A fresh blanket of snow is a pretty sight. Maybe for a few minutes. Or in a photograph. Or if you’re a kid and you’re getting a snow-day. But if you’re a homeowner, removing this blanket is no cozy chore.
Everyone knows about snow shovels, of course, but an alternative worth considering if you live in a heavy snow area is a snow blower. There are three basic types, with differing uses and capacities. Single-stage snow blowers are good for most urban and suburban uses. They are lightweight and maneuverable; have a rubber edge auger that gets very close to the pavement; handle wet, heavy snow very well. But they will not handle the hard, icy accumulation left behind at the end of your driveway by the snowplow, and are not suitable for gravel.
A two-stage snow blower is good for larger driveways or drifting snow. It has an auger that breaks up the snow and an impeller that throws it. Its skids adjust the height and therefore are good for gravel. Most are self-propelled. If you have a lawn tractor, it may have a snow blower attachment. Check with the manufacturer.
Often, removing the snow is just the first step in the process of making your driveways and walkways snow and ice-free. Dealing with the ice left behind is the next challenge. Ice does not just freeze on the pavement, it freezes to the pavement. Breaking that bond, or keeping it from forming in the first place, is the task of chemical de-icers or anti-icers.
A de-icer is a chemical agent that is spread on snow or ice. It does not melt all the snow, it seeps through to the surface of the pavement and melts the ice there, breaking the bond and making it easier to remove the snow.
An anti-icer is a chemical agent that is applied before the snowfall begins. It prevents the bonding, thereby facilitating the removal of snow down to the surface of the pavement. There are many chemicals and chemical blends available to use as de-icers and anti-icers.
While the chemistry is simple, the choice of which to use is not. Many factors must be considered and much of the information is confusing or even conflicting. For many years, the most common de-icer has been rock salt. The indirect damage and environmental concerns were offset by its cost-effectiveness. Today, more environmentally friendly and considerably more effective chemicals are available. Any de-icing chemical has the potential to harm the environment if misused. Some will chemically attack concrete. All must be used strictly according to the manufactures guidelines. Over application of any can damage vegetation; even those products claiming to be made from fertilizing ingredients can cause harm. If you apply the chemicals as precipitation begins, their effectiveness is increased and the amount needed is diminished.
If snow falls on a warm surface, it melts. Problem solved. So the question is, how do you warm the surface? There are three basic choices electric, hydronic and infrared. Electric snow-melting systems use buried cables to heat surfaces such as sidewalks and driveways. They must be laid before concrete is poured and could require upgrading the electric service panel but can conform to any shape. Lower installation and maintenance costs may be offset by higher operating costs. Electric heat-conducting rubber mats are a less expensive method and need no modification to melt snow. These easy- to-install rubber mats provide many years of use. Hydronic systems use flexible pipes buried under concrete to circulate heated fluid that warms the surface. They too must be laid before concrete is poured. It is possible to tie them into your existing heating system so that higher installation and maintenance costs could be offset by lower operating costs. Infrared systems use quartz lamps on poles targeted to warm up desired surfaces. These systems are good for spot applications or remote walkways and require little time for warm-up. They are more easily installed and good for retrofitting but they consume more energy making them more expensive per square foot to operate when compared to the other systems.