There’s no getting around it—winter is here! As a homeowner, you’re well aware of the challenges that come with snow and ice, trying to keep concrete from turning into skating rinks, and the endless battle to keep gravel in the driveway where it belongs. Yet both concrete and gravel are better at withstanding modern chemical solutions for ice and snow than brick. So, if your steps and walkways are brick, there is a dual challenge: to protect your brick while keeping walkways safe and welcoming.
Know Your Chemical De-Icing Products
Of course, you must keep your brick walkways and front steps safe for anyone using them, but you must also ensure you’re using safe methods to protect the brick itself. De-icing products are available in many chemical and salt formulations, but with many of them, there comes a risk of degrading or staining the brick and mortar. While these de-icers are not typically the best choice, some solutions are better than others when it comes to historic brick preservation.
To best protect your brick, check the labels of the products you are buying. Avoid the harshest sodium chloride (rock salt) and calcium chloride options. Rock salt can cause damage to most surfaces, such as concrete, metal, and brick, resulting in corrosion; some homeowners think calcium chloride is a better choice, though that can still cause similar problems, albeit slightly less severe damage.
The better options for de-icing your brick walkways and steps are the newer chemicals such as magnesium chloride and potassium chloride. Both of these formulations are far less damaging than traditional materials, with magnesium chloride being the most highly recommended by owners of historic brick homes. However, you should still use it sparingly and sweep it up as soon as possible.
Use Sand - It’s Safer and Sustainable
Instead of chemical concoctions, sand provides an inexpensive and recyclable solution for providing traction on ice. Though it is gritty, it is unlikely to damage your walkways and steps when used properly. It can be swept up in the spring, collected in a container, and used the following year again.
Of course, sand should only be used after shoveling—otherwise, you end up with dirty snow covering slippery brick, which still poses the hazards you are trying to avoid.
The Mighty Shovel
When it comes to historic brick, your snow shovel saves the day. Clearing snow away as soon as possible prevents ice buildup without harming the brick and mortar. Quick snow removal also prevents damaging water and ice buildup caused by freeze-thaw cycles. Snow acts as an insulator for the layers beneath it - when the ground warms up enough, it melts small amounts of snow, which create puddles. When the ground freezes again, those puddles turn into patches of dangerous ice.
Winter Water Hazards
Although we associate winter with a blanket of snow and freezing temperatures, early winter often brings a mix of rain and sleet. In addition, the freeze-thaw cycle can allow deeper layers of snow to melt, creating water runoff before it freezes back into ice. Historic brick homes should have their bricks inspected throughout the year to ensure there are no areas where water can infiltrate. Water gets into the mortar behind the bricks and then freezes, creating a pressure buildup as the ice expands. This can cause spalling, where pieces of the brick will break off.
With routine maintenance, a sturdy shovel, and good sanding, historic brick walkways and front steps can be safe without compromising their structural integrity - and they will look as charming in the winter as they do the rest of the year.
Renaissance Development, a leader in brick restoration and historic preservation, specializes in the restoration of a historic brick building’s mortar joints using traditional methods (tuckpointing) and materials. Contact us for a free site visit and project quote.