As we have reported in the past, deicers can damage concrete. They work by dissolving into a brine under the ice that loosens the ice’s hold on the concrete, and while the method is effective, the brine contains chemical compounds that can harm concrete surfaces. Magnesium and calcium chloride compounds interact with concrete on a chemical level, often causing cracks, increased permeability and strength loss.

The best defense against ice, then, is a good offense. Preventing ice from building up in the first place — a not uncommon circumstance during Whatcom County winters — is the best way to keep from having to resort to using chemical deicers on your driveway. Here are some ways you can do that:

Use a snow blower or shovel frequently. Ice forms on concrete driveways, streets and sidewalks after snow builds up on the surface. The bottom layer of snow melts and then freezes, causing a dangerous sheen of ice on the concrete surface. Preventing snow from building up in the first place — getting outside periodically during a snowstorm to shovel or blow the snow aside — helps keep the driveway clear of snow and prevent the buildup of ice.

Get a handle on runoff. Sometimes, however, the ice that builds up on driveways and walkways actually comes from elsewhere in your yard. Water courses from high spots in the grass or up the street, freezing into a slippery patch on your driveway. Installing proper drainage to prevent runoff from spreading across your driveway is an important step toward preventing ice formation in the winter.

Use underground heating mats. Concrete driveways and paths can be fitted with special heated pads — similar to what you find in many homes with in-floor radiant heating — that warm up the concrete and prevent ice from forming. These typically turn on automatically whenever the ground temperature gets too low. In-ground heating needs to be installed before the concrete is poured, of course, so it’s a great option to consider if you are planning a driveway project down the road.

Install pervious concrete. Pervious concrete is full of air voids that discourage the buildup of snow and ice. Instead of freezing to form an icy layer, as with traditional concrete, any snow that melts simply passes into the pervious concrete. Custom Concrete Contracting has been pouring pervious concrete in Bellingham and throughout Whatcom County for years. If a pervious project is on your mind, please give us a call.

Remember, concrete that is exposed to deicers containing calcium chloride, magnesium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate (also known as CMA) can suffer irreversible damage. The best thing to do to keep your concrete driveways and walkways safe and free of ice during this Whatcom County winter is to spend some time on prevention.