Ashes from fireplace quell icy walks better than salt

Inspector's Eye

January 05, 2003

After a recent snowfall, I arrived home and found gray mud and chunks of charcoal strewn over the front walk and steps of our house. My wife had anticipated that treacherous ice would form as the accumulated snow melted and refroze on the cold stone walkway.

She acted to improve traction by emptying the contents of the fireplace where the mailman and visitors might walk. This is a method of dealing with ice that we have agreed is always worth a try. We use more potent products like chemical deicers only to supplement the ashes.

The problem with the usual de-icing chemicals is the adverse effects that come with their benefit. Salt, the standard de-icer for most people and highway authorities, along with similar compounds, will cause or hasten the deterioration of concrete and metals.

Scientific types may be interested to learn that, contrary to what most people assume, studies show concrete damage from de-icing chemicals generally is not due to a chemical attack on the concrete. The damage often is caused by more frequent freeze-thaw cycles occurring in the presence of the chemicals, during which the ice physically pulls apart the surface of the concrete.

This is likely to happen on concrete that is less than a year or two old.

The least harmful substances that will prevent slips and falls on ice are those that improve traction on it, such as sand and ashes.

Sand offers a good grip but you'll need to take your shoes off when you get inside or you'll grind it into your floors. Kitty litter also is frequently mentioned as a benign traction improver, but it really is just clay and quickly turns to mud when it's wet.

With ashes, you need to work to not track them into the house too, but they're easier to remove and less damaging to floors.

So I guess we'll keep using ashes.

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