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How to Melt a Large Pile of Snow

Molly Thompson

Seasonal songs regale us with images of winter wonderlands, sleigh rides and snowmen, while kids around the country long for at least an occasional snow day. But when the snowfall is nonstop and begins piling up in small mountains in the streets, parking lots and your front yard, "snow" soon becomes a four-letter word.

Snow removal can be a major problem for both home and business owners.


Consider commercial equipment for removing extremely large piles of snow. These are cost-prohibitive for most individual homeowners, but might be feasible if the cost is split among all residents of a neighborhood or store owners of a strip mall, for example. Options include having the snow loaded into large trucks for removal and dumping in another area, loading the snow into vehicles equipped with large melting pans or purchasing a custom-designed thermal snow-melting system that circulates heat through the snow pile using hoses or piping.

Waiting for the sun and warmer temperatures works eventually, but if you want the large piles melted before spring, there are a few simple steps you can take.

  1. Cover the pile of snow with large black plastic tarps. The dark color draws in available heat from the sun and acts as a thermal blanket, causing the snow to melt more quickly than it would if left uncovered. Large dark-colored plastic garbage bags can be used if you do not have a tarp.

  2. Use a snow shovel to break up whatever remains of the large pile into smaller segments. Large quantities of snow serve to insulate the snow deep in the pile, slowing the melting process. Smaller piles of snow melt more quickly as the temperature rises and the sun shines.

  3. Spread commercial ice-melt products over any remaining piles of snow to speed the melting process. Select environmentally safe products to prevent corrosion of the underlying pavement or damage to any parts of the lawn under the snow pile. Most commercial products contain some combination of chloride-based salts. These are generally safe for paved surfaces, although they can have corrosive effects on vehicles and may be harmful to vegetation. Another option, calcium magnesium acetate, is both effective and biodegradable. It also is far less corrosive to vehicles and lawns than the chloride-based products. Its cost may be prohibitive for all but small spaces, however, since it can cost 20 times more than standard ice and snow melts. Urea-based products, such as fertilizers, are sometimes used to melt snow and are not harmful to underlying grass; however, the chemical runoff from such products can contaminate the water supply.