It's All About the Plan in Snow Removal

There's a real science to snow removal. Professionals don't merely push, blow or pile snow. They must strategically—and cost-effectively—manage properties to not only remove snow and ice, but also minimize risk to property owners, pedestrians and the environment.

At the heart of every good snow-response plan is a firm understanding of something Dave Hessong calls "site engineering." Hessong is a snow-removal expert who has been in the business since 1999. He says that site engineering requires a snow professional to study a given site to best determine how to manage it. There are several key areas that must be considered.

Snow Storage

You have to know the best location on a property to pile the snow. This requires knowledge of a given site's drainage patterns, traffic flow, hours of operation, and so on.

Sometimes, when looking over a site with a prospective client, the prospective client will tell you that “the snow goes there.” But you can clearly see that “there” is not the best place for the snow to get piled. “Don’t hesitate to ask the prospective client why he or she wants the snow there,” Hessong says. “You’d be surprised how many times the response will be, ‘Well, we’ve just always put it there.’”

Snow needs to be placed as close to a drain as possible—but never covering it. This sounds simple, but other factors always complicate it. For instance, if drains are in the middle of the parking area, do you sacrifice parking spaces to keep snow close to drainage? Probably not. Additionally, snow piles are not going to be put on landscaping or where they might cause a line-of-site issue for traffic just to accommodate drainage. Then you’ll likely encounter the problem of runoff between the pile and the drain that re-freezes when temperatures drop.

As you can see, there are many factors to be considered when deciding where to pile snow. You must study the site, confer with the client, and weigh your options before making a decision.

Staking

Another important tactic in site engineering is staking. Staking is an inexpensive way to alert crews to and/or avoid costly damage to different things around a site, such as fire hydrants.

“Staking objects is not only to protect those objects, but also the equipment and operator,” Hessong points out. “Hard enough contact could potentially hurt all three.”

The first key to effective staking is to make sure you're using different colors or types of stakes for the different items you're staking. For example, stakes for parking lots and roadways should be different from sidewalks, and stakes for fire hydrants should be different from drains.

“One color stake delineates the area to be plowed,” Hessong explains. “The edge of the pavement quickly becomes invisible even in a light snowfall. Curbs become invisible in a heavy snowfall or after the first plow event when covered with windrow or snow pile. Another color or colors should then mark objects or areas where snow may not be piled such as a fire hydrant. Drains are also marked as they cannot be covered; packed snow on a drain will not completely stop water from entering, but will slow it to the point of causing real problems. Finally, yet another color should identify a particularly dangerous object such as a gas meter.”

Staking is also helpful in documenting existing damage on a site prior to you servicing it. For example, if you notice a busted parking lot curb or fire hydrant, note it, photograph it, and stake it.

Make sure all of your staking is completed before the first snowfall arrives. Then, make sure you're maintaining it throughout the season.

Site Information Sheets

Once a snow pro has studied the site, he can create a detailed Site Information Sheet. This document will include an outline of the estimated labor, equipment, materials and time needed to complete the job. The document will also contain notes of a site's specific needs, including the expected finished condition.

"A well-prepared document is a must when looking at a site with a prospective customer," Hessong says. "It not only gives you a place to write down the answers, but also prompts you to ask the right questions in the first place."

Download a free example of a Snow Removal Site Information Sheet (PDF) by visiting http://www.greenindustrypros.com/10984902.

A site plan should also include a map(s) of the site, highlighting locations of fire hydrants, drains, handicap parking, snow storage, priority areas like employee parking, and much more. "Details from your site information sheet are used to create the site map," Hessong points out. “Be sure to color-code the map based on the different elements in it. Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words."

For new clients, a succinct one-page "fact sheet" should also be created. This comes in especially handy if you ever need to send an unfamiliar crew or subcontractor to a given site. This document should include the following information:

  • Finish time
  • Trigger (i.e. any accumulation)
  • Site name and address
  • Client contact information
  • Expectation (i.e. wet walks and drive by time employees arrive)
  • Timetable (i.e. when employees arrive, when facility opens, when facility closes)
  • Materials needed
  • Equipment and manpower needed
  • Estimated plow time

Routing

Today's competitive environment requires snow-removal contractors to be highly efficient. To that end, Hessong says you should assemble routes based on the necessary equipment type, required time of completion, and traffic considerations.

"Plan these routes for worst-case scenario, which is a rush-hour snowfall with a cycle time of four or five hours," Hessong advises. "It's also a good idea to minimize the trailering of equipment whenever possible. Also, document routes and provide these route plans to multiple operators in case somebody ever needs to fill in for someone else."

As for your salting routes, Hessong says that structuring them in a star pattern provides the driver the ability to monitor conditions and salt effectiveness, as well as provide the opportunity to see the fruits of his labor since he is driving past sites he has already de-iced (see photo). "Dedicate trucks to salting whenever possible," Hessong adds, "and provide salt routes to all salt truck drivers in case they need to fill in."

Material Staging

How and where materials are staged is another important consideration for snow-removal contractors. You have a few options.

Storing rock salt and other deicing material right at your facility is appealing from both a convenience and security standpoint. However, it's recommended that you have a good structure to store it in.

Storing material right on a site might also be a possibility. This is great from an efficiency standpoint. But realize that this approach is only temporary, and may cause heightened environmental concerns.

Finally, you could have your salt truck drivers pick up material directly from your supplier as they need it. “This is very convenient, but there are some downsides,” Hessong alerts. “First of all, this approach may require cash on delivery, which requires your salt truck driver to handle payment. Secondly, there may be a time when your salt truck driver needs more material, but the supplier is closed.

“It’s hard to recommend one method over another,” Hessong continues. “You have to evaluate your own individual circumstances on a case by case basis.”

Fuel

If you are dedicating equipment to a larger site, such as a wheel loader to a large industrial parking lot, you need to consider how that wheel loader is going to be refueled. “Storing fuel on site is convenient, but there are both security and environmental concerns,” Hessong says. “A piggyback fuel tank in a pickup truck is another option. You could also check and see if a local fuel supplier has a delivery service.”

There are many things to think about when developing a snow and ice management plan for a commercial site. Adopting a “site engineering” type of approach can help to keep you a step ahead of the game. In a business like snow removal where every second counts, it is the only approach you can afford to take.

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