House & Home

How to Clear Ice from Your Sidewalk

Posted February 14, 2013 4:25 p.m. EST

In quite a few municipalities, the onus is on homeowners (and building owners) to clear snow and ice from the sidewalks adjacent to their properties. In many of those cities, residents face fines if they fail to clear the ice from their sidewalks, as well as possible liability in cases resulting from slip and fall injuries. I went looking to some of the snowiest, iciest municipalities in North America (meaning Canada, too!) for advice on how to clear ice from the sidewalk. Did I learn much? In terms of technique, not really. However, I did pick up a few environmental tips and some snow removal etiquette inspiration.

There is really only one basic technique for removing ice from sidewalks, and it involves burning calories. First, shovel while it is still snowing. If you do not allow snow to accumulate, you are less likely to see that snow turn to ice through freeze and thaw cycles. You'll want to clear snow down to the pavement. Once the snow has been cleared down to the pavement, apply sand or the ice melt granules of your choice to the sidewalk to prevent ice from forming and to provide traction. There is some debate about what the best ice melt granules are; some municipalities suggest sand, others suggest salt, and others suggest using only calcium chloride. (We'll get to why later in the article.) If you do end up with a buildup of ice on your sidewalk, the way to cut through it effectively is to hack at it with a garden edger or pick in order to break it up. Once the ice has been loosened sufficiently, shovel it away, and then apply your gritty sand or salt-esque substance.

Let's have a look at what public works departments in cities across the US and Canada have to say about removing ice from your sidewalk:

The Cambridge, MA Department of Public Works says, "Use ice melter with calcium chloride (CaCl2), which is the best choice for the environment and only a small amount is required to melt ice. Potassium chloride (KCl) is okay, too. Avoid rock salt (NaCl or sodium chloride), which kills plants and trees. Do not use sand. It doesn't help pedestrians; but it makes hard ice more slippery. It gets into street drains and is expensive to clean up in the spring." However, just across the Charles River, the City of Boston says, "Remove ice to bare pavement or make as level as possible and treat with sand, sawdust or similar material." In neighboring Somerville, their DPW merely says, "Homeowners must shovel, salt or sand their sidewalks when it snows." Will Boston concrete contractors have to do costly sidewalk and road repairs in the spring? Are the Cantabrigians on to something? Weigh in in the comments if you have an answer.

How long do you have to clear ice off the sidewalk? New Yorkers have four hours to clear their sidewalks if it snows between 7 AM and 5 PM, and then "The City may issue property owners a summons for a failure to clear the sidewalks within these time frames." In Chicago, you have only three hours to clear the snow off the sidewalk, and folks who don't do it can face fines of $50. You don't want to leave ice and snow on the sidewalk in Ann Arbor, Michigan, though. They issue fines of up to $1000!

Toronto has a nice snow and ice clearing system: "In much of Toronto, the City provides mechanical sidewalk snow clearing." However, their municipality reminds residents that the snow removal service can take up to 72 hours.

True to the way that Canadians seem to do things right, the City of Edmonton explains the freeze-thaw cycle, and even gives out free sand to its residents. "While properly removing snow prevents a build-up of ice over the winter, freeze-thaw weather cycles cause water from melting snow to run on to cleared walks. The water then becomes ice when the temperature drops. You are still required to keep the walks around your property safe during freeze-thaw cycles, either by keeping them ice-free or by spreading sand or gravel to give pedestrians traction. To help you keep your walks safe, the City provides free sand that can be picked up from green boxes outside your nearest Community League," says the city's website.

The best advice comes from the City of Madison, Wisconsin: "The sooner and more completely you shovel, the less likely ice will form."

Chaya Kurtz writes for

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