Hitting the road

One New York contractor swears by blended ice melts.

© Robsonphoto2011 | dreamstime

With the crisp, fall air hanging overhead, the snow and ice season is right around the corners. Snow contractors must begin thinking about the products they use to melt ice.

Traditional single compound products such as sodium chloride (rock salt), magnesium chloride or calcium chloride get the job done. However, deicing blends composed of a mixture of compounds, have becoming increasingly popular over the past several years.

But are they worth their salt?

Several considerations to weigh include whether and how well the product performs in very cold temperatures, whether it will prevent refreezing and how quickly it will work once applied.

In the snowy region of Buffalo, New York, Gary Benson operates a snowplowing and snow removal service during winter months. Benson, general manager of Dreamscapes Landscaping, is a proponent of deicing blends and uses them for virtually all of his company’s customers.

“Our customers have become more aware of them and are requesting and requiring them in place of standard rock salt,” he says.

One major reason is the customers’ awareness of the immediate effectiveness of a blend.

Deicers can be endothermic (absorbing heat) or exothermic (releasing heat.) Generally, endothermic takes longer to work.

Rock salt is exothermic; once it’s activated, it creates a brine that reduces the freezing point of liquid.

“The problem is that once it is activated, there is nothing for the liquid to convert to so that it does not refreeze,” he says. Blends melt immediately, and the brine created helps prevent refreezing.

Benson says unlike pure rock salt, blended products work longer when they are activated and come into contact with the ground surfaces being treated.

At extremely cold temperatures, rock salt does not have enough water content to activate, becoming ineffective below 20 degrees or so, he says. Plus, rock salt needs to be reapplied regularly to reap the same benefits.

Another bonus of using the blended products is they are gentler on the environment, including surrounding shrubs and grass as well as concrete surfaces.

“If you use (standard rock salt) as your primary ice control product over a long period of time, it will start to destroy your concrete and will change the pH of the ground, which in effect has an impact on the way grass will grow. In most cases it will stunt the grass growth and will damage plant materials, especially those that are not salt tolerant,” Benson says.

Also, rock salt, if tracked into a building, can scratch hardwood and tile floors. Blended products are less likely to track into buildings.

There are not many downsides to using blends, but in general, blended products do cost more money than traditional products.

However, Benson says the overall cost is well worth it, as the product’s effectiveness outweighs the potential for reduced slips and falls, thereby resulting in fewer liability claims. It also leads to increased customer confidence.

Another potential challenge is the availability of the product, although he says this past year, there wasn’t much of an issue.

In addition to the increased popularity of blends among private snow contractors, Benson says many municipalities have started to use deicing blends in a liquid form.

For the few customers who insist on single source ice melts, primarily due to costs, Benson asks them to sign an indemnification waiver.

“The risk is too high to use anything but blended,” he says. And even if he didn’t live in Buffalo’s notorious polar zone, he would still use blends.

“If I were to pick up my business and move it anywhere else in country, I would absolutely incorporate the blended product into my sidewalk ice control,” he says.

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