bottom layer, followed by the cables and finally a second layer of sand with the pavers on top.
Another hidden cost would be in upgrading the voltage, if your home is not currently set at the proper voltage level (around 240 volts). "You have to be careful about that," advises Norma Hess of All Warm
in Cleveland, which uses a Norway-made cabling product. "Otherwise you won't be able to turn on your toaster."
Tempting as it may be to install the product on your own, professionals recommend you only lay down the cables. "The final hook-up should always be done by an electrician," says Stanger.
Heff agrees. "You need a certified electrician to do the hook-up. It's not something you just plug in."
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Eco-Friendly Tips for Deicing Your Driveway