Snow and ice are a fact of life in Wisconsin. Shoveling is hard work, snowblowers make a lot of pollution – what is a homeowner to do?
Some deal with the problem by spreading salt on their sidewalks and driveways. While this is an effective practice that takes advantage of natural processes to efficiently solve a problem, many people greatly overestimate the amount of salt that is needed to accomplish the task at hand.
Just 1 to 3 cups of salt (approximately 1 to 3 pounds) per 1,000 square feet is plenty, says Dane County’s My Fair Lakes program. Property owners can use even less salt if they wet it before tossing it into the snow.
Using an entire 50-pound bag of salt, on the other hand, can pollute 10,000 gallons of water when it eventually washes down the storm drains and into the lakes. It also quickly becomes expensive for the homeowner, and the excessive salt can cause significant damage to pavement.
While salt is effective at melting snow, it’s not meant to be the sole solution to snow removal. After salting the driveway or sidewalk, wait 15 to 30 minutes. During this time, the salt will melt its way down to the pavement and unfreeze the snow from the ground. You’ll then be able to easily shovel it, resulting in a clear driveway or sidewalk.
Finally, remember to check that the type of salt you’re using is appropriate for conditions. Each kind of salt is only effective down to a certain temperature; if it’s colder than that, the snow won’t melt no matter how much salt you use.
Snow: It gets dumped on your property uninvited, and you have to clean it up. Can we find any reasons to see snow as a resource instead of as a problem?
One reason to see snow as a resource is that it can help you learn about your site conditions. Yes, you already know you live in a snowy climate. But look more closely at the fresh powder before you shovel or blow it away. What animals have visited your yard, looking for food and shelter to help them survive the winter? Maybe you can find the distinctive tracks of rabbits. (The tracks may lead to a little pile of dung. This will become great fertilizer for your plants in the spring.)
Also notice the pattern of snowfall. Where is the snow piled up? This tells you how wind moves across your property. Where is the snow already melting? This is the warmest spot in your yard – a sunny place, or maybe a leak in your insulation.
A second reason to see snow as a resource is that – somewhat counterintuitively – it improves your insulation. Being mostly air pockets, snow is great at trapping heat. A thick blanket of it on your roof helps keep warmth from escaping through the attic. How wonderful of Nature to throw some extra insulation on our houses, just when we need it!
It may be hard to think of snow as helping us stay warm, when it’s so cold – especially because the presence of snow makes the whole planet colder. This is because one factor affecting the average temperature of the Earth is albedo, or reflectiveness. Light-colored features, like snow and ice, reflect more of the Sun’s energy back into space than dark-colored features do. When more solar energy goes back into space, the Earth stays cooler. In other words, letting a layer of white snow stay on your black driveway helps fight climate change!
To answer the question from the last post, consider the benefits of snow when deciding how much of it needs to be moved. You may find that a few minutes of shoveling strikes the best balance between the advantages and frustrations of our bountiful Wisconsin snow.
From an environmental perspective, the answer is clear: Snowblowers consume fossil fuels that contribute to global warming, while shovels are powered by carbon-neutral human labor.
From a health perspective, the answer is a little more complicated. The strenuous physical effort involved in shoveling can cause heart attacks. For this reason, some people choose the easier task of walking behind a snowblower.
However, the exhaust from snowblowers can also contribute to heart attacks. While the person operating the snowblower gets the heaviest dose of fumes, other people nearby also breathe in the unhealthy exhaust, so their risk of heart attack goes up too.
Similarly, both the person operating the snowblower and other people in the neighborhood are negatively affected by the snowblower’s noise.
What is the most appropriate technology for clearing snow? One part of the answer is to consider how much snow really needs to be cleared. This question will be the topic of the next post.