Winter Home Safety: Tips to Prevent Slips, Trips, and Falls

A lot of buyers will inspect a home’s closets, foundation, title history, and location, but many neglect to consider what it would be like to live there when the temperature drops.

When the first blizzard of the year hits, buyers who relocated to markets in Vermont or Massachusetts may experience buyer’s remorse. Some may even sell fast to a cash buyer and head for warmer climates.

Living in a snowy, icy climate doesn’t have to be unpleasant, much less unsafe. With a little know-how, you can keep your driveway and steps free from snow and ice no matter how cold it gets and avoid those embarrassing slips, trips, and falls.


The most treacherous winter slipping hazard is ice, but there are a number of ways to effectively remove it.

  • Rock salt. This classic, affordable de-icer melts ice in even the coldest weather by a clever chemical trick. When it dissolves, it disrupts the bonds between water molecules and melts the ice.

What many people don’t know is that salt is very corrosive, and if it gets into small crevices or holes in your driveway or sidewalk, it can cause serious damage over time. If you opt for this de-icer, experts suggest clearing it away once the snow or ice has melted.

  • Magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, and calcium magnesium acetate. These salt-adjacent de-icers offer various advantages. Magnesium chloride is non-toxic and safe for pets and the environment. Calcium chloride is not pet friendly, but it works very fast, so it’s good to have in a pinch. Calcium magnesium acetate, which is one of the main components of vinegar, is safe for pets, the environment, and is non-corrosive.
  • Urea. This non-corrosive substance, often used as fertilizer, is great for concrete and other level surfaces. Keep in mind that it’s toxic to humans and plants, and you don’t want it getting into local water in significant quantities. It’s also not very effective when the temperature drops below 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Rubbing alcohol. Alcohol has a very low freezing point, which is why it’s a prominent ingredient in many de-icers. If you need to de-ice a small area, such as a car windshield, door handle, or a few steps, the bottle of rubbing alcohol in your medicine cabinet can be a great de-icer in a pinch.

Natural anti-slip materials

If you’re looking for non-chemical safety measures, sand or sawdust can improve traction on slippery ice or snow. You can also try wood shavings, bird seed, or even non-clumping kitty litter. Most of these also work if your car gets stuck in snow. Sprinkle your substance of choice under the car’s tires, and it should have enough traction to move forward.

Heated mats

If you don’t want to apply de-icer every time it freezes, heated mats are an easier, but more expensive, solution.

A heating mat is a flat, electric mat that you unroll on your driveway or sidewalk when it gets cold. Some have timers or temperature sensors that will automatically activate at a certain temperature or time. Simpler ones turn on when you plug them in.

Heating mats are waterproof for safety and very durable because you’ll repeatedly drive over them through the winter. However, they’re expensive, with a single heating mat starting at well over a thousand dollars. Plus, you’ll pay for whatever electricity you use.

Heated driveways and sidewalks

The highest level of winter home safety and fall prevention is heated driveways and sidewalks. If you have heated bathroom floors, it’s the same basic idea, just beefed up for outdoor winter use.

These permanently installed heating systems are more convenient than mats. Instead of unrolling them on the driveway, plugging them in, and waiting for them to heat, you just flip a switch. They’re typically heated by a system of electrical cables or by a non-freezing water-based solution heated by a boiler, similar to a home radiator system.

Heated driveways do come with some drawbacks, though. The obvious one is price. Depending on the size of the system, a heated driveway can easily run into five figures, especially if you have to demolish your existing driveway to install the system. Similar to portable heating mats, there’s also the added utility cost.

Finally, there’s the difficulty of repairs. If a cable or pipe ruptures, your driveway will have to be at least partially dug up to access the part that needs repaired. This is a time-consuming and costly process, although having a comprehensive warranty can reduce some of the costs.

If you’re thinking of committing to a permanent heated driveway, make sure it’s worth the investment. There are many dependable sites where you can check your average annual snowfall.

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