A winter storm blew through, leaving snow on your driveway and shoveling is out of the question. Although there are several ways to get rid of snow and ice without shoveling, you have to decide the best method for your use. Regular application of some ice melter might cause damage over the long-term. Consider factors such as what materials are used in the driveway area, and plant location.
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Maryland Cooperative Extension provides information on four commonly used ice- and snow-melting products. Magnesium chloride works very fast, does not damage metal or concrete, but can harm plants; calcium chloride works fast, but damages metal, concrete and plants; sodium chloride works moderately fast, but damages metal, concrete and plants, and does not work when temperatures are lower than 18 degrees Fahrenheit. Potassium chloride doesn't work in temperatures lower than 25 degrees Fahrenheit, is slow to work and is moderately harmful to plants; it is OK to use on older concrete.
Cycles of freezing and thawing caused by deicing chemicals damage materials such as concrete. According to the extension, sodium chloride and calcium chloride are particularly damaging to newly poured concrete and should not be used on brick or stone driveways. Salt harms plants because salt residue builds up in plants, preventing them from absorbing moisture and nutrients. Salt can burn pets if it lodges in their paws.
In 2007, members of the Connect Midmissouri.com news team tested common deicers by timing them for an hour. Fertilizer worked less well than other methods and was the most expensive product tested at approximately $2.00 per pound. Although it can provide nutrients to plants, the nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers can harm waterways. The other methods the team tested were a magnesium mix, a calcium chloride mix and regular rock salt. The calcium chloride mix did the best job, melting ice all the way to blacktop the moment it was laid down. Rock salt and magnesium mix also melted ice, but not as well as calcium chloride. Calcium chloride costs about 94 cents per pound. Rock salt is the best buy at approximately 10 cents per pound. Although calcium chloride is more expensive than other ice-melt products tested, the news team notes that it is concentrated, and so can be used sparingly. Calcium chloride also can be stretched by mixing it with rock salt. Note that to completely clear ice and snow, greater amounts of ice melter must be applied.
Salt damage depends on the amount of salt applied, soil type, rainfall amount, direction of run-off and prevailing winds, according to the Iowa State University Extension. The healthier the plants, the more tolerant they are of salt. The extension recommends homeowners minimize salt damage by using deicers judiciously. Since more deicing salts must be used to completely melt ice and snow, the extension recommends using just enough deicing salts to loosen ice and snow, then removing them with a shovel, if possible. Salt-laden snow should not be piled around trees and other plants. In early spring, areas where salt accumulates during winter should be heavily watered to flush salt from the root zone of plants.
Heated Driveway Systems
An eco-friendly solution is to install a heated driveway snow-melt system when you get a new driveway. This requires installing electric wires underneath the driveway to radiate heat upward. Expenses include the costs of installation and electricity. At the recommend spacing of 4 inches apart for electrical wiring, the average operating cost as of 2011 for a 35-watt per square foot snow-melting system is approximately .28 cents per 100-square feet per hour, according to Heated Driveway Systems.
- University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Winter Deicing Agents for the Homeowner
- Daily Green: 9 Eco-friendly Ways to De-Ice Your Driveway
- Connect MidMissouri: What Is the Best Way to Melt Ice?
- Iowa State University Extension: Deicing Salts and the Home Landscape
- Heated Driveway Systems: Heated Driveways and Snow Melting Systems
- Purdue Extension: Salt Damage in Landscape Plants
Located in the mid-Atlantic United States, Elizabeth Layne has covered nonprofits and philanthropy since 1997, and has written articles on an array of topics for small businesses and career-seekers. An award-winning writer, her work has appeared in "The Chronicle of Philanthropy" newspaper and "Worth" magazine. Layne holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The George Washington University.