It’s cold out there! Winter is here, and with it are freezing temperatures, ice, and snow! How have you managed thus far? If the first big winter storm of the season showed us anything, it’s that we cannot take winter preparedness for granted. With the risk of stronger winter storms in our area forecasted in years to come, we must all be prepared and understand best safety practices for adequately dealing with snow and ice.

Having a plan in place to clear hardscapes, whether they be roads, sidewalks, or walkways, can make all the difference. Below, we’ll share some of the eco-friendly, economically ideal, pet-friendly tips we’ve learned along the way, which we use as we provide a sustainable snow removal service provider.


 The first thing to keep in mind is that moving snow is hard work! That’s because it’s cold and heavy. The weight of snow, especially when it is compacted or wet, can quickly sneak up on an unsuspecting weekend warrior, especially one not accustomed to moving a high volume of heavyweight. Don’t get caught off guard, and plan to shovel the snow intermittently throughout the storm if we are anticipating 4+ inches. I use the term shovel loosely, because sometimes simply pushing it to the sides is the best approach. Explore tools such as “man-plows” that allow you to push the snow at an angle similar to how a plow truck works. This can enable more snow to be cleared with less effort than traditional shoveling.

Typical cues for physical exertion, like sweat, can be missed with the cold temperatures, and your heart can be forced to work overtime. So be careful, and treat it like a workout. That means hydrating, warming up your body, dressing appropriately in a hat, gloves, and good boots, taking timely and appropriate rest, and maintaining good posture to minimize the risk of injury. If you aren’t usually physically active outside, snow is not the best place to start, and it’s perhaps better to recruit someone to help you before the storm hits.

If you don’t plan to push the white stuff yourself, make the calls as early as you can, BEFORE the storm hits. Whether it is with the neighborhood handyman, the eager teenager down the street, or your landscape provider, set up your agreement early! Trying to line up help after the snow has fallen means you’ll be paying a premium in dollars and time.

The next question that you will need answers for is what de-icer will be used after a storm. De-icer is a combination of chemical “salts” that decrease the melting point of water, meaning water it mixes with will not freeze as it normally would. Typical de-icers vary in their melting point, which will mean some de-icers will not be effective if temperatures are below their rated melting point.

Assuming you have a good product in mind, be sure that the de-icer is applied BEFORE the storm. This is a critical point to ensure the product works properly by forming a layer of saltwater between the snowpack and the surface. This layer will ensure the snow melts faster and is less likely to develop into a slippery ice layer along with the concrete.

The alternative practice of applying de-icer atop the snowpack is a less compelling option that can result in overapplication of materials and unhealthy winter stormwater runoff storms that wreak havoc on local waterways not to mention vegetation next to those hardscape surfaces. Chemical burning is a common occurrence for which there are few solutions beyond removing affected areas and waiting for new growth in the Spring.

After a snowfall, it’s also important to consider our furry, barefooted friends. We’re proud to live in a dog and cat-friendly community, making pet-friendly de-icers a must. But unfortunately, many de-icers, including rock salt, can be highly corrosive and quickly dry and crack bare skin if exposed directly. If your four-footed friend is walking on your sidewalks or walkways, make sure to use a CMA (Calcium magnesium acetate) or similarly sensitive product. If you’re walking through town, plan to wash and wipe down paws with a wet washcloth as soon as you get home, as many municipalities opt for rock salt as their go-to product given its low melting point.

Another option is sand which is used as an abrasive additive for traction. However, it can counter the effect of a de-icer so remember not to mix them directly.

Now that we’ve covered the ‘what’ and the ‘how,’ we’ll look at the when. Removing snow in a reasonable time after snow has fallen will help prevent ice from forming. Be sure to clear walkways before the first melt-refreeze cycle that is almost guaranteed to occur once the sun comes out and solar rays begin to melt the snow. If you wait until after the sun sets, you’ll find that the bottom layer of snow has become ice, which if untreated, will be fused to the hardscape below. Needless to say, ice is much harder to remove.

If the risk of ice is insufficient to stir you to early action in snow removal, check your local ordinances. Most local governments require property owners to maintain private right-of-ways, including sidewalks and driveways adjacent to public roads if they are used by the postal service. Failure to do so can result in a substantial ticket and fine.


Our most recent snowstorm showed that many folks weren’t prepared. Snow shovels and de-icer were sold out, and more snow was on the ground than many people knew what to do with. If this was you, don’t let it happen again! Next time you’ll be ready, whether you are handling it yourself, or calling in reinforcements. 

Patrick Moran is the founder of TLC Design Co., an Alexandra-based small business located in Old Town, Alexandria. TLC has a professional team of landscape and construction tradesmen dedicated to offering clients sustainable solutions year-round. During the winter, our snow removal teams use environmentally-friendly de-icer and work with clients to pretreat sidewalks, walkways, and driveways to help ensure that snow and ice can be removed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Please reach out to us at 703-879-7091 or via email at, and we will be happy to be of service to you through future snowstorms and to help you prepare your property for the Spring season ahead.