Battling Slippery Walkways Without Damaging Your Concrete

Devan Martel, Outside Sales Representative

We experience harsh winters in Canada. As the cold weather approaches, you may be thinking “I need to buy some salt”. For years, salt has been the go-to solution to combat ice build-up on our concrete sidewalks, patios, and driveways. However, de-icing salt can cause damage that lowers the value and aesthetic of your concrete investment.

So what if I told you there was an alternative?

Don’t Blame it all on the Salt
Strictly speaking, salt doesn’t react with cured concrete. However, it does lower the freezing point of water, attract moisture, and increase the presence of water within the slab. If your concrete has a weak surface, it can ‘pop-off’ when the water in the slab expands during the freezing process. This will leave you with a patchy mess come Springtime. Salt remnants can also migrate through your slab and corrode any reinforcing steel and cause problems for the structural integrity of your slab.

In these ways, excessive salting in the winter can diminish the value of your concrete flatwork.

Strategies to Keep your Investment Looking It’s Best
Let’s face it, Canada is a challenging environment for decorative concrete. The temperature change from season to season is dramatic. Despite the universal use of air-entrainment products to manage the freeze-thaw cycle, spalling is often times likely.

As we would always recommend, your first line of defence in this situation is to make sure you use a trusted professional for any concrete flatwork. Quality workmanship always goes a long way to the longevity of your concrete investment. In addition to this, products and techniques exist to further protect your investment. Assuming the installation of your slab was completed to the highest standards, the following strategies should help guard your concrete from the harsh winter elements.

Sealing Concrete Does More Than Make It Look Pretty
The easiest way to protect your concrete is by sealing it. By using a sealer, you’re creating a barrier between your concrete and moisture. This prevents water from penetrating into the slab thereby reducing the risk of pop-offs due to the freeze-thaw cycle.
With hundreds of sealers on the market all claiming to be the best, it can be difficult to find the right product for you. However, through our decades of experience, we are confident to present you with what we consider your best options below.

Topical Sealers
Topical sealers are a great option for protecting concrete surfaces. They’re available in water-based formulations for interior work and solvent-based formulations for exterior substrates. They work by creating a UV-stable film membrane on the surface. Although they can be slick when wet, they protect from abrasion, stains, chemicals, and moisture. Topical sealers have the added benefit of enhancing the look of your concrete by darkening accent tones which can really make the colours pop. They’re available in a low-gloss, matte finish, or a high-shine wet look finish.

Looking for a sealer that offers both high-shine and durability? We recommend using W.R. Meadows Hiac-Plus  with Shark-Grip  for added slip-resistance.

Penetrating Sealers
Penetrating sealers work differently. Rather than forming a film at the surface of the slab, these sealers are absorbed into the pores of the concrete. They react chemically with molecules naturally found in concrete to form a hydrophobic, water-repellent resin within the slab’s pores.

Although providing no visual enhancements, penetrating sealers work better than topical sealers at preventing the intrusion of moisture into the slab. This ensures complete protection from freeze-thaw cycles. Keep in mind, though, that penetrating sealers can ONLY be applied if there are no existing coatings or sealers already on the slab.

Penetrating sealers are available in various formulations depending on the porosity of your slab and the corresponding protection requirements. Greater porosity means you need a higher active solids content in the sealer to get the proper protection. Therefore, for a porous slab, we would likely recommend you purchase a penetrating sealer with 100% active solids content versus one with only 40%.

We are proud to carry W.R. Meadows Pentreat sealers among our line of penetrating sealers. This line of sealer comes in both a 100% and 40% active solids content formulation. For a list of all our sealers, click here. If you are unsure which sealer best suits your job, feel free to call any one of our five branches for advice.

Contractor’s Choice Ice Melter – Your Salt Alternative
We began this discussion on the corrosive aspects of salt. By now, it should be apparent that proper sealing techniques go a long way to protecting your concrete through the winter. But the problem of ice build-up – and how to get rid of it – remains.

To avoid the corrosive and damaging aspects of salt, we recommend you use Contractor’s Choice Ice Melter. Contractor’s Choice Ice Melter effectively melts ice even when the temperature drops to -25 Celsius. By contrast, salt melts ice down to -3 Celsius. Additionally, Contractor’s Choice Ice Melter’s composition does not have the corrosive elements of salt and will mitigate damage to your concrete.

Our Recommendation to You
In summary, by following the steps below, you should be able to keep your concrete sidewalks, patios, and driveways ice-free while protecting the quality of your investment:
1. Seal your sidewalk, patio, or driveway before the winter:
a. To enhance the look of your concrete, use a topical sealer.
b. If no coating or sealer has ever been applied before, use a penetrating sealer for enhanced protection.
2. Do your best to keep all walkways, driveways, and patios free of snow through regular shoveling or snow-blowing.
3. When ice builds up, use Contractor’s Choice Ice Melter to take care of the problem.

Still Have Questions? No problem!
We hope this article has been helpful and informed you on ways to reduce the risk of slip-and-falls in the winter while protecting your concrete. If you still have questions or require further assistance, feel free to give us a call at Form and Build. Our experienced sales team have been helping our valued customers battle Canadian Winters for 45 years. Call your local branch to have a member of our team put your mind at ease and keep your concrete looking brand new for years to come!

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