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Worth its salt: Why direct liquid brine applications are useful

September 2, 2020 -  By
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Liquid brine truck (Photo: David J. Frank Landscape Contracting Inc.)

Using a brine solution can prevent ice from bonding to pavement. (Photo: David J. Frank Landscape Contracting Inc.)

Snow care professionals aren’t just up against snow events during a long winter — salt is also top of mind. Salt supply fluctuations raise concerns over whether companies can properly serve snow removal clients.

Brad Frank, snow services manager for David J. Frank Landscape Contracting Inc. (DJFLCI) in Germantown, Wis., recalls that a past salt shortage led him to search for something other than simply plowing and spreading salt.

The company began working for a hospital that wanted a more environmentally friendly snow removal option and one that would track less salt into the building — but at the time, granular salt and organic liquids such as beet were its only options. “We had limited tools — we only had different types of salt and whatever salt was available to us to utilize as a deicing agent,” Frank says.

The bulk salt supply shortage in 2013-2014 is when DJFLCI turned to directly applying liquids to deice paved surfaces and reduce the company’s salt usage.

A new tool

With direct liquid application, a brine solution is sprayed on the ground prior to a snow event. The solution prevents snow and ice from bonding to the pavement as new snow falls, so plows can more easily clear the snow away.

DJFLCI mainly uses liquid applications as an anti-icing agent before snow events. Frank says that liquid is also becoming more popular as a direct application/post treatment after plowing, since in the right conditions it can have the same if not better effectiveness as granular salt as a post treatment — but at a lower cost.

“Every snow event is different, but having more tools in our service toolbox allows us to service our customers, and allows us to tackle each storm the best way possible,” Frank says. “Using liquids as an anti-icer before the storm helps increase the chances of safe pavement conditions in the first hour of precipitation.”

DJFLCI also started using liquid to prewet its salt at the spinner of trucks which helps lower the effective temperature of the material.

The company offers design/build, maintenance, irrigation and holiday décor to a 60 percent commercial, 40 percent residential client base. In 2019, it reported $5.1 million in snow revenue alone, with 85 percent of that total coming from commercial snow accounts, and the rest is residential.

Frank says that his late uncle and founder of the company, David J. Frank, was a proponent of looking into effective and environmentally friendly snow removal options like liquid. After doing extensive research and talking with industry pros from the Snow & Ice Management Association, such as Charles Glossop of Hantho Outdoor Services in Rockford, Minn., DJFLCI began to use liquid.

The company now uses direct liquid application on 65 percent of its commercial accounts. Frank reports that on some accounts, it has lowered salt usage by 30 to 40 percent.

Equipment matters

The company also upgraded its equipment for liquid applications. Its salters are equipped with prewet systems for adding brine to the salt as it’s dispersed through the hopper. Since DJFLCI now provides direct liquid application to the majority of its commercial accounts, it invested in a brine maker to make its own salt brine, instead of purchasing liquid calcium chloride from a local vendor.

The cost for a brine maker can range from $12,000 to $25,000, but Frank says it’s worth the cost if you’re spraying the amount of liquid that DJFLCI is — about 25,000 gallons last season. After maintenance and labor expenses, Frank says the company saves $8,000 to $10,000 per year by making brine in-house.

The brine maker has allowed the company to customize its brine solutions, as well. When temperatures are above 20 degrees, the team can use a straight salt brine. For temperatures under 15 degrees, DJFLCI adds liquid calcium at a rate of 10 percent to 15 percent to lower the freeze point and effective temperature of the brine solution.

The company also added multiple SnowEx Liqui Maxxspray systems, and it uses SnowEx sprayer tanks on its Kubota, Kawasaki and Gravely UTVs. For sidewalks, DJFLCI uses Boss Snowrators with spray tanks, and for entrance areas, crews hand apply brine with backpack sprayers.

This winter will be DJFLCI’s fourth season with the liquid equipment, and Frank says that liquid applications have been vital to the business and recommends this approach to other snow care companies. “Having the versatility and the ability to provide the best service has contributed to our growth,” he says.

Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the managing editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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