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Getting your feet wet - using liquids

  • SIMA
- Posted: April 29, 2016
By Sam Edmonds, CSP

Winter contractors are special people. Whereas most people avoid the harsh qualities that accompany winter, we face them head on, recognizing the earning potential that exists. I have always found the practice of snow removal the simple part. Removing snow off of parking lots, driveways, roadways or sidewalks requires the proper equipment and manpower (finding both isn’t so easy!) as well as a clear plan of action determined by contractor and client.

The greatest challenge lies in ice control and making the service areas safe for pedestrians and/or cars and protecting our company from litigation. Add to this the lack of cost-effective options for snow/ice melters and the unpredictability of winter leaves many contractors in a precarious position.  

Despite its limitations, salt is generally the cheapest and most effective option for ice control. Other options, such as calcium and magnesium chloride, have proven to be more effective, particularly at lower temperatures, but carry a significant cost increase and are primarily sold in liquid form. Cost alone is enough of a deterrent for most contractors, but the inability to utilize liquids effectively is also a major hurdle. 

The University of Waterloo’s report “Optimal Snow and Ice Control of Parking Lots and Sidewalks” is an excellent resource, and its field results have shown a 20% decrease in salt used when pre-wet. Numbers don’t lie, and a 20% reduction provides a solid return on investment. Add to this the fact that pre-wet salt is more likely to stick to surfaces (reducing bounce and scatter) and certain liquids allow salt to work at lower temperatures, and it creates a solid case for the use of liquids combined with solid rock salt.  

Halifax, Nova Scotia has undertaken an impressive initiative with liquids (primarily brine) the past several years and continues to utilize it in both pre-wetting and direct liquid application (DLA). Their strategy includes using DLA before a storm in order to break the bond between the asphalt and snow/ice and pre-wetting their salt during and after the storm to reduce the amount of salt used. Their website is user friendly and dedicates an entire page on salt management explaining the benefits. 

Getting started
An initial capital investment is required when adding liquids to your arsenal. This is the primary reason many contractors do not bother to follow through. We have all heard the saying: “You have to spend money to make money,” and that statement holds true here; however, that initial investment needn’t break the bank. Purchasing a pre-wet system for your salters is an ideal place to start and comes at a manageable cost. Truck-mounted tanks are great for hand crews but you must ensure the pump system won’t be compromised by the high concentration of salt. Some of that investment will be offset by the cost savings you’ll earn by using less product to achieve the same or better results.

Once you’ve decided to add liquids, you must decide how to source the supply. The options are simple: commit to setting up your own brewing system in house or outsource to a local supplier who can provide liquid brine and or other liquids wholesale. With the second option, you can figure out your liquid strategy and focus your investment on pre-wet systems for salt trucks and truck-mounted tanks with a pump/spray system for hand crews. 

Train the team
Education and training are the next steps in the process. At this point, education should be well under way due to the research required to purchase the right equipment. Training yourself and your team will require dedication and effective communication to promote the reasoning behind liquids. 

Develop a booklet or fact sheet outlining the direct benefits that can be attained. This will give your company the basic outline needed to initiate new education and training for existing and future employees. Once these are in place and proper equipment has been purchased, the hands-on portion can commence by calibrating the salters and completing training exercises for everyone who will be using the equipment.  

I recommend referring to the earlier referenced University of Waterloo report. It provides recommended application rates and adjustment factors for different scenarios. The report includes guidelines and recommendations that provide a starting point for those committed to learning the science behind snow and ice control and integrating liquids into their operations. 

Now, the ball is in the contractor’s court. Combining solid rock salt with a liquid deicer such as brine or calcium/magnesium chloride creates a highly effective tool to combat snow and ice while decreasing the amount of salt used. It can be tempting to rely on the tried-and-tested method of simply clearing the snow and then using as much salt as needed to achieve bare pavement. However, an over-reliance on salt makes it hard to control costs and compounds environmental issues. Education and training can help control costs and opens a wide range of ice control options. Spend the time to train your crew on the benefits that can be attained through use of liquids when combined with rock salt or alone, and you will undoubtedly save your company money well into the future. 

Breaking into liquids

Step 1: Make the decision to use liquids. Take the time to research liquids and their attainable benefits.

Step 2: Create a budget for liquids implementation. Brine is the cheapest option. Magnesium and calcium chlorides carry increased costs but are much more effective at lower temperatures. Combining brine with either magnesium or calcium chloride increases the liquid’s effectiveness at lower temperatures. 

Step 3: Research what your company can realistically implement and identify suppliers. Liquids are available wholesale across Canada and the United States.

Step 4: Determine whether you will make your own or outsource. The initial capital cost can be daunting but it will set you up for the future. It also may enable you to become a supplier for local contractors.

Step 5: Train your team and educate your clients.
Step 6: Practice with application rates prior to going live with liquids.

Step 7: Assess and document your results so you can adjust as necessary. Ensure your operators know how to properly record the information so results are as accurate as possible. 

Step 8
: At the end of the season, see how much cost savings were achieved. Can you use some of those savings to reinvest and grow your program? 

Sam Edmonds, CSP, is president of Sotiris Enterprises Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia. Sam has been working in the snow and ice industry for 10+ years and has held the CSP designation since 2011. Contact him at

Thumbnail photo for article by JOSEPH MCDONALD
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