Curbing Our Dependence on Salt

Nov 01, 2017

Written by: Scott McIntyre, Reliable Property Services

Commercial snow and ice removal is an applied science that uses varied tools to control an outcome. One of the common tools used to remove snow and ice has been under fire for overuse and abuse: road and sidewalk salt.

Until about a decade ago, sand was the preferred method of ice control. Sand has no ice-melt qualities and is only efficient for traction if it is on top of the ice surface. Sand is expensive to clean up and gets in our storm sewers, lakes, streams, and ditches, which can negatively impact the environment. Not to mention - sand can give drivers a false sense of security.

My experience over the past 30 years has been that most, if not all, properties now require road salt to be used. For properties with a zero tolerance for ice and snow, this sometimes means using double the average amount of salt.  This shift in product usage has resulted in an increase in salt brine running in to holding ponds and city sewer lines, with it all ending up in rivers, lakes, and even drinking water. 

A 2015 study showed that chloride concentrations in streams in the Frost Belt area have doubled from 1990 to 2011, posing threats to aquatic life. As the brininess of our water increases, there are growing concerns that the largely unregulated snow contractors used by commercial buildings are not putting best practices in place to control and reduce the use of road salt.

What is the answer?

The easy answer is to first reduce usage of de-icer products by using them more effectively to maximize their melt qualities. This would result in less over-usage to get the same results. Additional methods are needed to determine the application rate required to address current and expected weather and surface conditions to more accurately meet the desired level of service. Another solution is to switch to a blended de-ice product, which add chemicals like potassium and magnesium to the sodium chloride to increase its ice melting abilities. Even though it may be costlier, the advantage of a blended product is less product used for the same results.

Reliable Property Services uses a proprietary de-ice product where, by adding de-sugared beet juice to the sodium, the product melts faster and to lower temperatures. The benefit of beet juice was discovered by looking at areas around beet production plants in North Dakota. It was observed that no snow or ice formed in areas where the beets were processed. The plant-based material touching the ground had displayed melting qualities, even down to negative zero.

What can you do?

When talking with your snow and ice removal vendors, ask them about adopting some of the best practices listed below. You may be surprised that they are already doing some of them already!

  • Have they retrofitted salt trucks to pre-wet salt to make it work better using salt brine?
  • Do they have equipment installed in all trucks that controls salt dispensing via electronics to measure out what is needed and not just putting it down via an on/off switch?
  • How skilled and well-trained are the operators in correctly applying the specified amount? Each winter storm is different and needs different amounts of product to be successful.
  • Do they offer an environmentally-friendly de-ice product that uses potassium, potassium acetate, or magnesium?
  • During the course of the season, can snow piles be located in areas of the parking lot that minimize the flow of melting water, which can then re-freeze?
  • Are they using self-contained salt storage bins and large storage containers to help with product run-off (some of this is already regulated by cities)?
  • Do they do a pre-season walk-through to document any re-freeze-related risks due to damaged or faulty infrastructure (for example, broken or damaged downspouts)?

You also have the opportunity to educate your tenants and owners. They need to understand that high levels-of-service requirements will mandate overuse of de-icers. Can sidewalks and parking lots that are not being used be closed off? Can tenants (or buildings themselves) use heated mats for doorways and walkways?

The bottom line is that using new de-ice technology and better educating ourselves will make the winter safer without turning our properties into Miami in the middle of a Minnesota winter. Showing vendors your concern for their proper salt usage will help in incremental ways to slow the direction we are headed into turning our lakes and rivers into waters that could someday support sea life.



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Category: Industry Insights


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