Fluid Operation

Fluid Operation

Uncertain winter weather. Extreme supply and demand pressures. Are liquid deicing systems the solution? Some believe they’re worth the investment.

October 22, 2015

So you’re thinking about adding liquid deicer to your snow fighting arsenal? And that’s really what we’re talking about here, right? An “arsenal” of tools at your disposal to maximize your snow and ice removing effectiveness.

Liquid deicer is just that: a tool. But no carpenter, plumber or snow fighter can get away with using just one tool. Which is why there are very few snow operations that can ditch granular salt altogether for liquid. Each has its purpose. But like all tools, liquid must be used appropriately to truly reap its benefits.

“You don’t use calcium chloride to its maximum effectiveness if you do it at 31 degrees because it’s designed to work at a much lower temperature,” says New Jersey snow fighter Chris Marino, owner of Xtreme Snow Pros. “Rock salt works best in the high 20s, low 30s. Liquid is a tool and has its use. “It’s a tool in our toolbox, but not a replacement for granular products, so you need to invest in more equipment to be able to do both.”

Ray Badger of Turbo Technologies says liquid can be ineffective, as well, if you have a weather situation where rain is turning into snow where the rain will tend to wash it off. The initial expense of the application equipment and liquid storage must be considered. Also, on sloped areas, liquid will eventually run off, whereas rock salt can be applied heavily and will tend to stay in place.

“A lot of people will continue to do both rock and liquid because there are some applications where liquid is not ideal,” Badger says. “Usually 5 percent of snow removal professionals are able to go totally with liquid, and the rest are still doing some salting when it’s a better way to go and liquids whenever they can.”

Snow and ice management industry consultant John Allin agrees that liquid is not a single solution for snow headaches.

“I don’t think going 100 percent liquid is appropriate,” he says. “Everyone would love to have one tool in the toolbox that does everything, but if you use a claw hammer to try to put in a screw, it can be done but it’s really difficult. The same thing happens with utilizing liquids as a reactive deicing material – it can be done, but…”


Educating Clients

There’s nothing wrong with a good education, especially when it comes to your clients and liquid deicer. It can save you a lot of time and trouble up front, and mitigate any potential issues later on.

First, you need to discuss the advantages of liquid deicer over rock salt. Ray Badger of Turbo Technologies advises to point them to studies available on the Internet demonstrating its effectiveness. But you also need to talk about the disadvantages, he says, such as when you use it ahead of a storm and it melts the snow and it appears to the customer that nothing was done – versus if they see the snow first, and then salt is spread, and they see it disappear.

“That can be a situation,” Badger says. “But it’s actually done a better job because the snow never appeared on the driveway or lot at all, but it may not appear that way to them.”

Chris Marino of Xtreme Snow Pros says the public is more familiar than ever with liquids since many DOTs are using them, so having a conversation with customers about them shouldn’t be as difficult. His company focuses on liquid deicer’s benefits, such as being green, cleaner and more effective.

“Our line is, ‘It stays where it’s sprayed,’ so no more granular mess all over your parking lot,” Marino says.

Rhett Clark of Gregson-Clark concurs that the “no mess” angle is a great one to take with customers. “Fast results with little residue left on paved surfaces,” he says. “Also, there is less potential damage to plant material, concrete and building floors.”

As consultant John Allin says, “An educated customer spends a heck of a lot more money than an uneducated customer.” So it goes without saying that educating the customer can have big benefits.

“There are videos out there about deicing material and how it works, and if you get a customer who will actually watch it and understand it and accept it, they’ll probably go for it because it does provide for a safer environment which is what we’re trying to accomplish,” Allin says.

Allin also advises to emphasize liquid deicer’s environmental friendliness.

“It’s environmentally friendly because you’re using less deicing material,” he says. “If you’re putting down a couple 100 pounds per acre of granular product as a deicing app and you can get away with the equivalent of 30 pounds an acre in solution as a pre-salt application and you can get away with, say, 75 to 100 pounds per acre as a deicing application afterward, you can cut salt usage dramatically. That in and of itself is good for the environment. Most people in our industry over-apply deicing product. And what happens afterward? Nothing…till it rains and it washes into the environment.”


Most snow removal professionals are not utilizing liquid to melt snow but rather as a presalting application or “anti-icing” application to keep a bond from forming between snow or ice and the pavement surface.

“It gives them the ability to scrape [the pavement] cleaner afterward,” Allin says. “A prime example is using it for sidewalks or stairwells. If you spray liquid onto stairs or sidewalks, the sidewalk crews can get a much cleaner finished product because a bond doesn’t form even if people have walked on it. And then you can get away with a lot less deicing materials after you’ve cleaned off the snow in order to keep everything bare and wet.”

Rhett Clark of Gregson-Clark advises to consult with the product supplier and equipment supplier for recommendations on how to achieve the best results.

“Liquid deicing may not be the best solution in all circumstances, however, it can be an essential tool for a snow contractor to produce quick results and save time and money in many situations,” he says.

Being able to pretreat ahead of a storm can offer numerous advantages. Take it from Marino, whose crews are in the eye of the storm each winter.

“[Liquid] gives us the ability to be very proactive and ahead of the storm but also have well-rested team members since we’re not running around last minute,” Marino says. “With the liquids, we have great coverage and the ability to melt the beginning of the storm, which again takes pressure off our crews and makes us look better next to our competition. Using liquids as an anti-ice agent leaves a lot cleaner property. Some contractors presalt their properties, which leaves unsightly granular salt all over the place that people end up tracking into the buildings.”

And then there is the cost savings. According to Marino, one ton of rock salt will make approximately 1,000 gallons of salt brine and cover 20 acres of pavement.

“This leads to being environmentally friendlier and using less raw material to achieve better results,” he says.

Training is a crucial element to ensuring that snow crews get the most out of liquid deicer. According to Badger, the learning curve isn’t too steep.

“You need to work out what application rate you’re happy with, 40-gallon per lane mile or acre of parking lot is typical,” he says. “I’ve seen guys go as high as 80 gallons and as low as 20, so you need to play around a little to find what’s right for you.”

Allin agrees that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to get proficient at applying liquid, but training is still required.

“People still have to be educated on what to do and how to do it,” he says. “You can’t just take a bucket of it and splash it around on the sidewalk or lot. You need to apply it evenly. You can put it in a five-gallon backpack sprayer and walk down the sidewalk and spray it on the sidewalk, but if you spray it on the trees and shrubs and grass, that’s not a good thing. There’s a science to everything. The same goes for rock. I can put rock in a rotary spreader and walk down the sidewalk, but if you don’t have deflectors on the spreader, you can end up spraying cars or plant material and contaminate the beds.”

Marino knows firsthand that liquid is different than salt and shouldn’t be treated the same.

“Liquid is more complicated than salting,” he says. “It requires more of an education and dedication to doing things right for the correct results.”


Equip Yourself

What equipment do you need if you want to use liquid deicer? It can range anywhere from small skid sprayers used in pickups to large, sophisticated systems.

When it comes to sprayers, keep in mind that although horticultural sprayers are often used for ice control products, they typically are not designed to withstand the corrosive nature of most liquid deicer products and can fail prematurely.

“Corrosion is the biggest issue with application equipment,” says Rhett Clark, of Gregson-Clark . “Aluminum, anodized aluminum, cast iron and steel components will tend to fail quickly with most liquid ice control products. It’s best to use stainless steel and plastic (polyethylene, polypropylene, nylon) components that are exposed to the deicing liquids.”

You’re going to need at least one sprayer, says Ray Badger of Turbo Technologies, and they start at under $2,000 and are either electric, gas or hydraulic powered.

“Gas is probably the best way to go, and you’re probably looking at a $3,000 to $5,000 investment there,” he says. “Electric does not put out a lot of flow -- with electric, you can do a one-lane boom going up to about 15 miles per hour and that’s about it. So if you want to do a three-lane boom that will do 30-feet, it really needs to be a gas or hydraulic unit.”

On the plus side for electric, Badger says it’s a great way for guys who are a little leery of liquid a first to get their feet wet.

“It’s a nice way to see if they like it or not without a big investment,” he says. “It’s normal to be a little leery at first because it’s something new. They think they want to do it but want to make sure it works. For decades, they’ve been salting, and now it’s a whole new concept.”

Chris Marino of Xtreme Snow Pros advises to invest in a spray tank setup that you can use in the back of a truck and would not go under 500 gallons.

“We started with a 500-gallon tank and quickly grew out of it and now run 1,000-gallon plus models,” he says. “Also, if possible, invest in a three-lane boom so when you’re applying you’re covering a larger area in each pass with the truck.”

Snow and ice management industry consultant John Allin believes you can realistically get into a full-blown deicing system in the vicinity of $25,000 to $30,000. In this scenario, you’re actually making the salt brine yourself, pumping it into a holding tank, pumping it back into a tank on the truck and then distributing it onto the parking lot surface.

“You need a holding tank for the brine if you’re going to put it on the truck,” Allin says. “It would be nice if you had a spray unit so you can apply the material in a fan spray on the pavement in an even distribution pattern. You could go further than that and have a controller in the cab of the truck so you can control the spray and how much goes down. You’ll also need a holding tank someplace in order to keep the product you don’t use or have made and haven’t utilized on the site yet.”

Marino says making the brine yourself is definitely a more expensive way to go. “You can get into it for around $4,000 if you want to buy your products from a supplier, but if you want to make your own brine, then you have a much larger investment to purchase a brine maker as well as storage tanks,” Marino says.

Further expounding on the storage of the brine, Clark says it depends on the size and scope of your operation. “You’ll need to either put it in a storage tank at your facility, have totes delivered or have a source nearby to refill,” he says.


Jason Stahl is a Cleveland-based writer and frequent Snow Magazine contributor.