Tips on Using Salt to Melt Ice Safely Around Your Home This Winter

With the expectation of SNOW this weekend (!), it’s time to be prepared for weather to come this winter.


We all know salt melts ice, but some deicers can be harmful to pets, plants, and our water supply. Here are some tips on choosing deicers.

Thankfully, salt and ice can’t co-exist. Commercial deicers use various chemical variations of salt to melt away dangerous ice on patios, walkways, and driveways.

Unfortunately, those same chemicals can harm fish, wildlife, and household pets. In addition, they can corrode your hard masonry outdoor surfaces.

How salt works on ice
Salt and deicers are effective ice-melting agents because they lower the freezing point of water, turning ice back into water. Salts and deicers are cheap, effective, simple to use, and easier than attacking ice with brute physical force.

What’s the problem?
That same chemical magic that turns ice into water creates a very salty brine that can make household pets sick, and eats away at outdoor hardscaping made of concrete, brick, and stone.

Deicing products also can damage your plants by altering the chemical composition of the soil in planting beds and yards. Inside the home, tracked-in salt can mar carpets and wood floors.

The problem is bigger than your back yard, too.

Salt is very soluble, and it runs off into nearby creeks, rivers, and lakes, where it can have a tremendous effect on native plants.

Deicing products are blamed for fish and amphibian kills, aquatic dead zones, and corrosion of vehicles, bridges and roadways, plus a host of other environmental ills.

Choosing the right salt and deicing product
As a shopper for deicing products, you’ll have to balance your needs with any environmental concerns.

Ignore packaging promises like “natural,” “pet-friendly,” or “environmentally safe” — those labels can be misleading and inaccurate. Buyers should also take with a grain of salt claims that a product works to sub-arctic temps, as those results rarely are duplicated in real-world applications.

In general, the lower the price of the product, the more salt it contains and the more potentially harmful it is to the environment. Check product labels to figure out the chief ingredients in these popular deicing products:

  • Sodium chloride: Also known as rock salt, this basic compound is one of the cheapest ice melters on the market. It has the lowest price per pound, but it’s the hardest on the environment and not that effective at temps less than 15 degrees F. Cost: $6 for a 50-lb. bag.
  • Calcium chloride: One of the best choices for super-cold climates, it’s effective down to minus 25 degrees F. It’s a better environmental choice than sodium chloride. Cost: $20 for a 50-lb. bag.
  • Calcium magnesium acetate: Relatively new on the market, it’s a salt-free product that’s touted as environmentally friendly, but that claim has yet to be tested in the long run. It costs more than other deicers. Cost: $30 for a 50 lb. bag.

Other options

Unfortunately, there are few proven eco-friendly alternatives to chemical deicers. Some products have lower salt content but include glycols, fertilizers, and urea, which are blamed for aquatic dead zones, algae blooms, and other water-quality issues.

Sand does not melt ice, but it can aid in traction. While not directly harmful to the landscape, sand can clog storm sewers and it must be cleaned up at some point by the home owner.

Tips for using deicing products

  • Buy the right blend. By having a product that best suits your climatic conditions and average low temps, you’ll need to use less of it.
  • Keep walkways shoveled in the first place as snow quickly becomes ice when walked upon.
  • Pre-treat walkways before the storm hits. You’ll need less deicer in the long run.
  • Mix sand with salt — you’ll use less to melt ice, and gain the traction provided by sand.
  • Store ice-melt products in airtight containers to maintain maximum effectiveness.
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More Than Meets The Eye – Firewood: What to Buy & How to Store.

Firewood

Buying and Storing Firewood
As the weather turns chillier nothing beats a nice, warm, roaring fire. But if you have wood burning fireplace, you’re going to need some firewood!

Knowing how to evaluate, buy, and store firewood is key to the safe, efficient operation of your fireplace, wood stove, or fireplace insert.

Before picking up the phone, it’s important to know exactly what you want to purchase so that you can clearly express that to the wood seller. This includes determining the quantity, species, and condition of the firewood, all of which affect its price.

How much to buy
Homeowners who intend to heat their homes through the use of a wood stove naturally will require more firewood than those who burn only the occasional fire for pleasure. A person who burns firewood as his or her primary heat source, for example, may require up to five cords of wood to get them through the season. In contrast, a weekend-only fire builder can likely get by on as little as a half-cord. For the casual but steady fire builder, one cord of wood should easily last through winter.

Measuring a cord of wood
A cord of wood is defined as a stack of cut firewood that measures 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide by 8 feet long, or any other arrangement that equals 128 cubic feet. The individual pieces must be stacked side by side rather than the looser crisscross style. Other measurement terms, such as ricks, racks, face cords and piles, have no legal meaning and are often banned by state weights and measurements agencies. Regardless what the load is called it should always be converted to cords or fractions thereof so that homeowners can determine if they are getting a fair price.

Seasoning the wood
Freshly cut wood is composed largely of water. Not only is this “green” wood difficult to ignite, but burning it can lead to a dangerous buildup of creosote, the cause of chimney fires. Properly “seasoned” firewood is wood that has been cut to length, split, and allowed to air dry for at least six months until the moisture content dips to around 20%. Dry wood will appear grayish in color and the pieces will begin to exhibit splits and cracks on the ends. Compared to freshly cut wood, seasoned wood feels light for its size.

Hardwood vs. softwood
It’s a common misconception that burning soft woods, such as pine and cedar, leads to dangerous creosote buildup. As long as the firewood is properly seasoned, it can safely be burned in a fireplace or stove regardless of species. But that doesn’t mean that all wood is created equal.

Tree species differ widely in the amount of heat they produce when burned. Hardwoods like oak, maple, and madrone produce almost twice the heat compared with softer woods, such as spruce, pine, and basswood. Fires built with hardwood not only burn hotter, they last longer, meaning the wood pile won’t get depleted as fast. Homeowners can expect to pay a premium for 100% hardwood, but should be cautioned against purchasing cheaper “mixed-wood” loads that may contain little actual hardwood.

Storing firewood
Homeowners should consider storage long before the firewood delivery truck appears in the driveway. A cord of wood takes up a significant amount of space, and if not properly stored your investment will quickly begin to rot. Firewood that is not stowed in a protected space like a garage or shed needs to be six inches off the ground. Firewood racks or simple pallets work well. If exposed to the elements, the wood pile should be at least partially covered with a waterproof tarp. Experts caution against storing the wood too close to the house for fear of inviting pests.

Average prices
Homeowners can expect to pay $75 to $150 for a half-cord and between $150 and $350 for a cord of hardwood delivered and stacked. To save some money, a person with a large truck may elect to pick up his or her own load at the wood lot.

To verify the quantity, species, and condition of the firewood, it’s wise to arrange the delivery for a time when you’re home. Experts say, inspect the wood for type and condition before it’s unloaded, though quantity can only be accurately measured after it’s stacked.

Maximize your fireplace efficiency
It’s true that a traditional wood fireplace can never rival the energy efficiency of a wood stove or even a fireplace insert, but there are ways a homeowner can trim heat loss. Fire-resistant glass doors not only reduce the volume of heated home air that escapes up the chimney, they help radiate heat back into the room. Similarly, a thick cast-iron fireback is an old-fashioned device that absorbs and emits energy in the form of radiant heat. Check the fireplace damper for leaks and always tightly seal it when the fireplace is idle.

(Source: House Logic, Douglas Trattner)