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Materials and Choices

checkmark@2x     Materials & Choices

Historically, snow and ice removal has been achieved with the use of chemicals, plows, shovels and other equipment. Understanding the difference between anti-icing and de-icing can yield insight into the different approaches utilized by professional snow removal services. Professional services do not always rely on one approach or tool for all storms, and use a variety of tools to maintain the safest conditions possible during the season. A main goal for a professional service provider, which benefits both the property manager and the contractor, is to reach a designated level of service as quickly and efficiently as possible. Any information in this section is very general, only a trained and qualified snow and ice professional should make decisions regarding what material to use on a specific location.

What is Deicing?

Deicing is the reactive application of snow & ice melting products on driving or walking surfaces, to melt existing hard pack and/or remaining snow and ice on the surface. Deicing is typically performed after snow removal operations or during ice events, and many times, depending on temperatures and time of applications, requires multiple applications to effectively melt all surfaces if Anti-Icing (pre-treating) methods are not employed.

What is Anti-Icing?

Anti-icing is the pro-active application of ice and snow melting products on driving or walking surfaces prior to a snow or ice storm sometimes referred to as ‘pre-treating’. Anti-icing applications prevent snow and ice from bonding to the pavement which helps prevent hard pack and buildup of snow and ice from forming, and allowing snow and ice to be cleared more easily. When applied properly, anti-icing applications are a safer and more cost-efficient option to combine with de-icing applications vs. only de-icing.

Most Common Materials Used

Sand: Although sand can provide some amount of traction, it technically is not a de-icing material. Sand does not have any properties that melt ice or snow. A common misconception is that sand is the best alternative for snow and ice control due to its low cost and common use. However, sand by itself is not the best method to create a safe condition for pedestrians and motorists. Recent studies from a variety of environmental and government agencies find that sand applied in high concentrations (such as for snow & ice control purposes) can create a negative impact during the drainage process into fresh water resources.

Salt: Sodium Chloride, or rock salt, is the most commonly used salt and is generally effective, though not in all conditions. A knowledgeable snow and ice management professional will know when and how to apply the right amount of material to create a safer environment for your property. In very cold conditions (typically less than 23 degrees F), Sodium Chloride begins to lose its effectiveness and would then require the use of other salt products at lower temperatures to be effective. Be cautious to note that at lower temperatures, service providers without the proper knowledge of different salt tolerances may overuse Sodium Chloride (rock salt) in an attempt to make up for reduced performance.

There are many other salt options to use depending on temperatures and conditions. Each of these differ in effectiveness, cost, availability, and environmental impact. Speak with your snow & ice management professional about which options make the most sense for your site and market. Other options include:
  • Calcium Chloride
  • Magnesium Chloride
  • Potassium Chloride
  • Urea
  • Calcium Magnesium Acetate
  • Potassium Acetate
  • Sand/Salt Mix: Another common practice is to mix sand and salt together for de-icing. This method is effective in maintaining some traction because of the use of sand. The negative effects will include a less efficient salt brine process which may increase the amount of salt and applications necessary to effectively melt all surfaces. Increased environmental concerns and clean-up costs associated with sand also exist.
How does it relate to service and price?

Similar to purchasing an insurance policy, snow & ice management professionals are risk managers, required to be prepared for the worst case scenarios, whether it snows or not. A prepared and responsible contractor will pre-purchase a large percentage of the required amount deicing or anti-icing materials before the season begins. They are essentially providing you the consumer with ‘insurance’ so you can be assured your property will be serviced during each storm event. 

The rising cost of salt is affected primarily by fuel and transportation costs which many times include sourcing and shipping the necessary quantities from outside of the United States and Canada. An up front, pre-season purchasing investment is typically required by contractors to ensure the quantity of salt you need is available for the season.