Don’t let snow and ice get the better of you


Winter is not far off and on the Vineyard, that usually means a helping of ice and snow. The amounts vary from year to year, but having a plan in place to deal with ice and snow is a good idea.

Ice is powerful stuff and it can be expensive to deal with. It can lead to injuries, the freeze-thaw cycles can damage our property, and ice dams on roofs can cause water leaks and rot.

Not so long ago, a common method of splitting large stones in the winter was to drill holes, fill them with water and let the expanding, freezing water do the work.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts budgeted more than 48 million dollars for snow and ice removal for the fiscal year 2012, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

In some cases, home and shop owners can be legally required to remove ice and snow. A specific Tisbury town bylaw dealing with snow removal reads as follows:

The tenant, occupant, owner or agent of any building, or lot of land, bordering on any street where there is a sidewalk, shall within four hours after the ceasing to fall of snow thereon, if in the day time and if in the night, before eleven o’clock in the forenoon succeeding cause the snow to be removed. In default thereof upon complaint made by the select-men, shall forfeit and pay a sum as herein after named.

In 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overruled 125 years of legal precedent with the following decision, “It is not reasonable for a property owner to leave snow or ice on a walkway where it is reasonable to expect that a hardy New England visitor would choose to risk crossing the snow or ice, rather than turn back or attempt an equally or more perilous walk around it.” The court’s ruling held that all Massachusetts property owners must remove or treat snow and ice like any other dangerous condition on their property.

Whether it be for personal safety or to preserve our property, there are tried-and-true methods for handling that frozen stuff. Here are some suggestions, techniques, and methods that have worked for others.


Appropriate shoes or boots should be a primary consideration when attempting to traverse our icy, snowy landscapes. The addition of gripping devices can help. Short of snow shoes or crampons, those long toothed Himalayan climber style strap-on devices, there is a wide range of similarly cleated slip-ons, from mini-crampon like cleats, and rubber galoshes with short cleats to “Yaktrax,” metal springs attached to a rubber matrix that stretches to size over shoes or boots to increase traction.


Sometimes neighborhood kids are willing to be compensated for shoveling. It has been reported that in some rather strange and rare instances a families’ own offspring have picked up a snow shovel.

Snow shovels comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and weights. Look around for one that fits your shoveling style best. Some of the weird shapes can actually make shoveling easier. Shoveling while the snow is falling can make the job easier and can help keep the snow from bonding to the surface. Not only do you not have to move as much snow at one time but you have a better chance of preventing the icing that occurs when the snow becomes compacted.

Don’t pile snow next to foundations or walls, where melting water can re-freeze and cause cracks to widen, or against anything made of wood.

Snow blowers

Snow blowers are not very effective unless the snow is at least one and one half inches deep. There are three basic types, with differing uses and capacities.

Single-stage snow blowers are lightweight and maneuverable, have a rubber edge auger that gets very close to the pavement and handle wet, heavy snow very well. But they will not handle the hard, icy accumulation left behind at the end of your driveway by the snowplow, and are not suitable for gravel surfaces.

A two-stage snow blower is good for larger driveways or drifting snow. It has an auger that breaks up the snow and an impeller that throws it. Its skids adjust the height and therefore are good for gravel. Most are self-propelled.

If you have a lawn tractor, it may have a snow blower attachment. Check with the manufacturer.


Removing the snow is just the first step in the process of making driveways and walkways snow and ice-free. Ice does not just freeze on the pavement, it freezes to the pavement. Breaking that bond, or keeping it from forming in the first place, is the task of chemical de-icers or anti-icers.

A de-icer is a chemical agent that is spread on snow or ice. It does not melt all the snow; it seeps through to the surface of the pavement and melts the ice there, breaking the bond and making it easier to remove the snow.

An anti-icer is a chemical agent that is applied before the snowfall begins. It prevents the bonding, facilitating the removal of the snow and ice.

For many years, the most common de-icer has been rock salt. The indirect damage and environmental concerns were offset by its cost-effectiveness. Rock salt is cheap. It works at temperatures above 12 degrees F, but it’s tough on shrubs and grass and can eat away at concrete. Two other salts, magnesium chloride and calcium chloride, cost more but are less harsh (though still not great for plants) and work at much lower temps than rock salt (from 20 to 25 degrees below 0 F). These are more environmentally friendly and considerably more effective than salt.

Any de-icing chemical has the potential to harm the environment if misused. All must be used strictly according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Applying too much can damage vegetation. If you apply the chemicals as precipitation begins, their effectiveness is increased and the amount needed is diminished.

New technologies

Electric snow-melting systems use buried cables to heat surfaces such as sidewalks and driveways. They must be laid before concrete is poured. There are electric heat-conducting rubber mats that are a less expensive method. Hydronic systems use flexible pipes buried under concrete to circulate heated fluid that warms the surface. They too must be laid before concrete is poured.

Infrared lamps on poles targeted to warm up desired surfaces can also be effective. These systems are good for spot applications or remote walkways and require little time for warm-up. They are more easily installed but they consume more energy making them more expensive per square foot to operate when compared to the other systems.

Roof ice dams

Ice dams usually form when heat collects in an attic and warms the roof, and the eaves remain cold. Snow melts on the warm roof and then freezes on the cold eaves. As the ice accumulates along the eaves it forms a dam. Melt-water from the warm roof backs up behind it, flowing under the shingles and into the house.

A permanent fix for ice dams usually requires increasing the insulation, sealing, and ventilation in the attic. Short term fixes are removing the snow from the roof before it has a chance to melt and re-freeze, breaking the dam carefully in a few spots with a rake and using a de-icer to melt the dam, again in a few spots to allow for water runoff. The de-icer could damage plant growth beneath the eave.

One creative short-term solution is to fill the leg of a pair of panty hose with a de-icer. Lay the hose on the roof so it crosses the ice dam. The calcium chloride will eventually melt through the snow and ice and create a channel for water to flow off the roof.


A big snow can make the rural roads on the Vineyard impassable. Planning ahead may be the only way to get your name on the list of a plowing service and that may require more than one phone call.

Some construction and landscaping companies provide snow plowing services and there are individuals who armour their pick-up trucks with plows every winter. Ask around or call well in advance of the next snowfall if you think you will need plowing.