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Do I really need to seal my type of concrete?

Exposed aggregate concrete is designed to be sealed, usually with a high gloss sealant to create that "Wet Look". One of the reasons it must be sealed is because of the open pore design of the surface. If it is left un-sealed, water and contaminants are able to easily enter the concrete and cause damage from freeze/thaw cycles as well as staining the aggregate. Stamped concrete is also designed to be sealed and like all designed concrete, it will require maintenance to protect its finish. The colour coat is extremely thin, so be very careful not to do irreparable damage with a pressure washer.

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What about all the other types of concrete?

It makes sense to maintain your concrete and avoid the substantial expense and hassle of replacing it after it becomes damaged. For concrete, sealing is a good preventative action to help prevent stains and damage from freeze/thaw as well as environmental hazards.

All types of concrete can be sealed with several different types of sealant to choose from. Even the mostly overlooked garage floor is a great candidate for protection. Your garage floor takes most of the punishment during winter months because your car drops salt and debris collected from the road and deposits it on the concrete where it attacks the surface often resulting in pitting, chalking, and flaking. If you own a vehicle that leaks oil you know how hard it is to clean off after a winter of leaking, even with a good pressure washer.

One popular type of finish for garage floors are epoxy based products that come with a very long service life and are available in many colours and can be installed with a grip surface to dramatically improve traction when wet. This type of finish is resistant to all oils, battery acid, and brake fluids and of course salt.

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How do I care for my concrete in winter?

You can help maintain concrete by shoveling the snow from your driveway, sidewalk and steps. By keeping the snow cleared, there is less chance that it will compact down freezing into the surface and accelerate the freeze/that cycle. However If you park on your driveway in the winter do not shovel your driveway totally bare. The reason being is that the salt that's on your car is actually a very corrosive road gel that will eat your driveway when it falls off or melts. With a little bit of snow on the driveway at least the snow will dilute it a bit, but if you can manage parking in the garage or on the road that is your best bet.

Once spalling occurs you really can't do anything it usually gets worst because water in capillaries of the concrete expands when frozen and contracts when it thaws. Thus making the concrete flake and brake off, unfortunately spalling is almost like cancer once you have it you can only slow it down; total eradication is impossible in most cases. The less number of times that water enters concrete and freezes, the less likely that it will become damaged. Use a plastic shovel instead of a metal one. Bent/sharp corners of a worn metal shovel can damage the surface of certain types of concrete.

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Is it okay to use salt as a de-icer?

The short answer is NO. Salt is very corrosive to concrete and will eventually, if not immediately, cause damage too many types of concrete. As for de-icers they all have their flaws and can damage you concrete. Do your homework.

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What about environmentally friendly de-icers?

There are four primary types of de-icing salts that all have different characteristics and are each designed to work in certain temperature ranges.

The most common de-icing salt is regular rock salt or sodium chloride. It is widely available and can melt snow and ice until the temperature drops below -8 C. Below these temperatures the rock salt stops melting snow and ice. Rock salt also releases the highest amount of chloride ions when it dissolves. Chloride can pollute water ways, rivers, lakes, and can also cause metal to corrode.

Calcium Chloride is another de-icing salt that is commonly marketed in tiny white pellets. It can melt snow and ice well below -17 C. It can cause skin irritation if your hands are moist when using it and will chemically attack concrete.

Potassium Chloride is another de-icing salt that is now available. It is not a skin irritant and will not harm vegetation but will only melt ice and snow when temperature is above -9 C.

The newest de-icing salt is Magnesium Chloride. It will continue to melt snow and ice well below -25C. This salt releases about 40 percent less chloride into the environment than either rock salt or Calcium Chloride. It can be less damaging to concrete surfaces of unknown or questionable quality.

The common property of all different types of de-icers is that they all seem to have the potential to damage concrete and some are harmful to the environment. Another potential problem with using a de-icer of any kind is the damage caused by increased freeze/thaw cycles. For example, when a product rated for -9 C melts snow and ice, it will enter the pores of the concrete as salty water. When the temperature drops below the rated temperature for that particular salt it can refreeze and expand in the pores of the concrete causing damage. Many types of salt de-icers are marketed as "Environmentally Friendly" but still will damage you concrete. Be careful when using these products and read the directions carefully.

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