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From gutters to sidewalks, BestReviews expert explains how to stay safe in icy conditions

Winter brings many challenges that you don’t find in other seasons. However, all of these potential problems stem from only one factor: freezing temperatures. When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, pipes can burst, walks can freeze and you can slip and fall. You need to learn how to stay safe in icy conditions.

Fortunately, Beth Allen, BestReviews DIY expert and  founder of HIP Chicks (Home Improvement Project Chicks), is here to keep you safe this winter. Allen has tips that prevent ice from building up on your home and property when the temperature drops. She also has a few suggestions on what you can do if your driveway and walk get slick in the winter.

In this article: Frost King Roof-Heating Cable, Frost King Pipe-Heating Cable and Birdrock Home Extendable Snow Brush with Detachable Ice Scraper for Car.

What are the three main properties that can make ice a hazard?

  1. Water expands when it freezes: Most substances contract as they cool. Water, however, expands as it freezes. Theoretically, expanding water can exert up to 30,000 pounds of force per square inch as it expands. This is enough power to crack open steel pipes, split home foundations, rupture hot tub filters and more.
  2. Ice is slippery: After ice is formed, it is slick. Without some traction, it can be nearly impossible to remain upright when you walk across ice. This means falling is always a possibility.
  3. Ice is hard: If you fall on ice, trying to catch yourself with your hands could result in a fractured forearm. Additionally, ice makes an impenetrable barrier that can keep snow from melting and running off, which can create a burden on your roof that results in structural damage.

How to prevent ice buildup

The first thing Allen said to check to prevent ice from building up is your downspouts and drain extenders. “You want to make sure you are not redirecting water so it pools on the walkway, driveway or sidewalk,” she said. “And if you tend to get a lot of snow and ice building up on the roof, get the Frost King heat cable. It’s a gutter cable with clips, and it plugs in to heat the roofline, so you don’t have ice dams blocking water flow and creating problems with drainage.”

Allen also suggested getting outside early and shoveling to keep the bulk of snow from building up. Even if the temperature is below freezing, the sun’s visible light and UV rays are being absorbed and can melt ice and snow. “Once things start to melt, you can use a shovel or a push broom to remove the slush buildup before it can freeze again when the sun goes down at night,” she said.

How to remove ice

Sometimes, between the temperature, the amount of precipitation and the timing of a storm, it is impossible to prevent ice from forming. When that happens, one course of action is to try to remove the ice with ice melt. Allen advised reading the label to find out if the product you are considering is safe for the environment, children, pets, the sidewalk, steps and more. 

“Most ice melt is made with sodium chloride,” Allen said. “Sodium chloride is cheap and easy to find, but it’s not as effective in extreme cold. It is also not good for the ground. It can speed up the corrosion of metal objects and eat through cement. Sodium chloride is harmful to animals and vegetation, and the runoff is not good for the water system.”

If you have children, pets or just want to be kind to the environment, consider a salt-free, nontoxic option.

How to create traction on ice

“Some other options to help you stay safe in icy conditions are to use sand because it will certainly give you some traction,” Allen said. “The downside is you don’t want that sand tracked into your house. If you’re a woodworker, and you’ve got a big bucket of sawdust, you could use that to add a little grit underfoot. Cat litter can also work, but it needs to be the nonclumping kind. And some people have suggested using birdseed.”

If you are using anything on the ice, whether it is rock salt or birdseed, Allen said you need to be a shoes-off family. “If you bring rock salt in and you have hardwood flooring, it’s going to get in and damage it,” she said. “Similarly, you don’t want sand getting into your tile and grout, and you don’t want kitty litter scratching up your floor. If you have nice surfaces, use these materials cautiously to prevent damage.”

Best winter products for new homeowners

Frost King Roof-Heating Cable

This 60-foot cable clips to your gutter and the shingles along the edge of your roof to melt the snow and ice so the water in the gutters and downspouts keeps flowing. It is easy to install and prevents damaging ice dams.

Sold by Amazon

Frost King Pipe-Heating Cable

Similar to the Frost King roof-heating cable, these pipe-heating cables run along your plastic or metal water pipes to keep the water inside from freezing. It is best for 2-inch pipes and keeps the water flowing down to minus 40 degrees.

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Amerimax Home Products Flex-A-Spout Downspout Extension

This flexible downspout extension has a corrugated vinyl construction, so it can be extended and angled to divert water in any way you require. It fits over 2-by-3-inch and 3-by-4-inch downspouts and extends to 55 inches.

Sold by Home Depot

Everbilt Foam Pipe Insulation

Besides helping prevent your pipes from freezing, Everbilt’s foam insulation is fire-rated for additional safety. It is 6 feet long and pre-slit, so it can easily slip over 1-inch copper or three-quarter-inch iron pipes.

Sold by Home Depot

True Temper 18-inch Ergonomic Mountain Mover Snow Shovel

The wide, 18-inch blade on this shovel can push a lot of snow, while the ergonomic steel handle reduces exertion and muscle strain. It features a nylon strip that runs along the edge to protect the shovel and prevent damage to surfaces like decks, driveways and walks.

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

SafetyCare Rubber Shoe and Boot Tray

To keep your home free of snow, mud, rock salt and more, it’s essential to take your footwear off as soon as you enter your home. This large, durable boot tray gives you a place to put your shoes so you don’t track debris throughout the house.

Sold by Amazon

Suncast Telescoping Auto Shovel

In a snow emergency, you want to have a shovel on hand to help dig you out. This compact model has a telescoping handle that makes it easy to store in an automobile trunk. It features a large D-grip handle and push-button operation, so you can use the shovel while wearing gloves.

Sold by Home Depot

Safe Paw Pet Safe Ice Melt with Traction Agent

This pet-safe ice melt has a veterinarian-recommended formula, making it safe for animals and children. It is nontoxic, is noncorrosive, has a long shelf life and is effective down to minus 2 degrees.

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

PawZ Dog Boots

Booties for your dog serve two functions: They protect your pup’s feet, and they keep your home clean. Each pack of Pawz comes with 12 dog boots that function as anti-slip socks to provide traction. The shoes are available in a wide variety of sizes to ensure a secure fit.

Sold by Amazon

Birdrock Home Extendable Snow Brush with Detachable Ice Scraper for Car

This multifunction tool removes soft snow and stubborn ice. It extends to 55 inches, making it suitable for larger vehicle types, such as SUVs and trucks. The shaft is covered in foam to provide a comfortable yet secure grip.

Sold by Amazon, Home Depot and Target


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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.

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