By Cheryl Higley
The salt accounting process measures how much salt was used over the course of the season and at which properties and will be important if your pricing is determined by the quantity of material used. If you don’t have a truck or loader scale, accounting for your company’s salt usage may require additional considerations to improve accuracy in your overall process. To accurately determine how much salt you are loading and using, you need to know how much salt your bucket holds.
Estimating truck loads
Depending on moisture content and granular size, salt weighs approximately 72 to 80 pounds per cubic foot. With 27 cubic feet in a one cubic yard, the result is 1,944 to 2,160 pounds per cubic yard. Therefore one ton of salt is approximately one cubic yard.
Assuming you buy from a reputable source, the bulk material you purchase is sold by weight and verified by a certified scale. Unless you have a loader or truck scale, you will need to account for the bucket’s volume as it relates to the weight of the salt when loading the truck. For example, a small skid-steer bucket may only hold two-thirds or three-quarters of a cubic yard of material.
If you are uncertain about how much material your bucket holds, go to a certified truck scale and weigh an empty truck; load with one scoop, and then reweigh the truck to determine how much material by weight your scoop contains. You could alternatively determine a 5-gallon bucket holds approximately 50 pounds of rock salt, and you could count the number of buckets it takes to fill your scoop.
Consider that each loader operator or driver that loads may not use equal or similar scoops. A less experienced operator may not heap their bucket – what does this mean for you?
Billing and invoicing pitfall
There are different ways to bill your clients for ice control. Some methods include charging within a fixed cost agreement, charging per occurrence or by the application, or invoicing by the unit applied. A fairly common method, unfortunately, is to bill by the ton applied.
While clients may ask for a “per ton charge” and expect to billed based on the amount of material applied, billing by weight implies that you know exactly how much material was applied on their property. Unless you have access to a certified scale, you are illegally charging your clients for material since you cannot legally estimate weight in commerce.
If you must bill by a unit applied, adjust from a measure of weight to using volume, such as cubic yards applied, or simply refer to salt applied as “units applied.” Some client education may be in order, and they should appreciate that you want to bill them in an ethical and legal manner.
Billing by the ton or unit may also lead to improper or overbilling. There is a built-in incentive for the contractor to bill more when billing by the unit regardless of how much material is being applied. Rounding up or adding material to the bill is clearly dishonest, regardless of the justification that is used. Does the client “ask for it” when they take the artificially low bid only to be charged additional tons or units to make up for the low cost? Teach the client about the option for fixed cost or per occurrence invoicing. While the basis for a per occurrence charge assumes a certain amount of ice control product, the actual application rate will vary depending on the storm, but the billing will remain the same. If necessary, you can always prorate and charge less than a full application if you feel appropriate so that the client is not overbilled. Honesty will go a long way with your clients in building healthy and long lasting relationships.