It''s that time of year again, when the temperature in many parts of the country is frigid and snow is falling.
While school kids become excited with the thought of a "snow day," for the rest of us, snowy conditions might not trigger such fond feelings.
For building maintenance professionals, snowfall signals the onset of managing snowy steps and hazardous, icy sidewalks.
Since the 1930s, the use of salt and ice-melt blends have helped make winter months less hazardous and kept cities running.
Yet, these materials can lead to some potentially negative effects.
While the use of salt and ice-melt blends help building maintenance professionals keep their facilities safe during the winter, it is important to be aware of their impact on our environment and us.
Know Your Slush
First, the brine or slush created by salt melting snow can be corrosive to exposed metal surfaces, which may lead to rust and damage to structures such as benches, sculptures and fences.
Second, brine from the salt and ice-melt blends can penetrate porous concrete surfaces, thereby increasing the number of freeze-thaw cycles — concrete expansion and contraction — leading to damage of poor-quality concrete, asphalt and other surfaces.
Third, excessive application of salt and ice-melt blends may produce runoff that could impact the local ecosystem as a result of direct damage to plants or absorption into the soil, which could ultimately make its way into drinking water.
Technology To The Rescue
Well aware of ice-melters'' side effects, salt companies have developed ice-melt products that can minimize some of the negative effects.
Many ice-melters now contain anti-corrosion agents that help reduce or prevent damage to metal objects.
For damage done to concrete and asphalt, technology has improved to allow for more freeze-thaw cycles in a season, and some ice-melt blends now contain chemicals that inhibit damage to paved surfaces.
Finally, new environmentally friendly ice-melt blends enter the market each season and, when used properly, can have less potentially negative runoff.
The bottom line is that the past few winters have been extremely harsh with snowfall and ice accumulation exceeding historical amounts and expectations.
In areas most severely hit by winter weather, salt and ice-melters are needed, whether we like it or not.
While it''s true there are potential negative effects of using salt and ice-melt products, there are ways to optimize the use of salt and ice-melt blends.
The following tips can minimize the negative impacts without compromising the safety of clear sidewalks and parking lots.
Select The Right Ice-melt
Snow and ice affect a large portion of the United States each year.
Yet, the severity of winter storms can vary significantly by state and even regions within a state.
For example, North Carolina may experience several instances of snowfall and ice each year; however, snow and ice in this region may not last for long periods of time due to higher average temperatures.
On the other hand, snow and ice that typically bombard the Northeast can accumulate for weeks at a time and not melt away quickly.
Clearly, residents in the state of North Carolina have different needs than those in the Northeast and should purchase ice-melters with different capabilities and benefits based on their needs.
Although snow and ice melt more quickly in the Southeast, slip-and-fall hazards still exist, so ice and snow cannot go unaddressed.
Those living in less harsh climates can purchase salts and ice-melt blends that don''t melt in sub-zero temperatures, but melt faster.
Additionally, building maintenance professionals in more temperate regions have the opportunity to use more environmentally friendly or specialty compounds, which tend to be less effective at lower temperatures, but can be less damaging to surfaces and vegetation.
Conversely, Northern and Northeastern states that are faced with bitterly cold and frequent winter storms throughout the season may need to focus on ice-melt blends that are fast-acting and effective at extremely low temperatures.
This can help make sidewalks and parking lots safer as quickly as possible and for longer periods of time.
These areas might also consider purchasing ice-melt blends that are both effective at low temperatures and include anti-corrosive agents to reduce negative impacts on surfaces.
Those customers specifically concerned about the safety of pets and plants can use ice-melt blends containing fertilizers such as urea or potassium chloride.
These chemicals are plant-friendly and can be less toxic to the environment while still effective at melting snow at low temperatures.
Use The Optimum Amount Of Salt Or Ice-melt Blend
In many instances, salt and ice-melt blends are applied under the assumption of "if a little bit can go a long way, a lot can go even further."
Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Year after year, ice-melt users subject themselves to significant waste as a result of using ice-melters inefficiently.
This waste can also translate into unnecessarily high levels of salt and chemicals introduced into the environment.
Salt and ice-melt products have a specific melting capacity given the chemical makeup of the compound and environmental conditions.
Over-application does not increase the melting capacity; it only increases accumulation of salt on the sidewalk or parking lot.
So, when it comes to application, building maintenance professionals should apply salt or ice-melt blends as directed on the back of the product package or as directed by an ice-melt product professional.
Using a visible ice-melting product is also a practical way to prevent over-application.
Ice-melting crystals that are dyed a particular color help building maintenance professionals determine how much product has been applied during application, preventing overuse.
Additionally, the visible ice-blend products alert customers that the job has been completed.
Let''s face it, over-application equates to wasted time, wasted money and compromised safety.
It''s well worth the effort upfront to understand how much product to apply in order to optimize the dollars spent and minimize the runoff in the environment.
Pre- And Proper Application
Proper application of salt and ice-melt blends can help to improve performance, which means less product is necessary to clear sidewalks and parking lots safely and reduce the impact on surroundings.
Building maintenance professionals can employ two primary application strategies to help increase salt and ice-melt efficacy: Pre-application of salt and ice-melt blends before heavy winter storms arrive and clearing brine as it forms.
First, application of salt and ice-melt blends prior to snowfall or ice formation can help prevent the initial development of ice and promote the formation of brine earlier on.
Pre-application makes it easier to clear sidewalks and can reduce the need for a second application of salt or ice-melt blend.
Second, clearing or shoveling the brine that forms as the ice begins melting helps to prevent large and thick blocks of ice from forming or refreezing — or both.
Proactively dealing with the brine can also reduce the need for a second application of salt or ice-melt blends and can make sidewalks and parking lots safer.
Building maintenance professionals can employ these simple strategies to ensure they are making the most of salt or ice-melt blends and minimizing the amount of runoff introduced into the environment and on nearby surfaces.
Most industry experts agree that the 2010 winter is shaping up to be snowy and icy.
Taking the responsibility to select the right salt or ice-melt blend can not only help to make the winter months more tolerable in the short term, but it can also help to ensure surface and environmental sustainability in the long term.
If you are unsure what type of product to use, consult a professional or manufacturer to aid in selecting the appropriate ice-melter.
Sara Matuszak is senior associate brand manager for Morton Ice Melting Solutions. Morton Ice Melting Solutions is a brand of Morton Salt, a leading salt producer in North America for over 150 years. Morton Ice Melting Solutions consist of ice control products for both professional and consumer use, including the economical Morton® Safe-T-Salt® Rock Salt, the fast-acting Morton® Ice Melter Blend, the subzero-performing Morton® Calcium Chloride and the environmentally friendly Morton® EcoSafe Ice Melter. For more information, visit www.mortonsalt.com or call 1-800-789-SALT.