Protect Concrete and Vegetation with Proper Use of Deicers

Proper application of deicers is important for the longevity of concrete surfaces and the health of vegetation.

Did late storms take you by surprise last winter? Don’t be caught unprepared. The challenges of winter weather tracking keep us guessing, so you want to be sure that when the next storm hits, you are well stocked with a product that meets your snow- and ice-melting needs.

You can deice safely and efficiently by using the right ice-melting compound properly. The most frequently used deicers are calcium chloride pellets and flakes, magnesium chloride pellets and flakes, rock salt and a variety of blended products. But many ice melt buyers don’t know the differences between the products available.

Characteristics vary

Calcium chloride pellets are the strongest dry deicer, with a consistent melting point of -25°F. But blended ice melters can be an economical alternative. Blended deicing agents have a wide range of melting points—anywhere from 20°F to -15°F. They may consist of rock salt, potassium chloride, urea, CMA, calcium chloride or magnesium chloride.

Magnesium chloride is a relatively new product and has proven to be a fairly effective and dependable ice melter. With a melting point of -13°F, it falls in between blended products and calcium chloride in effectiveness but is closer to calcium chloride in price.

Calcium chloride and magnesium chloride often are considered to be relatively environmentally friendly.

Become informed

Knowing about the product you are buying is paramount. There are plenty of claims that are unsubstantiated and unclear. The myths of one product being better or worse than another are often self-serving marketing strategies.

The chart on page 18 gives both the practical and eutectic melting points of different products. Note that the eutectic melting point, which is typically determined in laboratory conditions, is the best possible melt in the best possible conditions—better titled the “impractical” melting point!

Protect your concrete

Proper application of deicers can extend the longevity of concrete surfaces. The recommended application rate of ice melt typically is 2 to 4 ounces per square yard, but you should always follow the manufacturer’s directions. Keep in mind that you should not apply ice melt to pre-cast concrete and concrete less than one year old.

“For concrete safety, the best tip [for determining the safety of ice melters] is to analyze the factors involved in the durability of the concrete,” says Phil Collins, certified concrete field testing technician for the American Concrete Institute. “The factors include the age; the quality of the mixing; finishing and curing; and the presence of air-entrainment to guard against damage from freeze-thaw cycles. Ice melters should not be used in excessive amounts, or especially on pre-cast concrete steps and pre-cast masonry walks or steps.”

None of the compounds in ice melters chemically attack concrete. Chipping and flaking are often blamed on the deicing chemicals when, in fact, natural processes are the culprits, not the deicing agents themselves. Concrete is porous and absorbs moisture, especially when it is new and has not finished curing, or if it is a poor-quality concrete. If concrete has absorbed water and temperatures then drop below freezing, the water within the concrete will freeze and expand, and chipping and flaking will result.

However, that does not mean that deicers have no effect. Ice melters can increase the frequency of freeze-thaw cycles, thereby increasing the potential for this type of damage. Therefore, it is important to use an effective deicer at no more than recommended rates, and to remove all slush and water as soon as possible.

Store it safely

The proper storage of ice melt can help retain quality product for the next season. For the best off-season storage, make sure that all products are completely sealed. Keep them off the floor in a cool, dry area.

Remember, if the storage area is damp, the deicer, due to its chemical makeup, will absorb the moisture and become as hard as a brick. Should this happen, the product is still usable, but you’ll need a mallet or hammer to break it up. Calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are most vulnerable to off-season moisture absorption.

“The most important aspect in ice-melt storage is that the products are sealed tightly and are kept out of high-traffic areas,” says Dan Dodd, quality control manager for Scotwood Industries. “The product should be covered and set aside in a cool, dry spot in the warehouse. With product that has been opened, it should be re-sealed with tape to make sure that no air can come in contact with the material.”

Stay on the sidewalk

When applying ice melt onto a surface, whether it be a sidewalk, parking lot or driveway, be especially careful around the edges to prevent unnecessary amounts of ice melt from coming in contact with vegetation.

“The best results for ice melt application occur when applicators use a hand-held broadcast spreader,” Collins said. This method gives greater control and helps provide accurate coverage with limited overthrow onto desirable vegetation.

If contact is limited to uncontrollable circumstances such as slush removal or melting runoff, ice-melting compounds should not harm vegetation. One university study found that none of the most common types of ice melting compounds caused any foliage burn from slush removal or runoff. A sodium/potassium blend was the most detrimental, but only caused a slight delay in greenup of the turfgrass.

By choosing the right ice melter for your needs, you can avoid overuse and damage, and reduce potential environmental damage.

Work with a supplier who carries a variety of products for any need you may have. This will enhance your ability to offer your customers the appropriate product.

Melissa Weatherly is National Accounts and Marketing Specialist for Scotwood Industries, Inc. (Overland Park, Kan.).

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