With salt prices skyrocketing and clients looking to control costs, some snow and ice management contractors are pre-wetting their granular deicers with a brine solution before spreading them. Using the same equipment, many are also trying the anti-icing approach, spraying brine onto pavement before a snow event.
Jim Berns, founder and president of Berns Landscaping Services in Warren, MI, is one such contractor. “I’d been looking to get into liquids for quite some time, mainly to add anti-icing services to my offering,” Berns relates. “When salt prices starting going through the roof, I knew I needed to do something soon to also reduce my materials cost.”
Last year Berns complemented his SnowEx V-Maxx spreader with an AccuSpray system (same manufacturer). Through separate controls right in the truck cab, the AccuSpray system allows operators to spray brine onto granular deicing materials such as rock salt before they hit the spreader’s spinner, hence the term “pre-wetting.” Then, for anti-icing procedures, a separate set of fan nozzles allows operators to spray brine directly onto the pavement.
Berns uses a brine solution comprised mainly of calcium chloride, along with small percentages of potassium chloride, magnesium chloride and sodium chloride.
“We have a large brine supplier in the area we buy our product from,” Berns relates. “I’ve learned that there are a multitude of suppliers who carry brine, but the recipes vary greatly. The thing I like about our supplier is that we’re given an MSDS sheet, which is very helpful when dealing with the commercial market. I can verify that what we’re using is a quality product that is less harmful to the environment.”
Berns stores his brine in a 6,500-gallon tank at his facility. As a general rule, the tank is completely refilled once it’s depleted to a level of roughly 1,000 gallons. “That way we know we should always have enough of a supply to handle any storm that comes our way,” Berns says.
The science behind pre-wetting
After the brine is sprayed onto the granular material, it is more likely to cling to the target surface, rather than bouncing or blowing away. This helps minimize material waste and achieve a consistent application on roadways and parking lots.
“I’m not putting too much salt down and getting a white parking lot,” Berns points out. However, he says the biggest benefit has been the significantly lower material costs. In fact, by pre-wetting, Berns reduced his salt usage by 50% last season.
Additionally, pre-wetting produces quick results in cold conditions. To work, deicing materials need to attract sufficient moisture from the environment. When temperatures drop below freezing, there is little moisture available for salt to initiate melting. Pre-wetting the salt ensures that enough moisture is present to facilitate the process, and the results are noticeable.
“When I look at my lots after we put down a pre-wetted salt, it can be 15º F and my lots are wet,” Berns relates. “I look at competitors who are just using salt, and their lots still have snow cover and slush.”
As Berns points out, there is a real science behind pre-wetting. However, while this tactic works well in cold temperatures, it’s another story when the mercury rises. “We might not want to pre-wet if it’s 31º F or warmer,” Berns says. “Pre-wetting can sometimes make it slushy and even more slippery. We educate our drivers so they know what to do given the conditions.”
The appeal of anti-icing
The V-Maxx/AccuSpray combo has also provided Berns Landscaping Services with further versatility, allowing the company to offer anti-icing services to clients.
As pointed out earlier, a separate set of fan nozzles allows operators to spray brine directly onto the pavement, covering an area of roughly two truck widths. But instead of performing this service after ice has formed, anti-icing involves spraying brine on the surface before a snow event, helping to prevent a bond from forming between the ice and pavement.