The Cleveland metro area, ranked as one of the top snowiest cities in the nation, is no stranger to snow. Whereas our experience with championships may be fairly new, our track record of dealing with snow and its dreadful counterpart, ice, is fairly extensive. Winter is around the corner, but we have it all figured out. The gloves and boots come out of our closets. The ice scrappers are rescued from the bottom of our trunks. And we coat our roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and just about all other paved surfaces with rock salt.
Problem solved, see you in April. Right?
Rock salt is our panacea. It’s tried and true, and is as old as the earth itself. And Clevelander’s don’t mess around. But before we skip ahead to April, let’s take a moment to peel back this salting strategy a bit. Is there a substitute for rock salt? Is rock salt even effective? Is there a better way? Should we be doing things differently? No. Depends. Yes. Absolutely.
Put simply, there is no substitute for rock salt as a deicing agent. Especially when practical, economic and logistical matters are factored. Grits, grindings and sand are as impractical as they are messy. Poll any commercial property manager around and see if they would tolerate any of these methods. No tenant, manager, owner, or visitor wants a parking lot converted into a dirty sand box. Liquids, whether chemical or agricultural in nature, come close but not close enough to put rock salt on the bench for the season. So, at least in the year 2016, there is no substitute for rock salt.
This is true even though rock salt itself isn’t really all that effective. The amount of ice melted per pound of rock salt drops over 60% in just five measly degrees (from 30 degrees to 25 degrees Fahrenheit). Salt becomes 86% more ineffective at 15° F. Salt is essentially rendered useless at temperatures near zero. In addition to temperature, relative humidity is another atmospheric variable that renders salt ineffective. Salt is effective, when weather conditions permit and cooperate. But how often does that happen Cleveland?
Questions regarding the effectiveness of salt are tough to swallow when other shortcomings are considered. Chief among them being price. As a commodity, the price of rock salt fluctuates wildly base on supply and demand. The critical rock salt shortages of 2014 and 2015 sent prices soaring, left stockpiles depleted, and caused even local municipalities scrambling. In addition to supply and demand factors, there are also logistical factors impacting price. There are about a third less bulk carriers now because many of the trucking outfits did not make it through the winters of 2014 and 2015. For the ones that are left, regulations are making it less desirable for truckers to mess around with salt. As such, the salt industry is paying significantly higher prices to ship material than in the past. For those keeping score, we have a somewhat effective product that can be wildly expensive.
Perhaps always considered, but not fully appreciated until recently is yet another pitfall of salt: environmental damage. Next to our beloved Lake Erie, matters of contamination of our local waterways are of deep concern. But everywhere, oxidization is an environmental side effect of salt as it rusts and corrodes just about everything from cars to concrete. Environmental issues are just now being studied in detail to determine salt’s dangers to vegetation and animals. A recent industry study revealed that one ton of salt causes anywhere from $800 to $3,500 in environmental damage. In short, our salting as a panacea strategy is really starting to take some serious hits.
This then forces us to ponder if there truly is another way and if we should change our approach to ice. Enter liquids. When paired together, rock salt and liquids form a more complete anti- and deicing strategy that allows for the best of both products to enhance their individual strengths and ameliorate their unique shortcomings. A strategy of using liquids with, and as a compliment to salt, is more effective, delivers better results, limits environmental damage, reduces a contractor’s exposure to market forces that drive drastic price increases, provides for safer properties, and expands the service offerings into the more proactive anti-icing realm.