By Michael Frank
Anti-icing allows snow professionals to optimize storm management and deliver service goals in a timely manner
By Michael Frank
If you’ve been considering whether to add anti-icing to your snow and ice management operations, you’re not alone. Many other contractors have been debating the same question. In most cases, the answer is straightforward: anti-icing is an essential tool of the trade, allowing snow professionals to optimize their storm management and deliver level of service goals in the timeliest manner. Used appropriately, anti-icing will increase operational efficiency, reduce material cost and boost profits. The challenge is in effectively integrating it into your operations.
Anti-icing is one of three fundamental snow-fighting strategies: anti-icing, de-icing and snow removal. It is a proactive, pre-emptive strategy of spraying a light application of a liquid de-icer directly to the pavement just prior to or at the onset of a storm. This bottom-up strategy inhibits ice from bonding to the pavement, similar to the way butter coats a frying pan and keeps food from sticking. It is commonly reported that it takes four times more salt and 50 per cent more resources to break an already established ice-to-pavement bond than to prevent it in the first place. In most cases, anti-icing has been proven to significantly reduce the time, labour and materials required to clear the surface after a snow event.
So why are many contractors reluctant to adopt this essential tool? Some will tell you salt is cheap and works fine, the equipment is too costly, that it won’t work in their region, or their customers won’t buy in when actually it is fear of change that is the primary obstacle. No matter the excuse, it’s time to park your misperceptions and follow these six steps to anti-icing success.
1 Get the necessary training
As with any profession, the snow professional has to know the tools of his trade, how and when to use them, and stay abreast of innovation in technology or he is setting himself up for failure. Anti-icing technologies have been around for decades and their value validated thoroughly. There is an abundance of information out there for the forward-thinking professional. Most of it originates in the municipal sector, but private sector industry associations and leading manufacturers are beginning to offer value-added training and educational resources on liquid applications tailored to the commercial market. All the commercial contractor has to do is tap into them.
2 Educate your customer to get their ‘buy-in’
There is a long list of benefits to the property owner from anti-icing which is a good starting point for a discussion and to obtain their “buy-in” for using liquids on their properties. Here are a few tips for approaching the subject with the property owner:
- Assess the property with the customer, identifying priority target areas and concerns.
- Understand the customer’s real motivation, and prioritize their needs. Even though a customer may stress cost, it is often not their primary concern.
- If cost really is their top priority, ask them to consider the potential cost of lost business due to slower result times, increased risk of slip-and-fall liability, and increased costs from property damage resulting from excessive salt usage, all mitigated by anti-icing. Anti-icing also provides a huge benefit for LEED certified properties.
- Discuss the types of materials to be used, as well as the timing of operations and outcomes the customer can expect. It often helps to have pictures that show the difference between a surface that has received an anti-icing treatment and one that has not.
As a professional you should retain the right to use the best tool for the job, especially when using it improves the outcomes for the customer, so obtaining property owner “approval” may not always be necessary, depending on the type of contract involved. Utilizing anti-icing strategies provides the contractor a wider window in which to execute snow-fighting operations and affords greater flexibility within some types of contract structures to deliver level of service goals at an equivalent or lesser cost.
- Time and materials: This is the most challenging contract type to incorporating anti-icing services because, if billed in the customary way, both materials and time decrease. However, if executed properly, the contractor should be able to service more accounts in the same time frame. Establish a rate and determine if it is an applied or unapplied rate.
- Per push/per event: Liquid applications can be priced in a similar manner as other services. Regional supply of certain de-icers may be a factor in pricing.
- Seasonal or lump sum: This is the easiest contract type to include liquid strategies without major changes. Be sure to include provisions for seasons that fall short or exceed a reasonable threshold.
3 Choose the right tools for the job:
Ultimately, successful snow fighting depends on utilizing the right tool for the job at the right time. Although liquid de-icers are extremely effective when used properly, they are not intended to replace solids. Anti-icing expedites plowing and de-icing strategies, and is just another tool in the toolbox.
- Liquid dei-cers: It is important to know your tools, as well as when and how to use them. To select the best liquid deicers for the application, the contractor needs to know the eutectic and effective temperatures, chemical properties, and functional capabilities of the de-icer he intends to use. From a cost perspective it is also important to understand the regional availability of various de-icers. As a general rule of thumb, magnesium chloride is more widely available west of the Mississippi River and in the Northeast. Calcium chloride is more readily available in the Great Lakes region.
- Use purpose-built equipment: De-icing liquids and brine solutions have different compositions than other liquids, and they can cause pump failures, clogged nozzles and other issues in sprayers not designed to handle them. Agricultural sprayers may seem like a cost-effective solution, but many have tried and failed going this route for winter usage. Purpose-built sprayers for winter applications are specifically engineered for de-icing chemicals and application rates, and most importantly for winter temperatures and conditions. They typically offer features tailored to ice management needs such as multiple independently-controlled spraying zones for surface and curb applications and hose reel spray wands for treating areas inaccessible to trucks.
4 Know when to utilize anti-icing strategies
Every storm is different and presents unique challenges. When deciding to utilize anti-icing strategies, it is essential to monitor storm-specific conditions prior to and during the event. Those conditions include surface temperature, the amount of moisture present and anticipated, the time of day and impact of solar radiation on the surface, anticipated traffic during the application time frame, the type of deicing chemical being used, and duration of the coming storm.
It is a best practice to execute anti-icing measures just prior to or at the onset of a storm, paying close attention to the amount of moisture present to minimize premature dilution. Anti-icing with salt brine is most effective at surface temperatures between 15 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Blended enhanced brines, calcium and magnesium chloride brines can be effective at lower temperatures. Anti-icing is typically not recommended for events with high moisture content, freezing rain, mist or rain turning to snow, or extremely cold temperatures with dry blowing snow, although with advanced knowledge and the presence of other factors it may be possible.
5 Start small, think big
It is important when integrating new methodologies into your winter operations to not bite off more than you can chew. This is especially true when thinking of adopting liquid strategies. A phased approach provides the snow contractor an opportunity to get used to the new tools and applications gradually. For instance, SnowEx suggests starting with stockpile treating and pre-wetting solids at the spinner when de-icing before making the move to incorporate anti-icing strategies. When you are ready to make that move, sidewalks are a good place to get your feet wet. Sidewalk equipment is more affordable and provides feature capabilities such as treating curb-to-sidewalk transitions, unattainable with solid de-icer applications. The application scope is smaller, the risks more manageable and the potential return on investment greater. Once comfortable with handling the new materials and equipment, the next step will be much less daunting. It is often easier and involves less risk to begin by purchasing reputable brine or engineered liquids that offer reliable supply and consistency. This approach involves less initial start-up cost and offers maximum flexibility to learn the ropes. Over the long run, and with the proper equipment, the contractor who learns to make and store his own brine will optimize cost effectiveness.
6 Train your crews
There are increasing resources and training programs on anti-icing in the industry. Seek them out and use them to train your crews. Hand in hand with this training, implement monitoring and control mechanisms to track material usage. If your team doesn’t understand the value of the process and how it works, and if you don’t track the amount of material used, they won’t dial back on the amount of salt spread, and you will not reap the savings you should by incorporating anti-icing into your operations. Education is the key to success. For manufacturer, property owner and contractor alike, anti-icing offers a “win-win” for all concerned.
Michael Frank is the product marketing manager for SnowEx.