Anti-icing for improved traction, safety and profits

By Pam Buckley

Walk Behind Sprayer

It’s a question that continues to present itself more and more frequently for snow and ice management contractors: Should I add anti-icing services to my operation?

Anti-icing is more than an essential tool — it represents a dramatic shift in snow and ice control as a whole. Anti-icing takes a preventative approach to tackling this difficult task, in contrast to traditional deicing, a reactive process that relies on breaking up and removing ice once it has already bonded to the pavement.

Similar to preventive medicine, anti-icing relies on staying ahead of the storm and preventing iced conditions from occurring in the first place. By spraying a light application of salt brine directly to bare pavement surfaces in the days or hours before a storm, this bottom-up process inhibits ice from bonding to the pavement — much like a greased frying pan keeps food from sticking.

Salt Brine Spray

Done correctly, anti-icing provides improved traction and optimally safe conditions between when a storm begins and plowing commences. This preventive strategy has been proven to require one-fourth the salt and one-tenth the overall cost of traditional deicing.

Because brine is applied with greater precision and utilizes significantly less salt, there is also less resulting damage to customer properties. The cost benefits derived from reductions in salt use, post-storm cleanup, overtime and property damage ultimately net a substantial increase in overall profits.

So why are many contractors reluctant to adopt this essential tool? Some will tell you salt is cheap or that liquids equipment is too costly. Others will suggest that it won’t work in their region, or that their customers won’t go for it. In reality, fear of change is the primary obstacle. It’s time to park the misperceptions and follow these steps to anti-icing success.

Tap into training resources

As with any profession, staying abreast of innovation in technology is necessary for the long-term viability of a business. Anti-icing technologies have been around for decades and their value has been validated thoroughly. Most data originates in the municipal sector, but private industry associations and leading manufacturers now offer value-added educational training on liquid applications tailored to the commercial market. All the commercial contractor has to do is take advantage of these resources.

Educate the customer to get their “buy-in”

A good starting point for discussing anti-icing with a property owner is simply to cover the benefits. Here are a few tips for approaching the subject with the goal of getting their “buy-in” for using liquids on their properties:

  • Assess the property with the customer, identifying priority target areas and concerns.
  • Understand the customer’s motivations and prioritize their needs. Though a customer may stress cost, it is often not their primary concern.
  • If cost really is the 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 of which can be 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. Therefore, 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 certain contract structures to provide service 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 timeframe. 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 deicers 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.

Use the right tools

Ultimately, successful snow fighting depends on utilizing the right tool for the job at the right time. Although liquid deicers are extremely effective when used properly, they are not intended to replace solids. Anti-icing expedites plowing and deicing strategies, and is just another tool in the toolbox.

  • Liquid deicers: 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 deicer he/she intends to use. From a cost perspective it is also important to understand the regional availability of various deicers. 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: Deicing 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 deicing 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.

Know when to apply

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 pavement 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 timeframe, the type of deicing chemical being used, and duration of the coming storm.

Pretreatments can be done 48 hours or even longer in advance of a storm, as long as there is no rain forecasted before the storm hits. This allows contractors to choose the optimum time to treat their properties before conditions get bad. 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 very cold temperatures with dry blowing snow; however, with advanced knowledge and the presence of other factors it may be possible.

Grow Into It

When integrating new methodologies into your winter operations, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Choosing the right entry point for your operations, getting crew buy-in, and setting realistic expectations are critical to ultimate success with liquids. A phased approach provides the snow contractor an opportunity to get used to the new tools and applications gradually.

For example, pretreating your stockpile, pre-wetting salt in the chute just prior to spreading, and sidewalk anti-icing are good places to get your feet wet. Sidewalk equipment is very affordable and provides feature capabilities such as treating curb-to-sidewalk transitions, which are unattainable with solid deicers. The application scope is smaller, the risks more manageable, and the potential ROI greater.

Once comfortable with handling the new materials and equipment, the next step will be 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, contractors who make and store their own brine will optimize cost effectiveness.

Train your crew

Use the increasing resources and training programs on anti-icing in the industry to train your crews. Along 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” proposition for all concerned.

Pam Buckley is project planner, SnowEx Liquid Solutions (

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