April 23, 2020| Lester Yat
When winter arrives, residents accustomed to sprinkling salt on their French fries may think nothing of seeing liberal applications of salt landing on their roads, parking lots and sidewalks. Roadway salting operations are as much a sign of the season as the sprouting of snowmen on lawns.
But the tick-tick-tick of salt granules hitting the undercarriage of cars is becoming a less-familiar sound these days as state and municipal highway departments — and property management firms — turn increasingly to liquid de-icers. These liquid de-icing or anti-icing brine products work like anti-freeze: they lower the freezing temperature of water, preventing ice from forming a strong bond to road surfaces. They help keep roads from becoming slick, improve safety, lower costs, and reduce accidents. And like traditional rock salt, a brine mixture can melt ice at temperatures as low as -6°F (-21°C).
While crystalline salt products are designed to melt ice that has already settled on road surfaces, the liquids go to work sooner, and are applied as a pre-treatment — often as much as 24 to 48 hours before a storm hits. Salt, on the other hand, only begins to activate after absorbing some moisture from ice or snow.
A few years ago, the Michigan Department of Transportation studied the amount of chemicals left on roads after a typical application of salt, and found that almost 40% of the materials spread by trucks along the center of roads “bounced” off the surface and landed on shoulders or in roadside ditches, eventually affecting the quality of local water bodies.
And when spread on sidewalks, salt tends to accumulate in joints and cracks, where it activates when wet, then dries, and activates again with the next wave of moisture — eventually attacking the concrete and leading to sidewalk failure.
With those issues in mind, more property managers and maintenance services are moving to liquid products — ranging from pickle brine (and in Wisconsin, cheese brine!) to beet juice and even molasses mixtures. These products can be purchased already mixed, or can be mixed to desired proportions on an as-needed basis.
Why should property managers pay so much attention to the various means of melting ice?
Look no farther than the all-too-familiar issue of “slip and fall” accidents — and their related lawsuits. State and local ordinances and rules regarding snow removal and liability vary, but there’s no question that having community residents tumbling on icy sidewalks or parking lots is a bad idea for everyone involved. A few dollars’ worth of ice-melting products can help prevent not only costly legal settlements, but the health and well-being of residents and visitors.
When environmental concerns are combined with protecting the property’s infrastructure, financial considerations and the well-being of residents, it just may be time for managers to consider leaving the salt shaker on the table and moving to newer methods of melting ice problems away.