By Cheryl Higley
The past few years have brought the use of liquids into the forefront as snow contractors look for ways to minimize salt use and improve performance. Several respondents of the 2015 Snow Business State of the Industry survey said they were reticent to implement liquids; yet for those who are on the fence, others have embraced liquids and shared their experiences on building liquids into their ice management toolbox.
Education and training
Jumping into liquids shouldn’t be taken lightly – there are costs involved in terms of labor, equipment and materials, not to mention researching the processes to ensure return on investment and proper use.
Doug Knott, CSP, of Knott’s Land Care in Amherst, NH, has been investing in liquids for six years, but it took approximately five years from his first introduction to liquids to begin applying directly to the driving and walking surfaces.
“This was primarily due to financial and operational limitations,” he says, noting that the company began with purchasing pretreated sodium chloride, then treating it themselves, then adding pre-wetting systems to the spreaders and finally applying directly to surfaces. “The goal was always to apply directly to the driving and walking surfaces. The other methods were steps toward that goal.”
Ed Wigfield, of EMI Landscape in Macungie, PA, has been using liquids to prewet at the spinner for just over a year. He said he researched the costs before purchasing the equipment and also sought the opinion of his peers.
“There were mixed opinions, but this whole industry is about risk. You do your best to manage that risk but you have to be willing to try new ideas. The results we had last year were encouraging enough to continue perfecting our usage,” he says.
Michelle Berg-Wotton, manager and controller of Livingstone Landscaping Ltd. In Brandon, Manitoba, says the company saw the use of liquids as a competitive advantage since so no one in their market had embraced them.
Based on conversations with peers and research that included cost and products that could accommodate the wide swing in temperatures in the market, the company ended up with a mix of brine making and purchasing a heavier product that works to a lower temperature.
“We researched the benefits and spoke to other SIMA members and noted the benefits of this option,” she says, noting they spent the first year testing products before implementing in the second year.
Trial and error
Part of the education process is to experiment with using liquids in a variety of situations, which can take time to perfect.
Mike McCann, CSP, of the Snow Plow Group in Brighton, MI, says the company’s first foray into liquids was passing at best.
“We tried it on a few occasions but like a lot of contractors had very little information on how to use liquids correctly. By the time we got serious, we started building our own units and are always tinkering with ways to make them better and more cost effective,” he says, adding that his brother spearheaded the development of the company’s brine system.
“He worked with our operations manager by simply trying new techniques, new spray tips, different application rates, etc. They used a retail site that we serviced that was 200 yards from our shop so it was very convenient to use it as a test case. It took a couple of years of documenting everything they did but they were able to show the effectiveness of salt brine as a deicer.”
Scott Mozdian of Allen & Scott Enterprises in Avon, IN, noted the importance of relying on your vendors and SIMA to help in the process. “It took us about 1 to 1.5 years to get a real handle on it, from working with our vendor, trial and error, and attending as many classes that SIMA could offer,” he says.
Adam Mahon of Mahon Property Maintenance LLC in Louisville, OH, says his company started using liquids last year after tiring of high salt prices. Based in a hyper-competitive market with a lot of downward pricing pressures motivated him to save money and provide a better product with better margins for his company.
He started small to see how they worked before investing in more expensive sprayers and trucks.
“I did a lot of reading and networked with other pros in other markets and bounced ideas off each other; We helped each other by tweaking mixtures and application rates,” he says. “We were very skeptical to start, but we achieved the results we expected for the most part.”
Knott says that while he always trusted the company would achieve the desire results, it did take some persuading for his employees: “The staff was a bit skeptical of the direct application method due to the fact that it was a change and there was concern of producing the brine correctly.”
Mark Schlutt, CSP, of M.A.A.C. Property Services in Niles, MI, says the company has been using liquids in some form for the past 10 years but steadily for the past three. He says the company had to work to overcome obstacles to client buy-in.
“We explained that it would limit the bonding of snow and ice to the pavement and we would ultimately be using less solids,” he says. “The local management saw the benefits but upper management did not see the need of spending money ahead of time. So for a few years we did very little with liquids.”
The tide turned when Schlutt started working with medical facilities that saw the benefit of pretreating from a liability standpoint. “We have overcome the resistance to liquids by selling it from a liability standpoint that we are doing all we can to keep the property safe for the public,” he says.
Jason Cox, of Len Cox & Sons Excavating in Crest Hill, IL, says educating the clients to the option given the salt supply shortages was key: “They knew there would be trial and error, but they were concerned; we had to ask them to trust us."
Cheryl Higley is editor in chief of Snow Business magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.