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Exploring the benefits of brine

  • Dale Keep
- Posted: December 1, 2014
Surveys conducted in the fall of 2013 and this summer point to a trend of increased liquid use by the private commercial sector.


The public sector has long been a proponent of liquid use. The larger agencies have typically invested in brine making equipment, and the smaller agencies often purchase brine from them. Often smaller agencies anticipate the day when their budget allows them to buy a quality brine maker, since it can be more cost-effective to make quality salt brine than to buy it.

The commercial contractor market is moving in the same direction as the public sector, but lags in both the understanding and acceptance of liquid deicers. This may partly be due to the capital investment needed for the equipment to produce and/or apply it. Yet, as demonstrated by the overwhelming response to the Salt Summit forums sponsored by SIMA and held at the TrynEx facility in Madison Heights, MI, commercial contractors are now serious about the use of liquids.

Larger service providers in the private sector market have been on board with the use of liquid deicers for some time, either because they were in a better position to make the necessary investment to get started, showed insight that makes them a forward-thinking company, or both. I now see smaller commercial contractors making the investment into the use of liquids. Some will make and apply liquids, while others will buy the liquid product but are purchasing the equipment to apply it.

Brine making challenges
Less expensive brine makers (purchased or home-built) often create inherent challenges. Making quality salt brine is more than just putting salt into a tub of water. It can be done that way to a degree, but it’s slow, costly and wasteful, and the production levels are too low for practical purposes. Those that have tried this approach have often done so with much frustration. I have been involved in repairing or even totally reworking these systems to salvage them and make them usable. Issues have ranged from not knowing how to use it to the best of its often limited ability to actually having been trained to do things wrong by the provider. Other challenges include design/connection nightmares causing leaks, siphoning, spills, etc. Once the repairs and/or modifications are made, then training is often required to undo the previous “training,” while teaching how to use the system to the best of its ability. Producing and using poor-quality brine comes with a number of “educational opportunities” that you are better off missing.

Common mistakes
There are a number of things to consider when getting into salt brine making. Some key points that are often overlooked include:

Water flow
- Know how much water is actually available for making salt brine before you purchase a brine maker. It does no good to buy a high-priced, high-output brine maker rated at thousands of gallons per hour of output if you can’t feed that much water into it. Remember, you can only get out what you put in! Step one should always be to know how much water you have or can obtain (gallons per minute or gpm) and at what cost.

Knowing the reality of current water availability and cost compared to the cost of increasing the flow, if even possible, is a huge factor in making the right decision. It may be better to purchase a quality brine maker designed specifically for your situation than to spend money on upgrading the water system.

Facility requirements - A good liquid deicer program must include room for making or the delivery of the liquid deicer(s) or its ingredients, storage, and for loading of the finished product(s). How are you going to deal with the space and traffic flow required for this?

Pumps - The movement of liquid deicers requires pumps, and some thought as to where they will be located, how they will be plumbed in, and how they will be utilized is vital. It’s also good to have pumps of the correct ratings for the intended use and with the right seals.

Brine maker clean out
 - When making salt brine, the ability to clean out the brine maker on a regular basis is essential to constantly making quality brine at a reasonable pace. Don’t take this issue lightly; make sure you fully understand how you are going to clean the brine maker and what it will take.

With a properly built system, this could be as easy as opening a valve and pushing a button, while other systems may require disconnecting things and tipping it over or getting in and shoveling it out. Regardless of the approach you prefer, make sure you understand what is necessary to clean the system you intend to purchase.

Quality control - When using a liquid deicer, quality control is essential. Whether buying or making it, make sure the quality of the product used is as high as it can be. To accept less is to accept higher costs and reduced benefits from its use.

There are many systems out there, and the best one for you is the one that best fits your needs. Do some research before buying a brine making system. Recent survey results and years of experience from those using liquids confirm what I and others have been saying for a long time: “Regardless of the availability and price of salt, integration of liquid technologies is essential to optimizing operational efficiency and remaining competitive for most commercial contractors.”  

  • Research products and understand your company’s production capabilities before undertaking brine making operations.
  • Deciding to implement liquids is the first step, but don’t underestimate the time, effort and expense that will be involved to do it correctly.
  • Do not settle for poor-quality brine, whether you purchase it or make your own.
Dale Keep owns Ice & Snow Technologies, a training and consulting company based in
Walla Walla, WA.
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