Slippery Conditions? Get a Grip

You have a lot of options when it comes to snow and ice control strategies. The key is to find the combination that works best.

Put a working plan in place and your crew and equipment will be well-prepared for snow and ice removal. Just a few simple procedures can assure a smooth, successful and profitable snow-removal season. Of course, crew readiness, availability and communication are a top priority. However, regular equipment maintenance and wise product choices for your geographical area and customer sites are equally important to make your operation as efficient as possible. Early planning and crew training will help you make the best use of available manpower and equipment.

Crew readiness and communication

Be sure you have qualified operators and a team of good mechanics in place; this is essential during winter. The key to having a successful plan is having it in place long before you need it. When a large storm hits, there’s no time for equipment breakdowns or miscommunication. Set your schedule for operator training sessions and routine mechanical inspections. Your mechanics can establish a timeline for daily, monthly and yearly maintenance needs for your equipment.

“The most important factor is being ready beforehand,” says Dwayne Parris, Washington, D.C., operations manager for Chapel Valley Landscaping, Woodbine, Md. With 30 to 40 commercial urban sites on which to maintain a “no-snow” policy, Parris says it is critical for Chapel Valley crews to be completely familiar with the sites that they will service during a snow event. “We have the crew members walk the sites well beforehand, when there is no snow, to spot and mark obstacles that could damage equipment and to identify areas where property damage could occur. We don’t want them going in blind.”

Chapel Valley crews stay on site during the entire snow event to maintain the “no-snow” policy required by their customers. By using phones and two-way radios, crews are always in close contact with each other and the main dispatcher. Parris says maintaining total coverage can be tough. “During the blizzard of 1995, we had crews on site for four to five days, ensuring full snow-removal coverage without letting the accumulation get out of control.”

Weather radio updates and computers accessing weather information from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have taken much of the guesswork out of planning for snow and ice removal. H. Robin Milliken, President of H & R Lawn and Landscape, serving the metropolitan Kansas City area, utilizes the NOAA weather computer in his office for specific storm information. “It lets us know when the storm is going to hit, where it’s coming from and allows us to pinpoint the exact conditions we can expect,” says Milliken. “We also often refer to the local television station’s ‘city cams’ mounted at many major intersections and roadways to keep current on local conditions.”

Equipment choices and maintenance

Long before you begin your snow and ice season, carefully consider the appropriate equipment and product selection. Analyze your snow-removal sites and choose the best equipment and products for the job. Consider each customer’s specific snow-removal needs, and assign equipment and operators accordingly. Be prepared to modify your needs as the property changes or when more effective equipment reaches the market.

Designate a staff member to be responsible for purchasing supplies before the season begins; it can be difficult to buy emergency supplies during the peak of the season.

Different weather conditions call for different equipment and treatment. Equipment choices range from walk-behind snow throwers to skid-mounted snowplows to truck-mounted plows, straight-bladed or with a flexible “V” scoop. It’s up to you to decide what works best for your crews and clients in each weather and property situation.

Powdery snow with light accumulation can be effectively treated with walk-behind snow throwers, or small areas and sidewalks can be hand-shoveled. With dry, powdery snow, there is little likelihood of the snow compacting on the surface and removal will be fast and complete. Hand shoveling is often the best treatment for hard-to-reach areas like steps and winding walkways that are difficult to navigate with power equipment. Don’t forget to include a broom on each truck. The final steps for snow removal before applying ice melt can make a big difference.

During accumulations of 3 inches or more, a blade mounted on a skid-steer loader can be your best choice for shopping-center sidewalks, city plaza areas or other tight spots that cannot be accessed by truck. A blade mounted on a riding mower can accomplish the same purpose and allow more maneuverability than a skid loader and more speed than walk-behind snow throwers or hand shoveling.

When snow is heavy, wet and continuous, truck- or tractor-mounted plows in widths of 7 ½, 9 or 10 feet can ensure total removal from large areas. Parking lots, city streets and right-of-ways with curbs are most effectively treated with truck-mounted plows requiring only one operator, freeing up manpower to deal with more labor-intensive sites. Truck-mounted plows are available in many lengths and configurations, with various mounting hardware and “cutting-edge” capability. “Down-pressure” plows are not required for normal plowing but are sometimes used for their superior cutting-edge pressure in difficult plowing situations, such as back-dragging and scraping operations. Most domestic snow plows operate with a cutting-edge weight of 325 to 400 pounds, depending on the make and model of plow.

Especially on “no-remaining-snow” sites, some contractors prefer that the snow roll off the moldboard as quickly and cleanly as possible with the least amount of energy. This saves considerable wear and tear on both plowing equipment and vehicles. Standard straight blades rely upon blade height and the “push” effect to accomplish snow removal. On sites that have a “no-snow” requirement, Parris of Chapel Valley assigns loaders to pile the snow into flatbed trucks that remove it from the site.

In other parts of the country, especially on job sites with more space, plowed snow can often be piled on the site, away from traffic and driveways. In Kansas City, H&R Lawn and Landscape utilizes the flexible “V” plows in parking-lot clearing operations where rows of parked cars must not be “plowed in” and snow can be easily moved and piled in a remote area of the lot. “The ‘V’ scoop allows the snow to roll to either side, clearing parking areas and making it easier to pile the snow on a far side of the site,” Milliken says. “This keeps the snow away from traffic, driveways and out of the path of prevailing winds that could cause the snow to drift back into plowed areas.”

Snow blowers and throwers that are truck- or tractor-mounted are highly effective for road clearing in mountainous or rural areas where the thrown snow will not affect businesses or residents by blocking traffic, parking lots or roadways. In large, sudden snowstorms and when heavy snow continues to fall, roads treated continuously by truck-mounted snow throwers are not as likely to build up significant amounts of snow that could compact, become icy and endanger traffic flow.

When snowfall has decreased or stopped, in most cases, areas you should treat with ice melt or a combination of sand and ice melt to keep plowed surfaces from freezing.

Sand, salt and ice melt

Ice melt is the finishing touch on every snow-removal job, and there are several components from which to choose. The treatment of plowed areas with ice melt is critical to prevent ice from building up during continuing cold weather conditions. Ice-melting compounds are available in pellet form with various chemical compositions that produce different melting points, handling and effect on vegetation, animals and humans.

Sand, on its own, does not have ice-melting capability. Its primary use is as an abrasive to provide temporary traction. It works best on hard-packed snow where it can embed itself into the snow and remain there. It is effective in sudden, heavy snow, at intersections and on hills to keep roadways open until snowfall decreases or snowplows arrive in the area. When you apply sand to ice, be aware of sand’s tendency to “bounce” when it hits the surface. It may end up at the side of the road. Many contractors and highway departments use a salt and sand mixture of approximately 30-percent salt and 70-percent sand. The salt prevents the sand from freezing in the pile and helps provide some ice-melting capability to the mixture. This mixture is also effective in freezing-rain conditions to melt ice and provide traction.

Pure salt is used on primary roads and problem intersections to help control ice. It has a practical working temperature of 15 to 20°F. If you’re using rock salt, remember to be careful in planted areas because it may be harmful to desirable vegetation and grass. It may leave a white film stain on concrete surfaces. However, you can safely handle it without special clothing or gloves and it will not harm skin, carpets or floors. Rock salt is inexpensive and readily available.

Potassium and sodium chloride blend is an effective ice melter in the 5 to 0°F range. It is safe to handle with no detrimental effect on skin, carpets or floors. Some potassium chloride products have an outer coating of calcium chloride that grips the frozen surface better and promotes faster thawing.

Calcium chloride ice-melting compounds are effective to -25°F. Calcium chloride is not safe to use on vegetation or grass, so you must exercise extreme caution when using this low-temperature, commercial-grade product. It also is highly recommended that you use skin protection when using this type of product. To avoid any skin irrigation, always wash gloves and clothing that come into contact with the calcium chloride before you wear them again. Calcium chloride is highly effective, although it is expensive and can leave an oily residue, which can only be removed with soap and water.

Any ice melt is potentially harmful to humans, vegetation, property and pets if used incorrectly; it is very important that the proper application of these products is thoroughly outlined in crew training sessions in preparation for snow and ice removal. This will allow you to maximize effectiveness and value from the product you choose. Most problems that occur due to the use of commercial ice-melting products are due to “operator error,” not product composition. The most common mistakes are made as a result of incorrect application or overuse of the product. Applying more of the product doesn’t mean it will work better or faster.

Application of ice melt is the last step in a successful snow- and ice-removal program. The piling up of snow to which ice melt has been applied can result in a high concentration of potentially dangerous chemicals. For this reason, it’s important to remove the snow before finishing the job with an ice-melting product. “It’s pointless to put an ice-melting product down and then just plow it back up,” says Parris.

Spreading of ice melters

In close areas with planting beds, shrubs and trees, hand-held spreaders are the most effective and accurate application method for ice-melting compounds. Residential sidewalks that have been hand shoveled or other tight-entry areas also benefit from this hand-held coverage. Truck- or tractor-mounted ice-control-product spreaders are available in a variety of sizes and heights to accommodate larger areas. Some truck bed-mounted spreaders have a low profile with a “pay load” sufficient to meet the ratings of light-weight vehicles for salting and sanding areas where larger equipment cannot properly maneuver. Carefully avoid overspray of any salt or de-icing product to minimize damage to plants and grass in the immediate spray area.

Have your plan in place

The key to any successful plan is to have it ready to implement long before it is needed. Let customers know before an event that you have a working plan in place for all types of expected precipitation, from freezing rain and sleet to heavy, wet or continuous accumulations of snow. Establish procedures for personnel notification, equipment-operator listings, specific removal procedures for each site and routing information and assignments. Take into consideration procedures that could impede traffic flow and make allowances for holiday schedules. Plan for relief equipment operators, as snow removal can involve long hours. Good communication among crew members, supervisors and dispatch staff is vital. Monitor the weather radio or computer before and during the storm and keep all units informed of current conditions.

With plenty of snow-removal equipment on site before snow or ice occurs, and sufficient sand, salt and ice-melting products for different sites and conditions, even the most unexpected winter storm won’t take you by surprise or compromise your smoothly running snow-removal operation.

Wendelyn Crosby is a freelance writer and graphic designer.


It’s also important that your crews understand the effects that ice melt can have on concrete, bricks and masonry. Pay special attention to limit the spread of the product to paved surfaces, keeping it away from planting beds, shrubs and trees. Ice-melting compounds should not be used on preformed concrete steps or on concrete that has not properly cured for one year.

Any ice melt can damage worn, stressed or substandard concrete, contributing to the frequency of the freeze-thaw cycle that eventually erodes the material. For this reason, always remove any water and remaining slush, if possible. Only products containing ammonium sulfate actually attack and disintegrate concrete and other paving material at a chemical level. The Portland Cement Institute recommends against using ammonium-sulfate products on concrete surfaces.

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