Slips and falls caused by slippery or wet surfaces are some of the most common injuries Americans face. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, slipping and falling causes 15 percent of all accidents in any industry. It's only reasonable to extend this danger to the home. During the winter months, slips and trips due to ice on sidewalks and driveways fill emergency rooms and cause plenty of aching backs, necks and knees. There are, of course, several ways to help prevent these accidents from occurring. One of the most common many homeowners use is salt, though there are alternatives and reasons why this may not be the best option. Once you've had a home inspection to ensure everything else around your property is in working order, consider the pros and cons of using salt, as well as alternatives that can protect against icy falls.
Basic rock salt has long been used as a cheap and effective way to melt ice on streets and sidewalks, or prevent it from forming. According to DoItYourself.com, salt does this by chemically reacting with water and lowering the temperature at which it freezes. Water normally freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. With the use of salt, standing water will not freeze until it reaches nearly zero degrees Fahrenheit. As long as the temperature stays above this range, salt does a good job of melting ice.
However, there are some drawbacks. If the air is colder than zero degrees Fahrenheit, salt will probably not work very well. To achieve the same melting effect, even more salt is needed. Excessive salting also can have an impact on the environment. Salt-heavy water runoff can damage plants near roadways or even in lawns where it is used. Ground water and wells also can be affected by salt and make clean water difficult to come by. Salt also causes corrosion of steel and concrete. That means many cars and buildings can suffer damage from heavy salt usage. These may not be major concerns for the average user, but when added together, it can mean a big impact on the environment and infrastructure. Deicing salt is also harmful to pets if they happen to eat it, although pet-friendly mixtures are available.
One alternative to salt for protection from slippery ice is sand. While it does not melt the ice, sand is an abrasive material that increases traction between ice and tires or shoes. Snowplows often spread a mixture of salt and sand when working to deice a road, since the salt will melt ice and the sand will increase the traction for cars. This means it can also be an effective tool for fixing a slick driveway or sidewalk, especially since it will work at just about any temperature. Sand is generally more environmentally friendly than salt as well.
Using sand to combat ice accumulation is not without drawbacks either. DoItYourself.com noted that sand could still slump at very low temperatures, which would reduce its effectiveness. Sand removal from roads is also becoming a growing concern. While neither sand nor salt is a perfect solution for icy surfaces, using both in combination may be the best course of action.
No matter which material you use, homeowners should also take care to avoid icy patches or break them up with a shovel if possible. Snow should be removed as soon as it is done falling to prevent melted snow from refreezing and causing dangerous ice buildup. Most importantly, keep an eye on children and the elderly to make sure they know about the dangers of ice and how to avoid a fall.