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Which Snow Removal Option is Right for Your Facility?

PHOTO CREDIT: HeatTrak

Snow and ice removal ranks high among concerns of facility managers, so much so that planning to meet the challenges of the winter season begins in mid-summer, or even immediately following winter's last snowfall. Occasionally, the time and effort required for an in-house snow removal program may distract from other concerns, or it may simply just be more economical to outsource all snow removal tasks. However, for larger facilities especially, running your own snow-removal program will almost always be significantly more cost-effective.

Once the decision is made to organize an in-house snow removal program for your facility or property, there will be many options as to how best to combat the ice and snow. These snow-removal options fall into three main categories. Note that you may need to utilize several of these solutions to address the individual needs of different sections across your facility grounds. One area may best be handled by one method, while another is better addressed in a different way.

1) Mechanical Removal Methods

Heavy equipment such as utility vehicles, plow attachments, spreaders, and snow blowers/throwers, may be needed to tackle large parking lots, entry and exit lanes, crosswalks, and extensive sidewalks.

If you use a pickup truck as your snow utility vehicle, you will need at least a 3/4-ton truck to stand up to the stresses of plowing. Make sure it has excellent handling, a heavy-duty alternator, a tough transmission, and ideally, four-wheel drive. For very tight spots, a skid-steer loader will be easier to maneuver and will be especially valuable when clearing parking lots with parked cars still present. For the largest jobs, you may need to use a front-end loader along with a box plow. As to plow attachments, there are three main options: straight-bladed plows, which are cheaper but have little ability to maneuver; V-plows, which are more costly but more maneuverable; and box plows, which succeed in moving ice and snow in bulk but cannot deal with tight spaces.

Spreaders are available in small, plastic hook-attachments, which are cheap and easy to control from the cab of a utility vehicle. The other option is a large V-box spreader that gives you bigger storage and, thus, less refill runs. Snow blowers are single-stage devices that pick up and shoot out snow in one continuous motion. Snow throwers are two-stage machines that first scoop in snow with an auger and then use a powerful fan to throw it up to 50 feet away. For a small, lightly covered sidewalk, a blower will do. For a parking lot or for deep snow, a thrower may be necessary.

2) Chemical Removal Methods

Rock salt is the cheapest and most common snow-melting agent, but it is also harsh on concrete surfaces and is ineffective below 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Two other deicing agents that are less damaging are calcium chloride and magnesium chloride, which both work at temperatures as low as -20 degrees.

Another approach is called anti-icing, as opposed to deicing, and refers to preemptively dousing pavements with liquid salt brine or some other liquid anti-icing agent when a storm is imminent. The water evaporates and leaves behind crystals that cling to the concrete, melt snow on contact, and prevent any remaining snow from bonding to the pavement. Sometimes sand is added to snow-melting agents for the sake of cost-effectiveness and to increase traction. In small amounts, this can be effective, but you should not use sand to replace deicers/anti-icers nor dilute them too heavily. The reason for this is simple: sand will not melt snow or ice.

3) Electrical Removal Methods

An underground snowmelt system can be installed into pavements to melt snow by electrical heating cables or hot water pipes. These are commonly used on driveways, sidewalks, outdoor stairs, wheel chair ramps, and loading docks. While usually installed when the pavement is poured, they can also be retrofitted. These systems eliminate the need for concrete-damaging salt and extend the life of pavements. However, they can be quite costly, especially if installation requires tearing up existing concrete, so use them wisely.

Most facilities will do best with a combination of mechanical, chemical, and electrical snow-removal methods. The exact options chosen will vary based on available storage space for equipment and deicers, the size of the facility grounds, and the climate zone. Each facility manager must weigh the cost, effectiveness, and speed of each snow-removal option to find the system that best fits his/her needs.

Hillel Glazer is the President and CEO of HeatTrak.

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