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Know Your Cold

With a wide range of deicers to choose from, it’s easy to get confused. But a little planning matches the right deicer to the effective temperature and saves money.

In today’s economic times, it is more important than ever to understand the choices we make that inevitably affect our budgets.  As a supplier of road maintenance deicers and safety solution deicers, we’ve seen an increasing amount of both liquid and solid deicers being sold on the market throughout the past 30 years.  When faced with such a vast product assortment, it can be bewildering at times to make the right choice.  And while we wish there was a single solution or product for all situations, there simply is not.  Each situation presents its own unique characteristics that will affect the outcome of the event.  Rather than “What product should I be using?” it’s even more important to ask yourself “What goal am I trying to achieve?”

When evaluating your situation and goal, there are many factors to consider.  What temperatures, both road and air, are you dealing with?  What phase of the storm are you in?  Maybe you’re at the head of the storm and in for the long haul or maybe you’re at the heart of the storm and looking for a strong finish.  Take into consideration not only what level of service the public is expecting, but also what level can feasibly be achieved.  Using these simple questions to evaluate the situation at hand can help you determine how to meet and or exceed expectations while keeping your budget in mind.

Preparation for such events begins long before the storm.  It is equally important that not only you, but all members of your team truly understand the expectations and the costs associated with them.  From your purchasing agent to the snow fighters behind the plow, every team member contributes to the success or failure of your efforts. To orchestrate the success of your program, each member of your team needs to be educated and truly understand the impact they have.

When dealing with temperature, it is crucial that you familiarize yourself with the definition “effective temperature.”  This is simply the effective temperature range in which a product can be used efficiently.  This distinguishes performance vs. cost.  Take the cost of a product and calculate how much you will need to use in order to achieve your goal at any given temperature and condition.  This helps you make an informed decision in regard to some of the higher-performing products on the market.  In combination with this, a good starting point is to classify your area or region into one of three simple categories:

  1. The warm category (temperatures of 20F and warmer)
  2. The mixed category ( temperatures of 10F-20F)
  3. The cold category ( temperatures colder than 10F)

Along with temperature, conditions are very important to this category.  The ESI Research and Development Lab have identified more than 15 types of ice or snow.  More specifically, those 15 species can be categorized into the warm, mixed and cold categories.  In temperatures averaging roughly 20F and warmer, it is most common to see snow with higher moisture content.  The higher moisture content changes the characteristics of the snow and has an effect on how products perform.  At these warmer temperatures most products will work successfully and it will be hard to see any differentiation in regards to melting more snow and ice.

As you get into mixed temperatures, let’s say between 10F and 20F, you will start to see a mix of moisture content in the snow falling.  This is something that will start to differentiate performing products from the products that do not perform so well and end up costing you more money.  This is where you can capitalize on efficiency by using higher-performance products and reducing your cost per lane mile.  As temperatures reduce and we see the moisture content of the snow decrease, the more it makes sense to consider using a cold temperature product that can give you flexibility and performance needed to achieve your goals.

Going even colder, roughly below 10F and into the negative temperatures, we see an enormous difference in the type of snow and conditions compared to what we would see at 20F and above.  The moisture content typically is very low and each individual flake is smaller or “more sugar like.”  Have you ever noticed the differences in snow from storm to storm?  Think back to the act of clearing your driveway.  Sometimes in warmer conditions it seems as if each shovel full is quite heavy and at times in colder conditions that shovel is rather light.  This is due to the moisture content in the snow.  At colder temperatures you will observe far greater efficiencies with value-added products that have been designed for use in colder temperatures.  While we are making some generalizations here, this more often than not is the case.  This trend, when identified correctly by you and your team, can help make or break your goals and budget.  By classifying your area or region into one or two of these categories, you can narrow down the types of products you should evaluate.

Keep in mind it is not uncommon for many organizations to utilize a single product or combination of products (dry and liquid) across two or even three categories.  When doing this, it is best to consult your supplier on varying application rates to ensure that you are being as efficient as possible.  In many cases, higher-performing products can be used in smaller quantities at higher temperatures and can help close the gap on a cost per unit when compared to a commodity product.  For instance, when a purchasing agent reviews a bid or proposal for sale, it is not about the price of the product, but more so the cost in order to achieve your desired level of service.  In the past, bids or proposals have been reviewed under the pretense the lowest bidder wins.  However, with the technology that today’s products offer, many times a product that is more expensive by unit is actually the least expensive option in the long run.  For example, if a value-added product costs $1.00 per gallon vs. a commodity product that costs $0.90 per gallon, but the value-added product can be applied at 30 percent to 40 percent less, the cost of the value added product will be less in the long run.  The same scenario can be considered when contemplating a dry product.

In addition to focusing on product cost and efficiency, some companies emphasize environmental consciousness. When choosing a deicer, it is everyone’s responsibility to be conscious of the types of products we are using and their environmental impact.  Most road solutions in the industry today have little to no impact on the environment when used.  “Properly” used is the key word here.  Many times, it can be tempting to use more product as we think it can help achieve faster results.  Over-applying a product causes a couple of issues.  Not only will it eat up a budget very quickly, but over-application can potentially raise some environmental concerns.  Most products have a minimal impact on the environment, but only while being used at the recommended application rates.

It comes down to developing a program that is customized to fit your needs and has the ability to give your team members the tools necessary to perform the job at their fullest potential.  If the proper efforts are invested into a program we can measure the rewards by seeing our roads in good condition and our budgets on target.

Ask the Right Questions

Before the storm hits, make sure you’ve got the right deicer to handle the situation.  It’s less about the cheapest deicer available and more about knowing what the deicer is made to fight.  If you’re unsure what you’re looking for, ask these questions:

  • What goal am I trying to achieve?
  • What does the client expect? What can I reasonably achieve?
  • What temperature am I working with? 20F and warmer?  Between 10F and 20F? Colder than 10F?
  • How much will this cost to apply for its effectiveness?
  • What’s the proper application rate?

By Josh Trujillo