Can You Use Ice Melt on Wood, Composite Decking, or Roofs?

Can You Use Ice Melt on Wood, Composite Decking, or Roofs

When the winter season hits for many parts of the country it means snow and ice accumulation on all surfaces outside including wood and composite decks and of course the roof of your house.  Can you use ice melt on wood, composite decking, or roofs?  The short answer for decks is yes, and no for roofs, but of course there is nuance with anything.  Please continue to learn some best practices for managing snow and ice on wood and composite decks and what to do to keep your roofs and gutter clean of snow and ice.

The Best Answer To Prevent Slipping On Wood And Composite Decking

The number one solution for reducing the likely hood of slipping on your deck or stairs and to prevent causing any damage to the materials is to use sand.  A light dusting of sand will give your feet traction and while it can cause minimal scratching to a deck surface it does not dry out the wood or cause an adverse reaction to the composite materials.

The biggest reason most people do not like to use sand is the fact that it gets tracked into the house.  You need to be very diligent about wiping your feet and the paws of your furry friends that may be coming and going from the house.  Even being very diligent, it is hard to avoid having sand creep into the house from the entryways.

Before Applying Ice Melt to Wood or Composite Decking

Make sure to manually remove as much of the snow as possible.  Remember you do not need to remove all the snow off the deck.  The typical deck is rated to allow for up to 3 feet of snow accumulation on the deck before causing any structural issues.  This means you can focus on just creating a nice path to walk to and from.

Make sure to clean both the stairs and two entrances and exits so that you have adequate access to entering and leaving the house in case of an emergency.  It is wise during the fall to check your deck for any nails that are sticking up.  These nails should be nailed back down as they can make shoveling the snow off a real pain and may damage the shovel which will then be more likely to scratch the deck surface.  If the deck surface is scratched than those parts that are not properly sealed are more likely to absorb water and deteriorate faster.

Tools to Clear off Snow

  1. Use a plastic snow shovel to avoid damaging the decking. A metal shovel can work in a pinch, but you need be very careful how deep you allow the shovel go into the snow, and even being careful you will likely damage the wood at some point.
  2. A leaf blower is an excellent tool for removing a few inches of fresh snow. This is the most fun method of snow removal, when the snow is fresh and dry it will quickly blow off and you can easily clear a whole deck without much effort.
  3. A broom is an excellent way to sweep a path. If you only have a metal shovel to get the top layer of snow off it is advisable to switch to a broom for the last part to avoid scratching the surface.
  4. Once you have a cleared surface you can consider laying down a deicer to prevent the deck from freezing.

However, you don’t have to shovel your deck to protect the wood. The snow and melting water are not nearly as harsh on wooden or composite decks as some people believe.  If you have been properly maintaining your deck with a fresh coat of sealer in the summer months than you are prepared for the harsh winter weather.

Which Ice Melt to Use

Using an ice melt will work to keep your deck free from ice.  There is a chance of causing some damage so be cognizant of the following details when using ice melt on wood and composite decks.

The biggest problem with using calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, or rock salt on wooden steps or decks is that it will suck all the moisture out of the wood and can promote cracking on the deck because the wood shrinks and expands more than usual.  This shrinking and expansion when water is absorbed can cause nails to loosen and cause the wood to warp.

When your wooden deck is made from treated lumber, natural cedar, or spruce decking it is best to avoid the chemical-based products such as calcium chloride because it is easily penetrable into wood surfaces and can cause premature deterioration. Rock salt can be used on these surfaces to remove ice but is not recommended for prolonged exposure on wood surfaces and can cause the same damage as calcium chloride.

Ice that builds up can be exceedingly difficult to remove on composite decks and maintenance free decking manufacturers recommend using sodium chloride-based rock salt or ice melt with calcium chloride. It is an approved product for composite decking.

Another Alternative Solution

You can use other materials to disrupt the surface from freezing evenly.  Prevent ice buildup on 100% wood surfaces consider applying a thin layer of cat litter before the snowfalls.  This should not affect the wood and is easily swept off or rinsed away in the spring.

Ice Melt on Roof Shingles

Ice melt should never be applied to the roof of your house.  The most common high-performance ice melting products including magnesium chloride or calcium chloride will certainly melt the ice, but they also can cause staining of the shingles and lead to corrosion of the gutters, aluminum siding, or fasteners.

The best method for protecting the roof of your house is to build a snow rake that allows you to get the snow off the roof to lighten the load on the structure.  This is something that can be built for relatively low cost using a long PVC pole and your existing garden rake and some pipe clamps or zip ties in a pinch.  Use this long pole to disturb the snow on your roof so that it comes falling off the roof.

If your climate accumulates a lot of ice in your gutters you can consider protecting the gutters from freezing with ice melt.  While this will shorten the life of your gutter due to the corrosive nature of the salt or chemical based product you use, this is a better alternative than a gutter freezing, filling up and getting torn off the side of your home.

Get a pantyhose stocking or even a regular gym sock will work.  Fill the sock up with the ice melt that you have on hand and place in your gutter near the down spout.  This will help ensure that the area near the downspouts do not freeze over allowing the gutter to get filled up with water.

In Conclusion

Using a little ice melt to keep your deck and stairs safe to walk to and from your house is perfectly fine.  You can remove most of the issues with a little manual labor and being smart about the work you do.  You do not need to clear off the entire deck unless you feel that you will accumulate more than 3 feet of snow.  Focus on the paths that you will have to travel and leave the rest.

Keep your deck maintained with a yearly application of sealer or as needed based on the product you are using, and the occasional rock salt or ice melt product will likely not cause severe damage to the deck.  Fail to keep up with basic maintenance and over apply salt and ice melt and you will be replacing some boards sooner than later.  Don’t forget to keep the ice melt off the roof of your house, you do not want to damage your roof in the middle of the winter because of a random idea to throw ice melt up there, stick to a simple long pole rake to keep the snow from accumulating too high.