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Managing unusual ice formations

  • SIMA
- Posted: April 1, 2014
By Phil Harwood, CSP
In the snow business, it’s always better to be proactive than reactive, especially when it comes to managing risk and customer expectations. The minute you’re caught by surprise it’s too late. As their advisors, advocates and partners, customers expect you to be aware, informed and educated about potential issues. When those expectations are not met, not only are customers disappointed but it also exposes you to unnecessary risk. This is especially true when it comes to managing unusual ice formation on customers’ properties.

Snow & ice management professionals attempt to reduce the risk of ice formation in a number of ways: site monitoring, weather alerts, timely mobilization, deicer equipment and material selection and timing, quality control, etc. These are all important features of a professional snow management program. However, many tend to focus on the more obvious sources of ice formation - snow, freezing rain, etc. - and sometimes overlook the more unusual sources.

When ice forms as a result of unforeseen forces, contractors may find themselves in a reactive mode in which it is easy to become defensive, argumentative or even make excuses. But your customers expect you to be better than this.

As you will see in the examples that follow, the formations may not be all that unusual, but somehow they’re often overlooked. Each source should be included in your site assessment checklist and addressed specifically in your proposal and/or contract language.

Roof drains

Many residential and commercial buildings have drains that spill onto parking lots, sidewalks, loading docks and other problematic areas.

In my previous life as a snow contractor, we managed a condo complex with downspouts emptying onto every front entrance sidewalk. We were paid extra to apply deicers but it was a huge hassle, and these front sidewalks were constantly a problem. If our customer hadn’t been on our side, the situation could have been a nightmare.

Similar to the condo example, strip malls with roof drains that empty onto back parking lots are another common situation that’s often overlooked during the estimating process and ignored in discussions with the customer. When ice begins to form due to these roof drains, it may become not only a major liability issue, but also a potential point of contention between you and your customer.

roof drain

Snow accumulations on roofs are another source of ice formation on sidewalks, drive lanes and parking lots. As the weight of the snow increases on the roof, snow may shift and fall. This is especially common on slanted roofs. If snow doesn’t fall, it may begin to melt and drip. Either way, ice will form under the right conditions.

My company managed a large retail complex with pitched roofs that dripped onto the storefront sidewalks. Despite efforts by the property manager to control the situation, we were constantly dealing with snow and ice falling from the roof. In this situation we had to absorb the cost of additional services because of an unlimited seasonal contract. We also took on increased liability. Ouch.

Looking back on this situation, it would have been better to recognize the sloped roof and address the potential for ice formation in our contract. Because we did not, it affected our bottom line.

Pavement depressions
Many parking lots and drive lanes have slight depressions that hold water that will eventually freeze - maybe days after the last snow event or deicing application. The resulting slip and fall liability has your name written all over it unless you addressed it with your customer ahead of the season and in your contract.

I recall one property I managed with a slight depression in a VIP parking space. If there was ever ice in that small spot, it was the end of the world. We visited this property every morning just to check on this one small depression. 

ice depression 2 ice depression 1
Depressions can refreeze several days after the last service event.

Burst pipes
Sometimes pipes freeze and burst, resulting in major ice issues. I’ve seen this happen many times, always resulting in a crisis management situation, usually with the customer expecting this service to be covered in the contract as if it were a normal occurrence. I’ve seen the same thing happen with irrigation systems that were not properly winterized.

During emergency situations, we often don’t think about getting paid. However, it would be much better to be proactive and address this potential situation in your contract before it happens.

frozen pipe 2 frozen pipe 1
Frozen and leaking pipes and roof drains can cause unexpected slip-and-fall scenarios.

Liquid deicer
Liquid deicers may actually create ice under the right conditions and if not applied correctly. Proper understanding and training of deicing science, products, equipment and application techniques is the solution.

Again, it’s always better to be proactive than reactive. If you discover how to make ice with liquid deicer by accident, or by your customer informing you, it’s too late.

As they say, there’s never a problem until there’s a problem. When it comes to managing unusual ice formation on customers’ properties, be proactive. Customers expect this level of professionalism. Incorporating these steps into your snow & ice management program before next winter may save you from some otherwise unforeseen problems, and better position you as the snow professional you are.  
Phil Harwood, CSP, is president & CEO of Pro-Motion Consulting. 
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