Winter is here and so is the age-old question: should I clear the snow from my sidewalk?
To be completely honest, I had to do a little research on this, as I have been told “yes” as many times as I’ve been told “no” over the years. In short, the answer isn’t as clear cut as one might think, as there is a legal answer and there is also a risk management consideration.
For starters, the initial answer depends on the location of your residence. Some states have laws in place requiring the removal of snow and ice and, if you live in Ohio, you aren’t subject to such a law because there isn’t one in place. However, that doesn’t mean you are off the hook! A number of municipalities have taken it upon themselves to enact ordinances requiring property owners to clear snow and ice from sidewalks.
As an example, I live in a suburb south of Dayton, Ohio. While I was unable to find any law requiring the removal of snow in the township where I reside, I quickly found that the cities of Dayton and Kettering (a Dayton suburb) do have laws in place. Dayton passed a law in 2014 requiring that property owners or occupants clear snow and ice that accumulated on their property and, if it isn’t completed, the city may do it and charge the resident for the service. 
So, what if neither your state nor your local government requires that your sidewalk be cleared? This is where the risk management perspective comes into play. Rather than get technical and over-analyze the situation, you’d be best served by asking yourself a few questions:
- Does your sidewalk typically get a lot of use?
- What is the near-term weather forecast?
- Is it the right thing to do?
Mary Bonelli of the Ohio Insurance Institute authored a piece on Cleveland.com that discussed this topic. She ended the column by stating, “Regardless of legal implications, taking time to shovel to the best of your abilities shouldn’t be done because you have to, but because it’s the right thing to do.” 
While I agree that it is the right thing to do in many cases, let’s explore a hypothetical situation that is all-too-common in Ohio: One night, a lot of snow falls. The next day the temperatures warm up to the high 30’s/low 40’s, and then the temperature dips back into the teens the following night.
You’ve been given enough information to answer question #2 above. To answer question #1, let’s say you live in a development that gets a decent amount of foot traffic with people walking dogs, kids walking to school bus stops, etc.
So, let’s answer question #3: is it the right thing to do?
In my opinion, this will hinge on how effectively you can clear your sidewalk. If you use a snow shovel and leave a small amount of snow on the sidewalk, there’s a very good chance that this snow and the snow on either side of the sidewalk will start to melt when the temperature rises and the resulting water will collect on the sidewalk. Then, once the temps drop back into the teens, you’ve created a sheet of ice.
On the other hand, if you leave the sidewalk alone, there’s still a chance that some of the snow will melt and ice will form. However, there is still snow everywhere, which will, in turn, provide slightly better traction for anyone who chooses to walk outside in those conditions.
Or, let’s say you use a snow shovel and/or snow blower and then spread salt on the sidewalk. Many types of salt will work as long as the temperature is above 15 degrees Fahrenheit, but this can vary by manufacturer as well as the amount of salt that is used. If your usage of salt is effective in the conditions, then the sidewalk should remain in good shape after the re-freeze.
While I’m sure you were hoping for a clear-cut answer to this question, unfortunately, there are too many factors that contribute to the correct answer for your residence. Check your laws, think things through, and bundle up if you start to clear off your sidewalk!
Copyright © 2019 Central Mutual Insurance Company. All rights reserved.