Liquid Solutions

Liquid Solutions

Converting from rock salt to liquid anti-icing products brings several unique solutions and benefits for professional snow and ice managers.

January 7, 2022

Adopting and integrating liquids – both brine and exothermic blends – into a snow and ice management strategy addresses several key factors that influence not only safety and profitability, but also the ability to succeed in a highly competitive market.

While safety is the most important factor when designing a storm management plan, at the end of the day, one way to look at snow and ice management is we’re actually selling labor. And the less time our crews are concentrated on snow and ice activities that don’t produce results, the bigger the influence on our margins and in the savings we can pass on to customers through competitive pricing.

One of the things we love about liquids is we can get in front of a snow event one or two days in advance and pretreat properties while our staff is fresh and rested, and when facilities are not busy. All of which makes the process more efficient and safe for patrons. In fact, we can apply liquid treatments two-and-a-half to three-times within the costs of one rock salt application. Therefore, we’re able to manage the event a lot better from a labor and operational standpoint while reducing our dependency on bulk rock salt.

It’s important to note that liquids are a weather game and you must consider how temperature and moisture will impact performance. We typically apply a pretreatment at a 50 percent rate, which allows the product to crystalize inside the pavement where it will be the most effective.

Likewise, when applied properly it’s our experience that a liquid pretreatment can melt upwards to 1 inch of snow before diluting and becoming ineffective. Again, in a tight labor market, strategic liquid pretreatments alleviate some of the strain on labor. Since liquids afford us the ability to extend the amount of time before we must react to an event, we don’t have personnel waiting around to fight the storm. We can let it snow for an hour or two before dispatching and deploying people to their assignments, which lessens the amount of time they’re active during an event.

Frankly, I have no opinion whether it’s better to prepare your own liquid brine or blend, or to simply purchase it from a vendor. While some studies indicate the cost per gallon is significantly less when you make your own product, I would argue purchasing premade product is cost neutral because I don’t have to account for the infrastructure costs, the maintenance, or the available labor required to produce brine or blended anti-icing product in adequate quantities in-house.

Compared to using rock salt, the use of liquid anti-icing agents reduces our costs and hasn’t forced us to make our own product in order to realize those cost savings. At the end of the day, we’re passing any added cost associated with purchasing brine or blended materials on to the client.

Liquid pretreating prevents or lessens the buildup and bonding of ice to pavement surfaces, this it affords us the ability to jump on an event and get product on the ground where it can resist the buildup of ice at the pavement surface. Ice buildup is what makes snow and ice professionals -- and their clients -- vulnerable to slip-and-fall claims. Strategically managing this at an event’s onset lessens that risk for your clients, their constituents, and ultimately for the contractor.

Again, it’s important to monitor temperatures and precipitation rates to properly assess the effectiveness of your liquid application before, during and after a winter event.

A liquid approach increases our ability to manage a storm more effectively, and as a result, reduces our dependence on bulk rock salt. Most snow professionals have experienced material shortages at one time or another along with record pricing for scant product.

Likewise, liquid applications are more targeted and direct than bulk salt spreading practices. In addition, the technology and equipment used in liquid apps applies product at a much more precise rate than bulk salt running out of a spreader and bouncing and rolling when it hits the pavement.

Finally, a lot of attention has been directed toward the negative impact chlorides have on the surrounding environment – including damage to building infrastructures and green spaces. Liquid products balance out the safety aspect of what we need to do, reduces some of the litigious risk we face, as well as reduces the amount of chlorides we’re releasing into the environment.

For example, we manage snow and ice on a very large and complex mixed-use lifestyle center in suburban Cleveland. While using rock salt as the primary ice management tool it was not unheard of to have to replace upward to 30 trees and ornamental plants damaged and killed by winter chloride use. As the contractor, we’re on the hook to replace the plant material lost to winter services. After the switch to liquid and the ability to better target and control applications, we have significantly reduced the loss of existing plants.

Jerry Schill is the president of Schill Grounds Management in North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a frequent Snow Magazine contributor and a 2011 Leadership Award recipient.