SALT & DEICING: Cover It!

Features - Salt & Deicing

To avoid wasting dollars, contractors protect their salt investment over the summer months.

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Everything shifts as the work season changes. It’s time to clean and store the blowers. Plows and buckets will be seeing more of the sun as some contractors start landscape work. All the tools that helped contractors beat the blizzard during the winter months are ready to go on vacation.

Among the most important is a contractor’s surplus rock salt. It may not be the commodity it was last year, but any waste can make a huge difference to a snow removal company operating in a recovering economic climate. Keeping a store of rock salt preserved properly in a storage space through the summer months will not only save money, but simplify planning for the next snow season.

When it comes to actually storing salt, only a few things are required to keep surplus salt, and the land surrounding it, safe. Contractors, like Dave Bonk of Bonk Brothers Supplies Inc. in Howell, Mich., begin just keeping their salt piled on a cement pad, covered by a tarp.

“I started out like a lot of guys do,” he says. “I would just wing a tarp out on top of it. Inevitably, some of it is going to get wet, and when the salt gets wet, the plowers aren’t happy. When you’re moving it, you have to try to move the tarp back and not expose the rest of the salt. It’s a logistical nightmare.”

After a particularly bad storm had taken the cover off his salt four years ago, Bonk noticed a neighbor’s TekSupply storage bin still standing strong and decided to make a change to protect his investment. His stored salt supply quickly became more protected and more importantly, kept dry.

“My customers like it because it keeps the salt dry,” he says. “The biggest deal with bulk salt is keeping it dry. You’re going to lose salt no matter how you store it, but if you just tarp it you lose a lot more. It summers really well in there.”

Bonk’s building is built similarly to other bins manufactured by some contractors to contain salt piles. Erik Buland of the Hittle Snow Co. in Westfield, Ind., created a bin out of concrete bunker blocks stacked with a canvas cover on top. With the salt shortage in the last year, he had adopted a philosophy of “if we don’t have it on hand, we don’t have it,” he says. But as things changed, Buland ended up with more salt than he had planned for at the beginning of the season.
“We had purchased more than we thought we needed,” he says. “The cost of doing a full enclosure was too high, so we paved a pad area and made some custom-made salt bins with cover-all structures.”

The two buildings hold different amounts of salt to keep piles accessible, open on one side for quick pick-up. Hittle Snow keeps its salt pile pushed back away from the opening to keep the salt dry and also allow for other storage.

“We’ve had some really good luck with cover-all structures,” Buland says. “They keep the weather out and keep the salt available. Whatever loss we get is just due to clumping, and that’s minimal enough that the cost doesn’t cover a full enclosure. As a storage structure, it can just play a dual role for us during this season.”

Once the pile of salt is pushed to the rear, Bonk goes in armed with a power washer to clean out the front, covering the rock salt to keep it clear of moisture. Then, he stores topsoil to be used and available while the salt spends summer vacation covered and dry, he said. Storing the topsoil forward keeps it from getting contaminated and gives the space more use to a contractor or supplier working year-round.

Troy Clogg of Troy Clogg Landscape Associates in Wixom, Mich., found the structures so useful that he builds much smaller, temporary versions of them on some client properties with contract permission during the winter season for ease of use and availability in a storm. Once the winter season is over, his crew moves the salt to the company’s yard for storage in the main bin, which is made in the same style as the smaller versions. It takes more time at the beginning and end of the season, but it pays for itself in saved fuel and travel time during the storms, he said.

“It lets us perform in difficult areas and keep travel time down, even with the big move on either end of the season,” he says. “Once it’s back here, we have to make sure we manage the inventory properly. We can keep it protected from the weather, well-protected and safe in any situation with one of those things.”

Keeping salt from season to season can give a contractor the chance to budget for salt more effectively in the upcoming year, he says.
“Doing this helps us manage our inventory properly,” Clogg says. “We like to start with a substantial amount left over, if we can, before we restock for the next season.”

When it comes to storing the salt, a contractor is limited by the height of the pile he can legally build, Clogg says. It’s a good idea to check with community administrators for restrictions on how salt is stored.

Buland suggests building for a larger amount of salt than is normally expected from year to year to accommodate for the growth of the company over the summer.  “A good company is always growing,” he says. “You’ll need to add space to keep more salt before you know it.”

Being able to store a larger pile of salt allows for easy access when unloading and loading trucks, Bonk says.

“With the size of it, stacking it inside the bin gives enough height that I can just have delivery trucks back right in. They don’t have to wait – the trucks can just load right up,” he says. “It’s ideal. There’s a huge time advantage in the ease of getting to the salt.”

Regardless of the type of structure holding the salt, some simple preparation can help keep an investment protected until the snow starts falling again, he says.

“After you get an idea of what you want and the size you need, it’s just a matter of how much you can store. It’s pretty easy, really,” Bonk says. “After all, it’s not rocket science.”