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The Effect of Cold Weather on Concrete

By Sarah Etler - 10/14/22, 9:05 AM

How does cold weather affect concrete? Learn about the damage that can happen to concrete when the temperature drops below freezing and back up again.

Even though it’s only September and the idea of having to shovel your driveway and defrost your car probably isn’t yet on your radar, you should consider what a little proactive concrete maintenance could mean for you this winter season.

Here at A-1 Concrete Leveling, we’ve seen our fair share of winters after being in the concrete repair business for over thirty years. We’ve also seen the damaging effect that freezing-cold winters can have on concrete.

Tan house with Christmas wreaths and snow on the ground around it

This article will give you a rundown on how freeze-thaw cycles affect your concrete, the typical damage that comes from wintertime temperature fluctuations, and how to prepare your concrete to avoid freeze-thaw damage.

Freeze-thaw Cycles & Concrete

When concrete is exposed to fluctuation between above and below-freezing temperatures, called “freeze-thaw cycles,” irreversible damage to the concrete’s surface and integrity can occur.

In climates where the weather is constantly fluctuating above and below freezing throughout the winter season, freeze-thaw cycles are a major risk to concrete health. It’s not just the cold that causes issues, but rather the constant freezing and thawing that takes its toll on the concrete.

Here in Louisville, Kentucky, we can experience over 100 freeze-thaw cycles per winter.

Common Winter Concrete Damage

We typically see spalling and pitting, heaving, and cracking as a result of winter weather and freeze-thaw cycles.

Spalling and Pitting

Concrete is porous, which means it easily absorbs water. When that water freezes, it expands, which causes the concrete’s pores to pop. As the concrete’s pores pop over the course of multiple freeze-thaw cycles, they expose more and more surface area to potential cracking and surface damage, like spalling and pitting.

Concrete spalling is when the surface of the concrete begins to flake and chip away, leaving behind a rough and unsightly patch. Concrete pitting is similar; as the surface of the concrete begins to deteriorate, small holes or pits can form.

Concrete driveway with spalling surface damage

When the concrete begins to spall or pit, it’s virtually impossible to stop the damage from worsening due to the exposed porous interior. Once surface-level damage happens, there is no good way to reverse or conceal it. Sealing your spalling or pitting concrete can be a way to mitigate damage, but it isn’t a way to counteract damage already done.

The best method to prevent pitting or spalling is to maintain and treat your concrete before winter weather sets in. 

Heaving

As the temperature fluctuates throughout the cold-weather season, so does the position of your concrete. As temperatures drop, concrete and the soil around it shrink, causing your slab to move slightly.

The type of soil in your area can influence how much your concrete heaves. If you have a high clay content in your soil, like what is common in Louisville, Kentucky, it can shrink when it’s dry and expand when it’s very saturated. 

In addition, moisture in the ground freezes and expands, which can cause the concrete to rise or heave up out of its original place. Sealing up cracks in the concrete will keep excess moisture out of the area is a way to help prevent this type of issue from occurring and/or worsening.

Cracking

Water freezing within a concrete slab can also cause cracks to form. They often start as small hairline cracks, but as multiple freeze-thaw cycles occur, they can quickly become large and continue to grow as more and more water makes its way into the crevice.

Concrete cracks are not only bad from an aesthetic perspective, but they can also let excess water find its way under the slab, causing it to heave as the water freezes and expands. This expansion of moisture can cause existing cracks to widen and worsen, or cause other areas to crack and break, only compounding the damage.

Concrete slab with large cracks running through it

If cracks are left open to the elements and not sealed in time, the slab can experience quite a bit of heaving movement, especially in areas like Louisville that have constant freeze-thaw fluctuations throughout the winter.

Prepare Your Concrete For Cold Weather

The best way to mitigate cold weather damage to concrete is to be proactive. Cleaning and sealing your concrete and caulking existing cracks and breaks can prevent water from being absorbed into the concrete and expanding when freezing, causing the damage listed above.

Cleaning and Sealing

Power washing concrete to remove any stains, mold, build-up, or residue and provide a clean slate for applying a penetrating sealer which will help prevent damage caused by freeze-thaw cycles.

Sealing your concrete with a high-quality penetrating sealer will create a hydrophobic water barrier, causing water and other liquids to turn into droplets on the surface and dry or run off the slab instead of soaking into its pores. 

If water doesn’t have a way to enter the concrete’s pores in the first place, you won’t have to worry about damage from freeze-thaw cycles.

Learn more about concrete cleaning and sealing.

Caulking Cracks Breaks

If cracks in your concrete do occur, having them professionally caulked can help prevent them from getting bigger. At A-1 Concrete Leveling, we inject a special polymer caulk into the crevice to seal it off and prevent water from penetrating down into the cracks. 

If water can’t find its way into the cracks, it won’t have the opportunity to expand and cause more damage during a freeze-thaw cycle.

Learn more about concrete caulking and crack repair.

Summary

Now that you know how freeze-thaw cycles and cold weather affect concrete, you’re ready to take action and be proactive by protecting your concrete.

Cleaning and sealing and caulking cracks are both services offered by A-1 Concrete Leveling, so if you’re interested in a free consultation and estimate, click the link below to fill out a request form!

You can also access additional resources in our Learning Center, or check out these related topics:

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rkastor
Rich Kastor - Foreman

Rick has been with A-1 Cleveland East since 2015. He understands intimately how concrete slabs move, and what it takes to get them back in the right place. If he is on your job, you know it’ll be done right.
 

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A-1 Concrete Leveling, Inc.
(888) 675-3835
388 S. Main St. Suite 402b,
Akron, OH 44311