Concrete Winter Maintenance

An Olivieri Brothers White Paper, Fall 2015

 

By:  Kevin Walsh, NCARB, LEED GA

 

 

Winter is right around the corner and you are probably already thinking of all the ways you will deal with the ice and snow.  However, when dealing with ice and snow, there is some interesting research for you to consider this coming winter.  If your building or home has curbs or sidewalks, especially concrete that is less than one year old, you should know the risks of using deicing salt. Concrete that is subject to freezing and thawing cycles (if you're near Chicago, that's your concrete) is more vulnerable to damage, especially in the first year of exposure. Two things can happen:

 

1. Concrete is naturally porous, with variations depending on construction techniques. Salt attacks the chemical bonds in concrete, which increases the pore sizes. As the deicing salt melts the snow and ice, water can be absorbed into the microscopic pores on the concrete surface. As the temperature drops, the trapped water freezes and expands. The expanding ice can damage the surface of the concrete.

 

2. Salt attracts and retains water. Mixing salt and water can allow salt crystals to grow in the pore spaces. Crystal formation could, over time, create too much pressure for the concrete to resist. Again, causing damage to the concrete surface. This can result in what is called “Scaling”, when thin chips break or flake off the concrete surface.

 

No one wants a snow packed or icy concrete surface, but what do you do to avoid concrete damage or scaling? First off, it is crucial that the building owner understands the surface needs on a site-by-site basis. For instance, a senior living facility has greater de-icing needs than a truck parking lot at a warehouse facility. Once you determine your needs, discuss non-corrosive deicers with your snow removal contractor. If you are removing the snow and ice yourself, research the products within your price range to determine the corrosive characteristics of the product. If a chloride containing deicer must be used, best practice is to quickly remove the excess slush created by the deicer. The less water the concrete can absorb/retain before refreezing occurs, the better. If complete snow/ice melt is not required, sand can be applied after snow removal to help provide traction.

 

If you're considering installing new concrete in the future, be sure to discuss options with your architect or concrete contractor about construction techniques to help resist scaling on the surface. The best way to prevent damage to your concrete from deicers is to apply a penetrating concrete sealer to your concrete surface to block moisture absorption. If water or salt cannot enter the concrete pores, it cannot damage the concrete when the freezing/thawing cycles occur, which in Chicago, will occur!

 

Snow and ice removal is an important concern for all home and building owners in our area. But, so is the condition of the property. Consider the options, and whatever you do to maintain your concrete surfaces in the winter, be sure that the surface is safe to use!

 

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