Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I Learned Something New (About Winter) Tuesday

I'm writing this post as I look out the window at snow beginning to coat the roads of Boston. This winter has been a roller coaster of high and low temperatures and each snow accumulation of over 6 inches has sent the city into a panic. Since public transportation rarely shuts down, though, I find myself skating down the sidewalks on the way home each time it snows. I own about 5 different pairs of boots to combat the snowy weather yet it seems I never remember to dress appropriately. 

In the past, I have found that my best friend during the winter is salt. I coat my parking spot and the surrounding area with it. I dump it on the steps to my apartment building and I sprinkle it along the stretch of pavement from my building door to the parking lot. One of my favorite sounds of winter is the crackle of ice instantly melting as a result of the salt I just poured out. 

BUT, this winter, I learned that salt becomes ineffective for melting ice & snow at a certain temperature. Maybe I'm late to the chemistry party but this is news to me. According to How Stuff Works, road salt works by lowering the freezing/melting point of water but if the surface temperature is lower than 15 degrees (F) it won't have much of an effect. This is because the solid salt cannot penetrate the solid ice to start the melting process. Wah! Additionally, it's not great for the environment to have so much salt seeping into the ground and water.

As the temperature drops over the next couple of months, try these alternatives to help with traction:

1. Sand. It's cheap. It doesn't stain your boots with the white water stains and it's easy to find. Once everything dries, too, you can easily sweep it up and it won't harm the environment.

2. Old fashioned elbow grease. Shovel as often as you can and that will make the shoveling easier and less daunting. You won't need salt if your walkway/parking spot is constantly cleared. 

3. Ashes. Because they absorb sunlight, the ashes will quickly melt ice. Since you can't just buy ash, you have to be lucky enough to have a fireplace or wood burning stove in your home. (Wishful thinking for me right now).

4. EcoTraction. This product offers better traction than sand but as you can guess from the name, it seems more geared toward traction than actual melting. It's made of granular volcanic material and is relatively inexpensive.

Stay warm & stay safe!

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