Ice Safety: How to Survive Winter's Slippery Culprit

A row of icicles hanging off a roof.

Harsh winter weather can lead to precarious conditions around the home. In addition to large amounts of snowfall, wintry weather can cause dangerous accumulations of ice around sidewalks and entryways. Fortunately, there are several measures you can take to prevent mishaps on slippery surfaces and avoid potential damage to your home.

Rock Salt

A close-up image of rock salt.

There are plenty of products on the market that melt ice. Each product comes with its advantages and disadvantages and should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Of course, the most common form of melting ice is rock salt, which is both affordable and effective. The downside of using rock salt is that it can damage most outdoor materials including concrete, brick, stone, metal, plants, grass, and wood. It can also be harmful to pets if ingested in great quantities.

Ice Melt Alternatives

Aside from rock salt, there are plenty of ice melt alternatives on the market. For extreme cold, try using calcium chloride, which is a fast-acting agent that works well in sub-zero temperatures. On the downside, the chemical can damage outdoor vegetation and is harmful to animals. For an environmentally friendly alternative, consider using calcium magnesium acetate, which won't destroy plants or grass. Potassium chloride is another environmentally friendly option, though it does not work well in low temperatures.

Applying Ice Melt

Once you select the right ice melter for your area, you need to determine how much should be applied. Each variant requires different amounts of coverage, so be sure to double-check the packaging and avoid excessive application. The majority of ice melt chemicals are damaging to plants and grass, which can be difficult to see in wintry conditions. Furthermore, remember to clear away any snow before applying the ice melt to maximize the effectiveness of the product. Apply the ice melt using a cup or spreading tool and avoid contact with bare skin.


The best tactic in combating ice is to pretreat areas before ice accumulates. You can do this once it starts snowing by applying ice melt to walkways and driveways. The ice melt will not prevent snow from building up, but it will stop ice from forming under the layer of snow. Applying early will also help you avoid putting the ice melt on plants and grass. It's also a good idea to store excess ice melt in an airtight container for future use.

Ice Dam Formations

The roofline of a house with snow and icicles on it.

One of the biggest hazards in winter is the formation of ice dams. Ice dams form when the bottom layer of snow on the roof melts and inches down to the gutter and eaves. There, the water accumulates and refreezes, creating a reservoir of frozen liquid. If the dam is big enough, it can cause extensive damage to gutters, shingles, and anything else standing in its way. It can also be a serious health hazards to people walking under the dam, especially if it collapses the structure.

Ice Dam Removal

There are several ways to remove an ice dam before it causes damage to the home. For starters, you can remove the ice chunks by breaking them free in small pieces. Avoid using a sharp tool, however, as you can easily damage shingles. For an easier alternative, fill a pair of pantyhose with calcium chloride and lay it directly on the dam. The chemical will melt away the ice and clear a path for the rest of the water to follow. Never use rock salt on an ice dam as it can cause damage to siding, paint, and plants in the path of the runoff.

Ice Dam Prevention

Ice dams form because of excess snow buildup on rooftops. To avoid ice dams in the future, ensure the roof is properly cleared of snow after each storm. Roof rakes are a great tool for this purpose, though you can also make a DIY snow ripper for the same purpose. Icicles are good indications of ice dams forming, so concentrate on these areas of the home first. Remember, always have safety in mind when removing snow from rooftops. Use appropriate cold weather gear whenever necessary and never stand directly under the roof when scraping away snow.