Facility Dude

Time to familiarize yourself with ice-melting products

By FacilityDude
Jan 22, 2014

Facilities Management

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Time to familiarize yourself with ice-melting products Facility managers with children may remember an animated movie called "An American Tail," which featured cartoon mice singing about America and its streets supposedly paved with cheese. It seems that the mice's American dream has finally come true - in cities across the U.S., cost-efficient and environmentally-conscious transportation officials looking to make their rock salt more effective in sub-zero temperatures have been mixing it with edible additives, among them cheese brine and beet juice, according to The Associated Press. Interestingly, the cocktails have so far proven successful. They also prompt the question - what are you doing to keep your facility's outdoor walkways and roads safe?

The importance of sidewalk salting

Every facility manager knows the importance of maintaining safe walkways for building tenants. Because of this, they should implement routine checks to make sure that no spots are slick with ice, preferably with the help of maintenance management software to keep them on top of this sometimes bone-chilling task. Furthermore, they should definitely keep an accurate inventory of their ice-melting supplies. The last thing you want is to find that you have no more rock salt an hour before people show up at your facility.

Yet, since the U.S. was plunged into the center of a polar vortex, some people have found that plain salt isn't effective in all temperatures. As the AP reported, salt is ineffective under 16 degrees, but additives can help it work down to 25 degrees below zero. While the re-purposed dairy brine from Wisconsin cheese plants supposedly has a little bit of a cheesy smell up close, as Milwaukee's fleet operations manager Jeffrey Tews told the AP, it also wets the salt, keeps it on the road better and costs nothing save for transportation. While you may not be in the mood to  whip up your own batch of mozzarella ice-melt, you should still do some of your research into what chemicals and additives will best suit your building maintenance needs.

Weighing your options

As with any supply, your three main considerations for choosing an ice-melting product are cost, effectiveness and practicality. Inevitably, some products are going to be more expensive than others. To justify the expense, you'll need to determine your ice-melting needs. As FacilitiesNet noted, some chemicals are non-corrosive and biodegradable, but not as effective in certain situations. Others can be highly effective at melting ice, but are damaging to certain materials and environments. For example, rock salt can corrode exposed steel, be harmful to vegetation and ruin soil. Different products also melt ice in various ways, and ones that reduce ice to slush would not be a good idea for walkways.

Also, when deciding which products are best for you, remember that a highly effective product may take a large chunk out of your budget upfront, but the better it works, the less of it you'll need and the less space it will take up in storerooms, FacilitiesNet pointed out.

What's available

You have a number of options available to you, however, you should maybe hold off from the food additives, as city officials are still testing it selectively in pilot programs before making the switch, according to the AP. On the market now, though, your main options are chlorides and acetates.

FacilitiesNet noted that sodium chloride, or rock salt, is not corrosive to concrete, but can damage rebar, steel and vegetation. It is less effective than potassium chloride or urea, which can be deadly to plants and bad for water, but function at much lower temperatures. They also work slower than sodium chloride. Acetates, meanwhile are non-corrosive and biodegrabale, but they turn ice and snow into slush, and so are best used on parking decks and bridges.

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