How to Protect Your Driveway in Winter: Do's and Don'ts
During the winter season, harsh weather elements such as ice, snow, and freezing rain can wreak havoc on your driveway.
While performing driveway maintenance is hardly anyone's idea of a fun time, it's one of those "necessary evils" that must be taken care of in order to protect your investment, ensure optimal safety, and prevent costly repairs down the line.
Below are some tried-and-true Do's and Don'ts to help you protect your concrete or asphalt surface during the winter months.
1. DO prepare your driveway for wintry weather by clearing away loose debris and clutter.
Get rid of any leaves, twigs, loose rocks, grass clippings, etc. that could pose a problem when snow and ice begin to accumulate. This includes any clutter such as children's toys, old newspapers, and garden hoses. By getting a head start, it will make your routine maintenance duties much easier once the harsh weather begins to roll in.
2. DO resolve any issues with cracks or potholes before it's too late.
If you have visible cracks or holes in your driveway, this means that its surface integrity has already been compromised, leaving it vulnerable to a variety of structural damage issues.
For example, water from snow and ice can seep into various cracks and crevices in the surface of your concrete or blacktop. Once the temperature begins to drop, the water will expand which places undue pressure on the interior walls of those potholes and cracks. This can force them to enlarge, which can cause additional damage to your driveway.
Frost heaving is another common winter issue that can result from leaving cracks and holes unaddressed. For the uninitiated, frost heaving happens when melting water from snow or ice seeps into the soil beneath the driveway.
This can lead to the formation of "ice lenses", which cause the soil to swell and push up against the surface covering. This can cause major cracking in both concrete and asphalt surfaces.
Your best bet to protect your driveway is to enlist the help of a professional paving service to fill in those cracks and holes before the arrival of the cold winter months.
3. DO make a regular practice of sealing your driveway every 2 to 5 years.
When properly applied, a quality sealant will repel water, which is perhaps the worst offender in terms of facilitating wear and tear on both concrete and asphalt surfaces.
Other potential threats include oxidation and sunlight, both of which can weaken pavement by hastening the corrosion process. A driveway that has been fortified with a high-quality sealant is not only protected from damage caused by exposure to water, oxidation and sunlight, but it will also repel various spills and leaks (e.g. oil, transmission fluid, etc.) as well.
In addition, your driveway will be easier to sweep and clean, making routine maintenance a little less strenuous. While it is possible to apply the sealant yourself, this job requires a significant investment of time and resources, so it's usually better left to an experienced professional.
Hiring a paving contractor to apply the sealcoating is the best way to ensure that the job will be done right, and it's a prudent safeguard against future damage.
4. DO pay close attention to potential signs of structural trouble with your pavement.
As a driveway ages, it is not uncommon for hairline cracks to begin to form in concrete surfaces, or form web-like networks of cracks that emerge in asphalt surfaces. Some of these issues can be the result of faulty installation, while others are simply the result of regular wear and tear over time.
Be sure to carefully assess the "signals" that your particular driveway surface is sending you, so that you can know exactly how to respond to any issues as soon as they arise.
5. DO quickly clean up any driveway spills or stains that occur during the winter months.
While a quality sealant can go a long way towards protecting your surface covering, it's still a good idea to clean up all spills without delay to avoid potential staining or discoloration. Should an accidental spill leave a stain behind, try using a pressure washer or eco-friendly stain remover to get rid of it as soon as possible.
6. DO clear away snow and ice before they get a chance to accumulate.
If you allow snow and/or ice to pile up on your driveway, it can melt and refreeze multiple times due to temperature fluctuations, making it much more stubborn to remove. The last thing you want is to have to battle a thick layer of ice when you're shoveling, blowing, or plowing a couple feet of snow!
If you find it difficult to scrape thick ice away immediately, try using an organic deicer or non-corrosive sand to loosen up the ice first, and then wait until the warmest part of the day before attempting to break it up. If you get lucky and only experience a slight dusting of snowfall, it might even be possible for you to clear it by using nothing but a regular push broom.
As tedious as this might be, it's always better to be proactive while the snowfall and ice levels are still manageable, instead of waiting too long and eventually dealing with a heavy accumulation of both.
7. DO use a plastic blade and carefully inspect your snow shovel before using it.
You would be surprised at how many driveways have been ruined due to homeowners using jagged and haggard snow shovels. Take some time to carefully inspect your shovel before unleashing it on your pavement surface.
The ideal snow shovel should have a plastic blade with straight edges and intact corners (e.g. not bent, warped or crumpled up), so that it will have minimal abrasive contact with the concrete or blacktop.
One helpful tip often used by people who live in snow-laden areas is to apply wax to the shovel blade using floor wax, car wax or candle wax, as this can help prevent snow from sticking to the shovel. If you don't have any wax product handy, a regular household cooking spray can also do the trick.
8. DO use caution and proper technique when shoveling to avoid injury.
Believe it or not, an average of almost 12,000 snow shoveling-related injuries are reported each year in the United States alone! Most of the injuries involve lower back problems, arm and hand injuries, followed by nasty slips and falls.
To avoid becoming a statistic, be sure to always wear proper footwear and plant your feet solidly before each shovelful. Also remember to use proper shoveling techniques such as bending your knees, keeping your back straight, and using your legs and shoulders to do the heavy lifting instead of just your back and arms.
9. DO use a quality snow blower but pay close attention to safety and wind direction.
If hucking shovelfuls of snow just isn't your thing, you can always utilize a well-maintained snow blower to clear your driveway in relatively short order. As mentioned previously, it is strongly recommended that you don't wait for a heavy snowfall to stop before cranking up the blower.
This will not only help to avoid ice build up, but it's usually faster and easier to clear half a foot of snow twice, than a foot of the white stuff once. Plus, your machine won't have to work quite as hard and will be able to throw the snow a farther distance as well.
It may seem obvious, but always use your snow blower in the same direction of the wind. Throw up a handful of loose snow beforehand if you can't tell the wind direction. This will help to avoid snow blowing in your face and also help you determine which side of the driveway to start on.
Before you begin, make sure to double-check the entire driveway area is clear of pets, children, and objects. That includes rocks, extension cords, garden hoses, Christmas lights, and the number-one cause of snow blower jams – buried frozen newspapers – so that you can avoid potential operational hazards.
1. DON'T accidentally damage your driveway surface when shoveling.
As mentioned earlier, it's surprisingly easy to damage a concrete or asphalt surface if you use a snow shovel with a bent, crumpled, or jagged blade. Asphalt surfaces in particular are susceptible to damage from metal shovel blades with sharp edges, but a careless shoveling job can ravage a concrete surface as well.
Your best bet is to use a snow shovel with a high-strength plastic blade because they are strong, lightweight, and can resist freezing better than most shovels with metal blades. This means that the snow is much less likely to cling to a plastic blade, making it much easier to release the snow after every scoop.
The only disadvantage of using a plastic shovel is the leading edge typically wears down a lot faster than what you'll find with metal blades, due to the constant scraping against the driveway's surface. To minimize pavement damage and to preserve the life of your plastic shovel, try to keep the shovel blade slightly above the surface of the driveway whenever possible.
By allowing the shovel head to "hover" a little over the surface, you can gently scoop up the snow while minimizing friction and preserving the integrity of your snow shovel.
2. DON'T use corrosive or eco-unfriendly deicing chemicals on your driveway.
This is one of the most subtle yet destructive culprits behind driveway damage. Especially if you have a concrete driveway, try to resist the temptation to use deicing materials that contain rock salts, ammonium, or other corrosive chemicals, as they can dramatically reduce the lifespan of your pavement.
Although deicing salts do not damage asphalt driveways, these harsh chemicals can still have detrimental effects on your local environment. Salt runoff can seep into groundwater supplies, causing dangerous contamination issues which can negatively affect local plants and animals, as well as increase the sodium levels in drinking water.
Consider using more eco-friendly deicers that feature salt-free products, and don't overlook sand or kitty litter as viable alternatives that can provide good traction as well.
3. DON'T repeatedly park heavy-duty vehicles on your driveway.
Consider the type of burden that parking heavy vehicles such as huge RVs or construction equipment might place on your driveway. Most residential driveways are not designed to bear such super-heavy loads, so if your driveway is consistently subjected to this type of additional weight, its structural integrity might eventually be compromised.
Try parking heavy vehicles on the street or some adjacent area to keep your driveway intact and damage-free. You should also consider how pooling water or snow can create additional weight on your pavement surface. Keep in mind that water is a heavy substance in all its forms, whether liquid or frozen solid.
When it is allowed to sit on your driveway for extended periods of time, the pressure, moisture and temperature work together to create a troubling trifecta that can weaken driveway surfaces. Be willing to make adjustments to your drainage system in order to address these issues if needed.
4. DON'T allow gutters to drain directly onto your driveway surface.
This ties into the previous point about drainage management. If your gutters are allowed to drain onto your driveway, they can create a freeze-thaw cycle that can be detrimental to your pavement. Try redirecting gutters to drain water away from your driveway to avoid this potentially destructive scenario.
"Edging" is another effective method of improving water drainage around your driveway, by simply removing the sod within 2 to 3 inches of the concrete or asphalt edges. This will help in situations when large quantities of snow or ice begin to melt, creating excessive runoff.
5. DON'T use snow tires with spikes on your paved driveway.
Spiked snow tires can definitely provide better traction on slippery roads, but they can also be one of your driveway's worst nightmares. These heavy-duty tires can create holes in both concrete and asphalt driveways, often leading to costly repairs down the line.
Even well-sealed surfaces are not immune to damage from spiked snow tires. So if at all possible, try exploring other options to increase traction for your vehicle such as non-toxic deicing agents.
6. DON'T allow snow plow operators to scrape your driveway with their blade.
It may seem obvious, but if you decide to hire a professional snow plowing service, make sure that the operator is lifting the plow blade high enough to keep from scraping, cracking, or otherwise damaging the surface of your concrete or asphalt pavement.
It is also a good idea to double-check what type of deicing materials they use (if any), as you wouldn't want your driveway to get damaged by harsh or corrosive chemicals.
Protecting Your Driveway in Winter: Do's & Dont's
|DO prepare your driveway for wintry weather by clearing away loose debris and clutter.||DON'T allow gutters to drain directly onto your driveway surface.|
|DO resolve any issues with cracks or potholes before it's too late.||DON'T repeatedly park heavy-duty vehicles on your driveway.|
|DO quickly clean up any driveway spills or stains that occur during the winter months.||DON'T use corrosive or eco-unfriendly deicing chemicals on your driveway.|
|DO pay close attention to potential signs of structural trouble with your pavement.||DON'T use snow tires with spikes on your paved driveway.|
|DO make a regular practice of sealing your driveway every 2 to 5 years.||DON'T allow snow plow operators to scrape your driveway with their blade.|
|DO clear away snow and ice before they get a chance to accumulate.||DON'T accidentally damage your driveway surface when shoveling.|
|DO use a plastic blade and carefully inspect your snow shovel before using it.||DON'T use a metal shovel with a bent, crumpled, or jagged blade.|
|DO use caution and proper technique when shoveling to avoid injury.||DON'T strain yourself and avoid twisting or throwing snow over your shoulder.|
|DO use a quality snow blower but pay close attention to safety and wind direction.||DON'T use your snow blower against the wind to avoid snow and ice in your face.|
The bottom line is that whether you have a concrete or asphalt driveway, it is important to anticipate how much the harsh winter weather is going to affect your pavement surface.
As with most things in life, making the proper preparations now will save you a lot of headaches down the road. When you consider that the average lifespan of a well-maintained driveway is anywhere between 15 to 30 years, it only makes sense to protect your investment to ensure its longevity.
Keep the above do's and don'ts in mind to protect your driveway during the colder snowy months and it will provide you with optimal performance and enjoyment for decades to come.
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