Monthly Archives:: August 2012

Basics #4- Make or buy your brine

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There is much contention in the industry as to whether most contractors should make or buy their anti-icing/deicing liquid which is frequently referred to as brine. When I say buy it, I mean as a pre-mixed ready to use solution. When I say make it, I mean generally take some dry base chemical and put it in a mixing vat and add water. Then agitate to disolve the dry base. Most any chemical you would want can be purchased in either form- dry or in solution. Here are some general (not all-encompassing) thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of each method:
Make you own brine-
Most commonly done with salt & water. Can be done with flake Mag Chloride or pellet calcium chloride as well. Shortcomings are:
* you need a non-freezing water supply to your brine making tank
* brine maker needs power for agitation so electricity must be available
* need a dependable supply of dry base chemical and likely need a place to store it. (dry but near the brine maker)
*quite a bit of work shucking bags and monitoring mix for consistancy
*need to study and research if you take on blending or putting in your own additives. for example, salt brine is easy to make but doesn’t work much colder than 25*F, so many companies add vegetable byproducts of several types to improve cold performance. This can take a lot of research and extra effort.
*Specifically manufactured brine making systems are quite expensive and add to the cost of adopting liquids.
Strengths are not so numerous but can be compelling:
+ Much lower cost to produce per gallon
+You can control your supply
+Not dependent on trucking/transportation as heavily

Pre-mixed ready to use liquids
Shortcomings:
*Must have a storage tank or be close to a depot for pickup
*cost per gallon can be significant(although cost vary widely by base chemical and by transporation costs)
*delivery can be an issue, especially mid-season. Tank trucks & icy roads do not play well together

Strengths of ready to use liquids
+ Minimal hassle to prepare to use
+storage tanks are cheap
+blends are readily available
+good consistancy between loads/batches

Biggest deciding points
Availability of product (what can you get?)
What kind of facility do you have? (water & power, room for storage- dry or tank)
What chemical(s) does your climate dictate you use?
What does the state DOT use? Other contractors in your area?

Now I will briefly cross into editorial territory. IMHO it is better when first starting with liquids to find a pre-mixed liquid that is readily available and has proper support from a sales support person or team. Take all the advice you can get from the manufacturer of your liquid.
See our web page (www.HighCountryIS.com ) for a free downloadable list of companies that make/sell anti-icing and deicing liquids.
Next topic will be selling the product & service
Thanks for reading. Be back in about 10 days.


equipment- the big ??

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For most small contractors looking at liquids, initial startup cost is a huge hurdle. There is the spray system to get. Then there is some kind of storage tank unless you have a depot open extended hours. This is fairly unusual but a great service and value if available. Some systems need an auxiliary pump to fill from a storage tank. Others will use the pump to fill themselves. After 12 years in the business, I like the self-filling spray system better. That way I do not have to run a power cord or fuss with an extra pump. Quick caveat- most self filling systems struggle to get the last 100-200 gallons out of a large storage tank. (depending on fitting size & direction in the tank) So they are not perfect.
Other things to consider-
** electric motors are fine for ATV spray units and perhaps low-flow spray systems. If you have large lots to do or need to spray at a higher speed (like a private road) go for the gas engine at least 5 hp with a centrifugal pump. If you stay up on the maintenance they will last 7-8 years in even heavy use. Mine went 9.
**Easily changeable spray heads (nozzles) are important if you do any after-storm treatment or work to cut existing hard pack. Fan spray heads are best for covering area evenly. Pencil stream or drill type spray heads are needed for cutting hard pack and some post treat uses. You need both kinds of heads to get the most out of your system.
** All pickup/small truck spray systems are on a steel or aluminum skid. Many of these have to be loaded into the truck with a forklift or crane. Others have fold-up legs and require only 2 people. That is a great bonus for small companies that do not have a forklift. No special equipment required.
** there is great debate in the industry- Steel skid or aluminum skid. Here is my take. Steel is generally better. Mag chloride and aluminum do not play nicely together. The anti-corrosion additive in most manufactured liquids reduces the steel corrosion dramatically. So, unless you are using home-made salt brine with no addditives, the steel is generally better. Rinse it off after every storm and touch up the paint every year at the end of the year.
** Sometimes a spray system that uses 200 gallon refillable “totes” looks pretty good until you consider that the totes have to be moved with a forklift. And you may have to keep several totes around to make sure you can finish a job. 200 gallons only goes so far. So be aware of the shortcomings of totes.
These things are the reason HighCountry exists. There was not one system on the market that met all the things I thought were needed. So we created 325 gallon and 200 gallon systems. I realize that there are a million ways to piecemeal together a spray system, and that is OK if you are dabbling in the liquid arena before jumping in. But realize that things like wooden skids, electric pumps, hand made booms etc will not make good long term solutions and can turn into hassle magnets.
For further info check out www.snowplownews.com blog section for an article called “when in doubt, do it yourself” Then wander over to www.HighCountryIS.com to see the results.
Next time we will talk about selling liquid services.
Thanks for reading.