5 questions you should ask yourself before salting

I know I like to go on and on about this but this time of year it’s really top of mind for me. And when I say top I literally mean top. I’m talking about salt and ice melter. The salt or ice melter put on the ground is on top of me. Once the salt is done its job of melting the ice it doesn’t go away. It can end up mixing with me and over time this will make me taste salty.

Help keep salt out of me. Ask yourself these five questions before salting.

  1. What’s the temperature? Alright, it’s cold. But how cold is it exactly? The current local temperature matters quite a bit when using your salt or de-icer. Salt and de-icers work at different temperatures. It’s important to read the directions on the product packaging so you know what temperature the product you are using works best. For example, sodium chloride salt loses its effectiveness on ice when the surface temperature dips below minus 10 degrees Celsius. Sprinkling salt on an extremely cold day won’t get rid of your ice, and it will increase the risk of salt damage. Break up the ice with a steel ice chopper and use sand, grit or non-clumping kitty litter to create traction instead.
  1. What will the temperature be in the coming hours? Check your upcoming weather conditions before adding unnecessary salt. Is the forecast predicting warmer weather in the very near future, potentially rising above freezing? In that case, there’s little reason to use salt at all. If temperatures are on the rise, let the sun do the work for you by melting the ice without the environmental damages from salt. While waiting for the sun to do its job, spread a traction aid like sand to reduce the risk of slips and falls. Once the sun has started to soften the ice, a steel ice chopper can also help break up the ice, followed by clearing it with a shovel.
  1. Are there plants nearby? How close is the salt to your grass, or plants? This is an important thing to take note of, as salt can dehydrate soil and block a plant’s ability to feed itself. Be sure to use salt sparingly around plants, keeping both as far away from each other as possible. When you need to use salt, do your best to aim with accuracy so that none of it ends up on grassy areas or in plant beds – besides the environmental impacts, it’s also a waste of salt.
  1. Where are your pets? If you have pets that go outside, remember that salt can hurt their paws, and should never be consumed. Although your loyal friend may want to help you clear your driveway, make sure they are not nearby if you need to apply salt. Following the label directions, and not over salting, will help you reduce the chances of salt irritating your pets in the future.
  1. How much salt should I use? This is an important question that should be asked more often. First, make sure you read the packaging label to see what’s recommended. Fact is, the majority of people over-apply salt by a large margin. Although you might think the more salt the better, too much salt creates other problems including affecting me – your drinking water. Spread a thin layer of salt evenly across any icy areas. In many cases, a few tablespoons of salt for a one-metre square area of ice – about the size of a sidewalk slab – is all you need to get the job done. Using a salt with a finer grain will also help you to spread it more evenly so it can work faster. Also, if after the ice is gone and you still have salt, sweep it up to save for another time.

It’s sometimes just old habit to reach for a bag of salt before considering other environmental factors. Not only will over salting cost you more in salt, but poor practices also negatively impact many aspects of your lives, from your environment to your infrastructure.

How do you make the call on when to salt or when not to?

How to green your snow and ice clearing

Knock, knock! — Who’s there? — Snow. – Snow who? – Snow body’s home!

One more…

Knock, knock! — Who’s there? — Ice. – Ice who? – Ice to see you!

Bet you didn’t know I was a comedian. But seriously, let’s talk snow and ice. If I were to ask you what is the one thing you can do to help protect me, would you say shovel snow?

But if you are responsible for snow removal whether it be for a walkway, parking lot or driveway; shoveling or plowing the snow is exactly what you can do to help protect me – groundwater – your drinking water.

The fact is, the longer you wait to clear the snow the more likely it is to be stepped on or driven on. And when that happens, the snow gets packed down, turns to ice, sticking to the surface and making it harder to remove.

That’s when in many cases salt or ice melter is needed. And if you have been reading my blogs, you know how salt really gets to me.

Try these snow and ice clearing hacks to help you limit your use of salt while keeping areas clear of snow and ice.

  1. Don’t delay. Get at your snow before it freezes there! If snow is left too long or becomes packed down, it could turn to ice and become much more difficult to remove. Or, if it is a heavy snowfall, waiting until it stops snowing could mean a much heavier task. Do yourself a favour and get shoveling as soon as possible. When removing snow, remember to lift with your legs, and to take several breaks. Shoveling snow can be a strenuous activity, and strain combined with cold air can take a toll on your heart. If you have cardiovascular problems or a history of heart disease, speak with your doctor before attempting to shovel. Lifting snow improperly can also strain muscles, so remember to bend your knees, lift with your legs and take breaks. But there really is no replacement for good, old fashioned shoveling. Salt does not do what a little muscle power can.
Video: How to shovel snow and protect your back
  1. Break up the ice with a steel ice chopper. Once you have cleared the snow you might have some areas where ice has formed. Try using an ice chopper to break up any remaining ice. Ice choppers also do a great job of loosening hard packed snow making it easier to clear away with a shovel.
Video: How to Deice Your Driveway and Sidewalk : Using Ice Pick for Deicing Driveway
  1. Add traction when needed. If the sun is out and the temperatures are warming up, you might only need to provide some traction until the sun melts the ice away. Once the snow is cleared and you’re left with icy patches, you can use sand, grit or non-clumping kitty litter to create traction. This won’t melt the ice, but it will reduce the potential for slips and falls.
  1. Check the temperatures. Before reaching for the salt check your local weather forecast. What is the current temperature? Is it getting colder or warming up? Now check the working temperature of the salt or de-icer you are using. Different types of salt and de-icers work at different temperatures. For example, sodium chloride salt works best between 0 and -10 degrees Celsius. If it’s too cold for the salt or de-icer to work, use a traction aid like sand instead. And if it’s warming up to above 0 degrees Celsius, instead of salt, let the sun do the melting for you. You might need to add some traction with sand while you let Mother Nature do its job of melting the ice. A steel ice chopper can also help with the ice and then clearing it with a shovel.
  1. Use salt and ice melter wisely. If salt or ice melter is absolutely necessary, make sure to sprinkle on icy areas only. Salt isn’t for melting the snow. Leave the job of clearing the snow to your plow or shovel. It’s also important to give salt time to work. Even when you can’t see it anymore it is hard at work melting the ice. And a little goes a long way. In many cases a few tablespoons of salt for a one metre square area – the size of a sidewalk slab – is all you need. Check out an earlier blog I wrote on what you need to know before purchasing winter salt or ice melter.
A little salt goes a long way.

Want to learn more? Check out the Region of Waterloo’s video with tips for clearing snow and ice. You might even see me making a guest appearance.

Video: snow and ice clearing tips for homeowners

Do you have a favourite tool or tip that makes snow clearing easier? Share in the comments section to help others keep salt away from me. And if you know any jokes I could use help in that department as well. But just like me, please keep the jokes clean.

Cheers! Groundwater

The hidden costs of winter salt and ice melter you might not know about

With winter here, salt is top of mind for me. Let’s talk about the cost of using salt (and ice melter and de-icing products).

Hidden costs of salt

The obvious one is the cost of purchasing it. For that reason alone, it makes sense to spread only what you need and only when you need it. And did you know you can sweep up leftover salt to save for another time?

Not that money is a big deal for me, but if we’re talking money, it’s hard to put an exact dollar amount on the environmental cost of using salt.

According to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s 2018 report (Volume 2 – Clean Water – Chapter 2 : page 87) the hidden cost of salt on infrastructure and the environment range from $200 to $470 per ton of salt applied.

A National Post article “The awesome price we pay” outlines some of the costs of using salt. The author writes “Dalhousie University estimated that it costs it an extra $15,000 in cleaning and maintenance each year just to repair all the damage salt does to floors and baseboards”.

What are the hidden costs of salt?

  • Your drinking water. Since this is my blog I’ll start with me. The salt and other de-icing products spread on the ground can eventually mix with me. Over time this will make me – groundwater – taste salty.
  • Sore paws. Have you ever watched a dog trying to walk through salt? Salt trapped in their paws can irritate and crack their skin.
  • Damage to buildings and concrete surfaces. Salt is toxic and will eat away at outside structures (brick/concrete/sidewalks), doorways and flooring may become damaged, increasing repair costs.
  • Health of soil, plants and landscaping. If sprayed with salt, vegetation can lose its hardiness to the cold and be killed by freezing temperatures and high salt levels.
  • Footwear and clothing. Salt stains and can ruin footwear and clothing.
  • Vehicles, bicycles and wheelchairs. Salt accelerates rusting, causing damage and increasing repair costs.
  • Health of waterways for aquatic life. Salt changes water density, which can negatively affect the seasonal mixing of lake waters. This mixing is important to increase oxygen levels required by aquatic life for survival.

That’s my list. Do you have an experience to share about the cost of salt? Also, check out the Region of Waterloo’s website for tips on clearing snow and ice.

Cheers, Groundwater

9 actions you can take as a water protector

Imagine a day without me – groundwater. Not a day goes by you don’t use me. You drink me, clean and wash with me, and so much more.

Keeping me clean and making sure there is always enough of me to go around is an important job. One that everyone can help with.

Want to be a water protector? Here are my top nine ways to get started.

  1. Take shorter showers. Cutting back on your shower by even a few minutes can mean less water down the drain and more money you can save on your next water utility bill.
  2. Check your toilet for leaks. Paying for water you aren’t using isn’t fun. Did you know a leaky toilet can silently lose 300 litres or more a day? That’s like filling up three bath tubs! An easy way to detect a leak is to place a few drops of food colouring in the tank, wait 20 to 30 minutes and then check the water in the bowl. If the water has changed colour you have a leak. For where else to check for leaks visit the Region of Waterloo water conservation web page.
  3. Limit the use of salt and ice melter. Chloride in salt and ice melter soaks into the ground and mixes with groundwater once it has melted the ice. Over time this will make drinking water taste salty. The Region of Waterloo has snow and ice clearing tips that can help keep salt out of water.
  4. Support water education. The Waterloo Wellington Children’s Groundwater Festival provides fun, hands-on activities to 5,000 grade 2 to 5 students each May. You can help the Festival continue educating future water protectors by making a financial donation and/or volunteering during the event.
  5. Use a rain barrel. Save on your water utility bill by watering your plants with rain courtesy of Mother Nature. Using native plants in your garden can also help reduce how much you need to water and create a pollinator-friendly space.
  6. Set your water softener to the correct water hardness. Save on salt costs and help reduce the amount of salt going into the Grand River. Water hardness differs throughout Waterloo Region. Use the Water Softener Facts website water hardness maps to find the water hardness for your area.
  7. Return unused medication to your local pharmacy. Help keep medication out of waterways. Never flush it down the toilet or pour down the sink.
  8. Only rain down the storm drain. Storm drains connect directly with the local waterway. It is important only rain and melted snow enter the storm drains to keep streams and creeks clean.
  9. Report a spill immediately if you witness or suspect a spill has occurred or is about to occur. A spill is the release of a substance that is harmful to the environment, such as oil, fuel, chemicals or pesticides into a sewer or the environment. Quick actions can reduce the clean-up time and protect the local environment.

I’d love to hear from you. Why is protecting water important to you? Do you have tips to help others be water protectors?