By Scott Zorno, CSP
SIMA has been guiding the snow and ice industry toward use of liquids for anti-icing (pre-treat before the storm) and deicing (post-treat after the storm) for the last 10-12 years. Many small companies or companies that service low-snow markets have been reluctant to consider liquids. The expectation is that the learning curve is too steep and implementation is too costly. We will try to debunk those myths and bring some needed information to the case for liquids.
First, consider why you would change, even partially, from salt or dry melt products to liquid deicers. Here is a quick, common-sense thought: most municipalities, even in low snow areas, have some kind of liquids program. As far south as Nashville, TN, frost, ice and snow are mitigated by use of salt brine and other liquids. That may be one indicator that liquids are worth investigating.
Dual uses: Snow contractors can fill sidewalk sprayers using a pump connected to the truck’s liquid system.
How to get started
There are several ways to implement liquids, including many that don’t require you to break the bank.
Choose your sites. You can start with a test bed. Pick a couple of key customers. Start with your low-tolerance customers: hospitals, medical centers, high-population office buildings. Look geographically. Build a liquids program for all customers within, say, three miles of your base facility.
Research your options. Once you select your customer sites, find out what liquids are available to you. Many municipalities that make their own salt brine will sell it to commercial interests for a reasonable cost. Find out what your local municipalities use. Check with their production department (brine) or vendors (other products). SIMA has numerous members that sell liquid deicers by the 235-gallon tote and in bulk. Keep in mind that if you buy liquid in a tote you will need a forklift or skid steer with forks to move the totes.
You will also need to understand your location and weather to determine which product will work best in your market. Following are reported lowest operating temperatures for common liquids:
- Salt brine: 20°F
- Magnesium chloride: 0°F
- Calcium chloride: -10°F
Keep in mind that salt brine can be “heated up” or enhanced by adding magnesium or calcium chlorides or other products if your temperature only occasionally drops below 20°F.
Hone in on usage rates. You have your customer sites chosen, and the product selected by availability and temperature. Now you need to determine how much product you will need to get started. Begin with calculating the number of square feet you want to cover. Measure and calculate square footage of each site you want to treat. Add the area of all proposed sites together so you have a total area to cover per storm.
Following are some starting coverage rates for pre-treating with common deicers:
- Salt brine: 1 gallon per 600 to 700 square feet
- Enhanced brine: 1 gallon per 700 to 800 square feet
- Magnesium chloride and calcium chloride: 1 gallon per 1,000 square feet
These coverage rates assume good road surface with little weather checking or “gatoring.” Decrease coverage rate (use more liquid) for gatored spots, shady spots and high traffic areas.
Now you should be able to calculate how many gallons per storm you want to use to pre-treat and/or post-treat your customers’ sites. That number combined with your understanding of distance between jobs should reveal what equipment you need.
Evaluate equipment needs. Equipment may be the largest investment you make to start using liquids. You have some options to help mitigate the cost. First would be to do mostly sidewalks with either walk-behind spreaders (starting at about $450 each) or a sprayer mounted on a UTV. If roads and parking lots need to be treated, then a pickup sprayer is likely needed.
Be careful with DIY
If you are skeptical and want to start slowly, you can build a dribble system sprayer out of a tote and some plastic piping with holes drilled in it. The cost would likely be under $200. But you must use serious cautions with this system. You would have to drive quite slowly to get your coverage, and you will have a hard time knowing how many gallons you put on the ground.
Another option is to buy a simple gas engine trash pump and hook it to a tote with a plastic pipe output to a boom with holes drilled in it. This will improve your wheel speed but determining coverage with any accuracy will be hard.
When considering purchasing liquid application tools, look at them like you would a plow or salt spreader. You may not need or be able to afford the top of the line, but you need commercial quality. Good equipment allows you to more accurately dispense liquid at specific coverage rates. Knowing application rates you have used allows you to more accurately “tune” those rates by observing results and adjusting coverage.
In a low snow market it takes thought and engineering to stay profitable. It also creates more “low tolerance” customers because they are not used to snow-packed walks and roads. The customers are often more willing to let a contractor take more aggressive action, and will often pay a small premium for better results to keep their customers safe. Liquid anti-icing and deicing meets this need.
Why add liquids?
Here are the main considerations:
- Faster acting. Liquid in a deicing operation works dramatically sooner than dry salt so results show quicker. Dry product has to melt into a brine to work. Liquid eliminates that time lag.
- Reduced building maintenance for your customer. No white grains to track in or to sweep up after the storm. Tracking can be almost eliminated by the use of rubber-backed carpet mats on the entrance doors.
- Better for the environment. Chloride ions cause environmental issues. Use of proper salt brine, and magnesium chloride and calcium chloride solutions result in much less chloride in the ground at the end of the season.
- Lower equipment maintenance costs. Sprayers are much easier to rinse off after each storm and generally do not have to be emptied after each use.
- More stable. Manufactured liquids are much more stable than dry products when stored for long periods. Dry products clump and harden when left for any length of time, even in sealed bags, especially in high humidity locations. Liquids rarely need more than quick agitation even after sitting for a year.
Gravity: This setup is a good first step for low-snow markets. A tote holds the liquid, which is transferred to sidewalk sprayers.
Low-snow success stories
Following are examples of how Texas facilities successfully implemented liquids into their operations. These examples show the progression that can be taken for companies interested in expanding their liquids toolbox:
- Start with sidewalks. A Texas college was concerned about ice buildup on sidewalks between classroom facilities after an ice or snow storm (two or three per year). They purchased three sidewalk liquid spreaders and a tote of deicing liquid. They placed the tote of mineral brine (blended product) on a rack about 4 feet off the ground and gravity filled the sidewalk spreaders as needed. By pre-treating the sidewalks they could be scraped much more easily, and a post-treatment using the same walk-behind spreader would get rid of the bulk of the remaining ice/snow.
- UTVs a smaller equipment option. A large Texas hospital had similar concerns. They purchased two or three walk-behinds and added a sprayer to their utility vehicle. That enabled them to treat their sidewalks more quickly than the walk behinds alone. The filling system (tote on a rack) and product (blended product) was the same.
- Truck with spray system serves multiple purposes. A large teaching hospital in Texas was concerned about ice on key sidewalks and ambulance entrances. They also wanted to do treat the entrance apron to the multi-story parking garage. They had a ¾-ton truck in their service fleet, so they purchased a 205-gallon gas engine spray system and two walk-behind sidewalk spreaders. The truck spray system can self-fill from a tote on the ground (with no rack or stand). They can spray the entrance areas using the boom system on the truck and refill the sidewalk spreaders by “nursing” from the truck as well. The truck holds most of a tote but gives them a small reserve for post-treating.
UTV & sprayer: Once you’re ready to move beyond walk-behind sprayers, a UTV/sprayer unit can be a viable, low-cost option.
A quick look at how snow professionals view salt use
SIMA and Snow Business asked snow and ice management professionals to weigh in with their thoughts on salt use and its impact on profitability and revenue streams. The results reinforce Phill Sexton’s Industry Voice analysis on Page 2, which says contract types, liability assumptions, client demand, and an over-reliance on salt as a profit center are making it difficult to enact real change in terms of reducing salt use in the industry.
Scott Zorno, CSP, is Chief Operating Officer of HighCountry Spray Systems in Conifer, CO. He is a long-time SIMA member, supplier and member of the Snow Business Editorial Advisory Committee. Learn more at www.highcountryis.com or email him at email@example.com.
- >75% - Nearly all current contract types are structured in a way that incentivize salt use.
- 49% - Respondents who did not believe they could still achieve the contracted level of service on their clients’ sites if forced to reduce salt use.
- 28% - Few respondents are using site-specific tracking (either automated or paper) to gauge the amount of salt used. Most are still measuring inventory (e.g., number of hoppers filled, bags used, comparing bulk inventory pre- and post-storm).