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Road map to liquids

  • SIMA
- Posted: April 1, 2015

By Debora Babin Katz

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” 

When talking with companies about why they haven’t tried to incorporate liquids into their snow and ice management program, most cite fear of failure, inadequate performance, and cost. Industry veterans who use liquids point out that it is an educated trial-and-error process but, once learned, can offer significant advantages. Following is a simple “roadmap” on how to begin the process of implementing liquids in your organization.

Your initial investment doesn’t need to break the bank. A homemade “dribble-type” spray system can be constructed for several hundred dollars to test the concept of liquid applications, says Scott Zorno, CSP, of Care Enterprises in Colorado. Output is hard to calibrate, however, which can lead to poor performance or wasted product. To get started, Zorno recommends a gas-powered spray system with a truck-width boom. “Matching spray head volume per minute and pattern to allow reasonable forward speed is critical. So is pump operational pressure,” he says. As contractors gain experience, they may expand to a calibrated system and eventually a larger truck-mounted tank with gas engine and multiple spray units that can handle two- and three-lane widths. Other options are sidewalk liquid sprayers, direct injector spray systems to saddle up to current salt spreaders, and combination liquid and solid systems.

Buying Tips

  • Are the components made in North America and easy to repair or replace?
  • Is the system well integrated or do features seem to be tacked on as an afterthought?
  • Does the manufacturer support other uses for the system, such as dust control or weed spraying?
  • Is calibration information readily available?

There are several types of brines - natural, blended and manufactured, says Shannon Shaw, ASM, of Ice and Snow Consulting in Ohio. What type of brine you use depends on precipitation, temperature, cost and necessary level of service.

“When the industry speaks of brine, they often are referring to a sodium chloride-based solution that may or may not have other additive chemicals to enhance performance,” Zorno says. “However, much of the spraying industry uses a magnesium chloride or a calcium chloride solution that works at colder temperatures and usually has anti-corrosion additives.”

Contractors can make their own brine relatively inexpensively if they have the appropriate sized space and resources (e.g., labor, salt, water sources, and electrical and gas systems).

Commercially made mag or calcium chloride brines offer product consistency and cost from $1 to $5 per gallon depending on location and the product, Zorno says. Brines that mix mag, sodium, and calcium chlorides are known as well brines. “Each well is different in its blend but these can often be a great source of lower cost liquid without having to make it yourself,” he adds.

Shaw says contractors who purchase brine may face a different set of challenges: “You will need storage capacity, and product delivery can sometimes be a challenge.” Zorno recommends a large poly storage tank and purchasing the liquid by the tanker truckload (1,500 to 5,000 gallons at a time). Investing in a storage tank allows for a readily available supply and consistency of product.

When it comes to liquid applications, calibration and proper application rates are paramount. Factors that will change application rates include (a) exceptionally cold temperatures with heavy snow; (b) surface quality (there will be product loss on “gatored” or cracked pavement); and (c) precipitation type.

For a pre-treat/anti-icing scenario, basic application begins with either the manufacturer’s recommendations or the one gallon per 1,000 square foot rule of thumb. “Look at the quality of the pavement and any topological issues such as shady spots, heavy use ramps, elevated roadways, and modify the coverage as needed to come up with a test treatment coverage rate,” Zorno says. “Adjust your pump pressure and truck speed to get coverage at or near what you determined in your test.”

Liquids can also be used for deicing but require knowledge of different spray heads, pump pressures, etc. “In the case of heavy traffic and hard, compact snow, changing to a stream or “pencil tip” spray head and increasing the pressure will penetrate the hard pack quickly and leech under it, causing the pack to break up with further traffic,” he says. “Often a follow-up plowing will finish the job.” 

Money saver: If buying used equipment to lower the initial cost of investment, make sure it is in good working order and meets your needs. “Many high-pressure pumps (tree or ag sprayers) will not push a liquid like mag chloride at cold temperatures,” Zorno says, adding that the same is true of electric motor systems. A gas engine with a centrifugal pump is a must, he says.

Money saver: Reuse liquid tanks or totes. Make sure to clean after each use and use lids to out keep water and debris.

Money Saver: Liquids follow the path of least resistance. Check for low spots, holes in pitched areas, open valves, cracked tanks, cracked pipes, loose fittings. “You can leave the shop with a full tank and be empty by the time you get to your first site,” Shaw says. 

Tip: A brine maker can be made utilizing two 275-gallon plastic liquid totes with an electric pump to create agitation. Municipalities often make brine in quantity and may be willing to sell it to a contractor.

Tip: Shaw recommends using a surface area to test and monitor liquid products and establish guidelines for applications and events. “Track all applications and document for future events and training,” he says. It’s important to keep good records with each storm to fine-tune your liquid application process.
Debora Babin Katz is chair of the Snow Business Editorial Advisory Committee and vice president of TrucBrush Corporation. Contact her at

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