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Seven Things Facility Managers Must Know About Ice Melters!!!

The noise surrounding the sale of ice melters seems to have reached an all-time high with more brands on the market than ever before. Complicating matters, some claims may be confusing. Many newer ice melters are actually only blends of one or more common deicers, sometimes with a few additives.

The pitch on the package might be “safe for vegetation”, “less tracking”, or “low-temperature effectiveness”, but such claims offer require classification, if not a grain of salt. A blend’s ice-melting capacity, for example, is always diminished by its weaker ingredients. The followings tips are designed to help through the noise and help educational and health care facility managers make the right choice.

1. What’s Most Important

Steps, walkways and other common areas that are the responsibility of the site manager require rapid cleanup to help maintain a safe environment. That’s priority one. An effective, fast acting deicer naturally makes ice and snow removal easier which, in turn, saves time and reduces maintenance.

That’s consistent with the opinions of more than 2,000 of the biggest buyers of deicers as captured in an independent nationwide survey. The following indicates how often they rated each factor “most important”.

Works Fast: 44%

Won’t Harm Concrete: 21%

Works at Low Temperatures: 13%

Non-Tracking: 13%

Safe for Plants: 8%

In short, an ice melter should work fast under all conditions and not create any new problems while it is working.

2. What Melts Quickest

Keep in mind that ice melters do not melt ice in their solid form. The solid must first penetrate the pavement and dissolve into a brine. The lower freeze point of the brine breaks the bond between the ice and the sidewalk.

Calcium Chloride melts faster than most other common ice melters for several reasons. Unlike rock salt, calcium chloride absorbs moisture from its surroundings and actually release heat as it changes from a solid to a liquid. So it forms a potent brine faster.

At 15 degrees Fahrenheit, calcium chloride pellets melt about twice the volume of snow in 20 minutes as rock salt. In addition, calcium chloride pellets also penetrate ice faster than other deicers, and the difference is even more dramatic at colder temperatures.

3. What’s Best For Concrete

Most deicers do not chemically attack properly placed and cured concrete. Rather, damage to improperly constructed concrete is actually the result of the expansion pressure caused by the repeated freezing of trapped water. As the number of freeze/thaw cycles increases, it can contribute to damage. Independent testing of commonly used deicers has shown that calcium chloride is the least harmful to concrete (excluding Sodium Acetate and Calcium Magnesium Acetate) after 500 freeze/thaw cycles. Incidentally, liquid calcium chloride is widely used in concrete to decrease the set time of concrete in the winter.

To minimize the impact on concrete, ice and snow should always be removed promptly and any excess deicer brushed away after sidewalks have been cleared.

4. What Works at Coldest Temperatures

Calcium chloride can be effective in cold-weather conditions down to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit. In comparison, rock salt is effective down to 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Urea is effective to 15 degrees Fahrenheit and potassium chloride effective to 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Sodium Acetate is effective to 5 degrees Fahrenheit and Calcium Magnesium Acetate is effective to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Recent reports from highway departments indicate the calcium chloride and sodium acetate can shield against frost and ice formation for several days following application. A highway superintendent described it as an almost shield-like effect.

5. How To Prevent Tracking

Most deicers dry to a white powdery residue. Magnesium chloride and calcium chloride leave a clear brine solution. Regardless of the deicer, again, prevention is the best approach. Walk-off mats are one of the simplest yet most effective ways to cut down on tracking. Studies show that at least four feet of mat is needed with six to ten feet for higher traffic areas.

6. How To Protect Vegetation

All common deicers have the potential to harm vegetation. The best way to protect trees, shrubs and grass is not to use too much.

Deicers are not intended to melt every bit of precipitation and should always be used sparingly. For Calcium chloride, it usually takes only two to four ounces per square yard to effective undercut bonded ice and snow.

Keep in mind, excess snow can damage bushes, too — another reason why treated areas should always be shoveled away from sensitive vegetation. Prior to planting new areas, select trees, shrubs and grass that are less sensitive to deicing salts.

7. What Is The Best Value

To determine the best value, do not compare costs on volume alone. For example, rock salt typically costs substantially less than calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, or sodium acetate by weight. Yet, a 50-pound bag of these products will deice at least twice the area as a 50-pound bag of rock salt — and work at colder temperatures. Also, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, sodium acetate, CMA, potassium chloride, and urea only require half the storage space as rock salt, and a single, all-around deicer can reduce inventory headaches.

Labor is the biggest cost of winter maintenance, so overall effectiveness should always be the guide. In addition to an ice melter’s primary effectiveness, any residual refreeze protection can save a crew time and energy when winter is fiercest. But first, always consider the potential to help prevent slips, because that is what winter site management is all about.