28 Jan 2024

The Icy Grip: How Freezing Water Affects Concrete Sidewalks

0 Comment

As a home inspector, I have had the privilege of assessing the condition of numerous residences, both old and new. Years ago, when I was building houses, I was inside installing trim, and it was an extremely cold day during the winter. When I looked out the window, I noticed that a contractor was pouring a driveway and sidewalks, and the temperature was way below freezing. As many know, when concrete is mixed during cold weather, they can add various chemicals help, such as:

  • Accelerators: Accelerators speed up concrete’s setting and hardening time, allowing it to gain strength more quickly. This is particularly important in cold weather, as it reduces the risk of the concrete freezing before it can set properly.
  • Air-entraining agents: Air-entraining agents introduce tiny air bubbles into the concrete mix, which act as internal insulators. These air bubbles help to reduce the risk of the concrete freezing and thawing, which can cause cracking and deterioration.
  • Water reducers: Water reducers help reduce the amount of water needed in the concrete mix, which can help prevent freezing. They also improve the workability of the concrete, making it easier to place and finish.
  • Antifreeze admixtures: Antifreeze admixtures, also known as freeze-point depressants, lower the freezing point of the concrete mix. This allows the concrete to remain unfrozen at lower temperatures, giving it more time to set and harden properly.

The contractor made a huge mistake and had them add water to the mix before pouring it, and when he poured it, it was like thick soup! This was in the mid-morning, and late that afternoon, they were still working the concrete to get it to set up. Needless to say, it didn’t work. As I watched from the window, they took large rolls of plastic and covered it up because it was getting dark and going to be an extremely cold night.

The next morning, I watched them try to remove the plastic, but it was frozen to the concrete! As they stood there with their customer, he realized they would simply have to remove it all and start over. So they jack-hammered all the concrete out and repoured after it warmed up.

Concrete, a versatile and durable material, may appear impenetrable at a glance. However, it’s not entirely immune to the forces of nature. The weather can create havoc in concrete. When water lingers on concrete surfaces, such as sidewalks, it creates a threat during chilly winter months. Allow me to explain the scientific phenomenon behind it!

When we did concrete work, the question was often asked, “Can you guarantee it will not crack”? The answer I always gave was that I can almost guarantee that it will happen at some time because it is not in my control.

Expansion and Contraction:

Water is a unique substance that expands when it freezes. This simple process can wreak havoc on unsuspecting concrete sidewalks. Through a series of freeze-thaw cycles, the water trapped within the concrete’s pores expands, exerting significant pressure on its structure. Over time, this repeated stress can lead to some potentially costly issues!

Cracks and Fissures:

The primary concern for homeowners lies in the formation of cracks and fissures on their concrete sidewalks. As the ice expands, it puts immense pressure on the concrete, easily exceeding its tensile strength. This pressure weakens the surface, making it vulnerable to cracks. Subsequent freeze-thaw cycles deepen these cracks, eventually causing larger fissures that necessitate repair.

Uneven Settlement:

Beyond cracks, another consequence of freezing water in concrete is uneven settlement. As sidewalks endure the freeze-thaw cycle, the shifting and displacement of water underneath can disrupt the stability and evenness of the concrete surface. This can lead to sunken or raised areas, resulting in potential trip hazards for pedestrians.

Marginal Deterioration:

Though concrete typically fares well against freezing water, the process is not entirely without consequences. With each freeze-thaw cycle, particles within the concrete may become dislodged, leading to marginal deterioration. This gradual degradation can weaken the overall structure, making it susceptible to more significant damage over time.

Preventive Measures:

As a vigilant homeowner, you’re surely wondering how to safeguard your concrete sidewalks from the detrimental effects of freezing water. Don’t worry; I’ve got you covered! Here are a few preventive measures that can help you protect your investment:

– Ensure proper drainage to prevent water accumulation.

– Seal your concrete sidewalks regularly to prevent water penetration.

– Clear snow and ice promptly to minimize prolonged exposure.

– Limit the use of deicing agents, as they can exacerbate the freeze-thaw cycle.


Understanding the impact of freezing water on concrete sidewalks is crucial in maintaining the structural integrity of your homes. By recognizing the potential consequences and implementing preventive measures, you’ll protect your investment and ensure the safety of your loved ones. As your trusty home inspector, I hope this blog post has shed some light on this topic and provided you with valuable insights. Stay vigilant and stay curious – until we meet on the next educational journey!

Call us today at 270-485-2662/270-702-7804 or www.proviewinspections.info for your home inspection needs. Check out our Blog while you are at our site for additional information. #whatsinyourcrawlspace #wehaveyourback #BigCrawler #inspectedonceinspectedright #certifiedhomeinspector #owensborohomeinspector #inspectyourhome #homeinspector #homeinspectors #jagoehomes #thompsonhomes #customhomes #newconstruction

Home Inspector# 102061


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *