No matter where you are, snow is hard work to deal with. Sure, we can make our kids start shoveling, but we’d like to make their jobs as easy as possible! We’ve all been there: shoveling along, then being jolted through our arms as the shovel runs into a raised up crack in the concrete. Read on to discover how to keep your driveway’s original form for as long as possible.
Snowy Michigan winters are hard on our concrete structures. Outdoor structures are especially stressed in cities like Detroit, where more wear, tear, and corrosive materials are likely to come in contact with your concrete driveway or sidewalk.
In this article we will consider what homeowners should pay attention to in order to extend the life and look of their driveways. We will begin by explaining what processes are at work during the cold months, then give some useful steps for how to preserve concrete slabs. Skip ahead to the tips & tricks if you’re not interested in the technical stuff!
What Happens to My Concrete In Winter?
Freezing temperatures, snow, excessive flowing and standing water, and various common-use winterizing chemicals all put stress on concrete.
Understanding How Concrete Works
No concrete structure lasts forever. Factors like the materials used to pour, environmental elements at the time it was poured, age of the structure, sub-concrete soil types and compaction, the surrounding climate, and many more considerations all work to determine how long concrete will maintain structural integrity and stay looking nice.
“Once water enters concrete and
freezes again, the ice expands…”
As concrete withstands various stresses and tensions, it weakens, cracks form, and problems tend to increase with momentum.
Concrete Elasticity & Thermal Expansion
Dry concrete, while very strong, is a rigid and therefore relatively brittle material. In other words, it has some flex and elasticity but not much. As temperatures rise and fall, concrete expands and contracts. This is called thermal expansion. In especially cold environments like Detroit, concrete driveways can be weakened in just a couple seasons due to the wide variations in temperature.
Concrete isn’t the only material that changes size with temperature. Thermal expansion applies also to the underlying soil beneath your driveway. Different types of soils have different levels of water permeability, and expand and contract to various degrees with temperature. The compaction of the soil before the concrete was poured also plays a large part in this phenomenon.
“Tip #3: If your home has poor drainage, do whatever it
takes to direct water quickly away from your property.”
Repeated fluctuating of materials and soil creates heavy stresses on the concrete material and will inevitably develops cracks. These cracks act as an entry point for eroding and corroding water. Furthermore, in the warm and wet summer months, the expanding heat opens the pores of concrete, allowing moisture to enter that way as well. This combination of expansion, contraction, and the introduction of new water, speeds up concrete deterioration when the cold winter months come around.
Standing Snow & Water Puts Pressure on Your Concrete Driveway
Hydraulic pressure is one of the strongest forces of nature. Water is heavy no matter which form it takes. It can move the base soil, and can cause concrete slabs to buckle, shift, and creep.
Standing and melting snow applies a combination of constant weight, moisture, and cold to concrete surfaces which forces moisture into cracks and pores. Once water enters concrete and then freezes again, the ice expands which then weakens the materials. It can cause larger cracks, flaking, and even breaks.
Effects of Chemicals & Foreign Winterizing Substances on Concrete Slabs
Salt is the first chemical compound that comes to mind when considering winterizing substances. Most, if not all winterizing & ice-melt materials are corrosive, and therefore harmful to concrete surfaces.
Concrete poured within the past 12 months is especially vulnerable to all of the above elements. Corrosive chemical compounds should be avoided. Research which materials are the least damaging to your concrete, and learn about proper application before using snow-melt products.
Tips & Tricks: What Can I Do to Protect My Concrete Driveway During the Winter?
Tip #1 – Apply A Concrete Sealant
While salt is sometimes necessary to help melt ice and snow from your concrete surfaces, it erodes and damaging your concrete. Use it if you must but avoid it if you can. Salt will drip off of your car onto the garage floor or drive way on its own. In many cases you don’t even realize this is happening. We recommend a concrete sealant which will help protect your driveway from salt damage. Call us for more information about concrete sealing.
Tip #2 – Fix sunken and uneven concrete
What starts as a toe-stubber or trip hazard becomes a major problem during the winter. Snow removal is hard enough, let alone catching your shovel on an uneven concrete edge or having a plow scrape sunken concrete, causing further damage.
Repair uneven joints and cracks so that the integrity of the concrete is not compromised by snow removal. Snow plowing, snow blowers and even a shovel can cause portions of your driveway to chip off uneven sections of your driveway or sidewalk.
Tip #3 – Practice Smart Water Drainage Around Your Home
Redirect downspouts and run off during the winter months so water is not being directed under the concrete. Excessive water can freeze and expand beneath your concrete, causing it to heave up and create trip hazards on your property.
If your home has poor drainage, do whatever it takes to direct water quickly away from your property. Dig trenches, put up retaining walls, add gutters, sump pumps, or even contact city officials if survey problems exists.
Tip #4 – Concrete Joint Sealing
For slabs poured in more than one section, the joint between pours collect dirt, ice, and water which aids concrete deterioration. This is a soft material caulking to join sections of concrete which allow for thermal expansion and shifting.
Learn more about Kent Home Services’ weatherproof concrete joint sealing.
Tip #5 – Perform Preventative Maintenance in the Fall
October is a great time to clean and seal your driveway, sidewalks, and garage floors with a good sealant. It can be applied and will cure during mild weather, which leaves you more prepared before winter’s freezing temperatures.
Springtime is a good time to address any drainage issues, after the snow melts, and before the Summer rains begin.