Winterizing Concrete: Protecting Your Structures and Surfaces from Harsh Winter Conditions
As the winter season approaches, homeowners often focus on preparing their houses for the impending winter chill. While tasks like fixing the roof and sealing drafty windows are essential, one aspect that should not be overlooked is the care and maintenance of exterior concrete. Neglecting concrete can lead to costly repairs in the spring, especially in regions prone to harsh winter weather. Properly preparing and protecting your concrete can go a long way in preserving its appearance and structural integrity.
Concrete in Winter
Concrete is a remarkably durable material, but it has one common vulnerability—it is porous. During most of the year, this porosity is not a concern. However, as winter descends with its freezing temperatures, moisture can infiltrate the concrete’s pores. When moisture freezes and expands, it creates pressure, leading to potential damage. Over time, repeated freezing and thawing cycles can cause the concrete surface to spall, where it breaks away, revealing the coarse aggregate. Concrete surfaces with pre-existing cracks are even more susceptible to damage as water can enter these cracks, further exacerbating the issue.
The first and most crucial step to take is to inspect it closely for any damage. Small cracks, if left untreated, can become significant problems, so repairing cracks before winter arrives is vital. Narrow cracks of around 1/8 inch can often be fixed using a flexible crack sealant that remains bonded to the concrete as temperatures fluctuate. However, wider cracks should be examined by a contractor to ensure they don’t indicate a more serious issue that could compromise the concrete’s integrity.
For concrete showing signs of spalling, applying a sealer is an effective way to prevent further deterioration. In cases of severe damage, resurfacing the concrete with an overlay may be necessary. Resurfacing can provide a fresh surface layer and renewed protection against winter’s harsh conditions.
Once you’ve repaired any damage, you will want to apply a penetrating sealer to the concrete’s surface. This sealer helps prevent moisture from ice and snow from seeping into the concrete’s pores. A high-quality sealer also safeguards against stains, abrasion, and the corrosive effects of deicing salts. Sealing your concrete is a DIY-friendly project that doesn’t require specialized equipment or skills.
Proper drainage is another critical aspect of concrete maintenance. Concrete slabs that do not drain properly can result in the accumulation of water from melting snow and ice. This can exacerbate cracking and spalling, and create safety hazards as the pooled water refreezes. Regular snow removal helps, but addressing serious drainage issues may require adjustments to the concrete’s pitch or the installation of an in-slab drainage system to direct water away.
Use the Right Deicers
Using deicers on concrete surfaces during the winter is often necessary to prevent slip-and-fall accidents. However, some deicers, particularly those containing ammonium nitrates and ammonium sulfates, can harm the concrete chemically. It’s advisable to opt for less corrosive ice melt products such as calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, or calcium magnesium acetate. For new concrete, it’s best to avoid deicers during the first winter and use sand or volcanic granules for improved traction without the corrosive effects.
Concrete pavers also require winter protection. Similar to poured-in-place concrete, pavers can benefit from sealing to prevent moisture intrusion, releveling to address drainage issues, and using the right ice melt products. If pavers have settled unevenly, they can easily be reset without noticeable patchwork. Refilling the joints between pavers with polymeric sand before winter helps prevent erosion and keeps them securely in place.
Taking the time to inspect, repair, seal, and address drainage issues for your concrete surfaces can go a long way in protecting your investment and ensuring their longevity. These steps, if done before winter arrives, can save you significant repair costs in the spring and help maintain the appearance and functionality of your concrete. Need help with your concrete repair or sealing? Give McDonald and Sons a call today!