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What are recommended strategies for snow removal and ice control in parking facilities?

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A proactive approach to maintenance in inclement weather is always recommended.   We recommend a written policy that is communicated to all staff, and reiterated in the event of a weather event.   This plan should include both mandatory and recommended strategies, which may include the strategies discussed below.

Communicate with patrons as appropriate to convey potential impacts as well as recommendations for when and how to safely park.

Snow removal may be required due to parking demands as well as weather conditions that create significant buildup of heavy saturated snow.  There are three main options regarding snow removal.  These include the use of a portable snow melt machine, hauling the snow out of the garage or dumping the snow at a properly designed snow dump zone.  A structural engineer should be consulted to assure that the selected snow removal option does not exceed the capacity of the structure.

Snow is normally plowed downhill using a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating not more than 8,000 pounds.  The snowplow blade should be modified with a heavy rubber or polyurethane cutting edge attached to the bottom and with tires designed to keep the blade from contacting the concrete floor surface.  Keep the blade one-half inch above the floor surface to avoid damage to concrete, expansion joint systems, joint sealants and traffic topping systems.  Plowing should be done away from joints, not across them.  The snow plow operator must be familiar with the structure and the elements that are susceptible to damage.  Permanent or temporary signs are recommended at critical locations, such as the expansion joints, to notify the snow plow operation to take caution.  The plow should be raised at the expansion joints to prevent damage.

Snow dump zones are the most common snow removal option.  Snow is plowed to specific locations within the facility that have been designed to pile snow adjacent to the snow dump zone.  A “Bobcat” or industrial snow blower can be used to throw/dump the snow over the side.  Take care with a “Bobcat” or snow blower to avoid damage to concrete panels, connection hardware and expansion joints.  Dumping the snow over the side of the garage is acceptable if it is done safely and provisions are made to prevent snow from falling into the garage.  The dumping zone should be fenced off and able to drain freely when the snow melts.

DO NOT pile snow within the garage unless the structure has been designed for this type of loading.  If snow is piled and then becomes saturated, the load capacity of the structure can be exceeded, creating a potential structural failure or collapse.  Contact us or the structural engineer of record of your parking facility to verify the acceptable depth of snow within your facility.

Off-peak snow removal operation may be required to deal with heavy snowfalls effectively and safely.

Snow can also be quickly brushed away with a rotary broom mounted in front of a utility vehicle.  Clearing snow with a rotary broom is typically efficient only for light snowfalls.  Steel or other metallic bristles on rotary brooms can damage traffic topping and must not be used under any circumstances.

Studded snow tires and tire chains cause damage to concrete and traffic topping and should be prohibited.

All deicing compounds, including road salt, do not work in extremely cold temperatures.  Ice buildup can be controlled by using hot sand or a mixture of sand and approved deicing agents.  Do not apply deicing chemicals containing chloride directly to the concrete unless extreme ice conditions exist.  Drain systems should be protected against runoff-related sand accumulation during ice control operations.  Use temporary burlap or straw filters to prevent drain clogging and possible damage to drain systems.  The use of sand requires additional sweeping and cleaning maintenance.

Minimize the use of deicing chemicals during the first two years of concrete curing.  Properly designed, air-entrained and cured concrete is required to provide a durable concrete structural system, but concrete curing is an ongoing process.

The slope of the floors is designed to drain surface water as quickly as possible.  Continually evaluate entry/exit lanes, the top level and ice-prone areas at the covered levels of the garage, as they are vulnerable to icing when water drains from sun-warmed surfaces into shaded areas.  Standing water in these areas can create slip-and-fall hazards, as well as contribute to deterioration of concrete.  Be aware of these areas and control icing as it occurs.

Most common chemical deicers can have major chemical and physical effects on reinforced concrete systems.  Several deicers are listed below with a general description of the common effects on materials typically found in and around a parking facility.  Although a deicer may affect one type of material (such as metals and steel reinforcing, or steel connections), and have little effect on other materials (such as concrete), the effect on the single material may progressively affect the entire reinforced concrete system.  When such deicers, in solution with water, reach steel via cracks, serious deterioration of structural components can result.

The following summarizes common deicing agents:

  • Sodium Chloride (halite, table salt, or rock salt) has little chemical effect on concrete, but will damage lawns and shrubs. It promotes metal corrosion.  Do Not Use.
  • Calcium Chloride, a major active component of many proprietary deicers, has little chemical effect on concrete, lawns, and shrubs, but it causes corrosion of metal. It is particularly hazardous to prestressing steel.   Do Not Use.
  • Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) is available as “CMA”, manufactured by Cryotech. Solid CMA pellets help break up the bond between the ice and the driving surface.  It acts similarly to salt, but is slower-acting – typically 10 to 15 minutes.  CMA has no known adverse effects on concrete or embedded reinforcement. CMA will not damage lawns or shrubs.
  • Potassium Acetate is available as “CF7 ®”, manufactured by Cryotech. It is a non-chloride based clear liquid deicer that is effective at -25ºF. Potassium Acetate is best used as an anti-icer, sprayed on the pavement before precipitation starts but can also be used as a deicer. It is very effective as a prewetting agent for solid deicers such as CMA.
  • Sodium Acetate is available as “NAAC”, manufactured by Cryotech. NAAC is a biodegradable & low toxicity material which contains no chlorides. This product effective at -0ºF and approved for use at airports and commercial facilities.
  • Ammonium Nitrate or Ammonium Sulfate is beneficial to most vegetation, but may lead to complete destruction of concrete because of direct chemical attack on concrete reinforcement. Do Not Use.
  • Prilled Urea does not damage concrete, lawns, shrubs or metal. Prilled urea does not behave the same as common road salts.  Our reports are as follows:
    • Attracts moisture or stays “mushy” longer than salted areas.
    • Takes longer (than salt) to penetrate ice.
    • Will work best at breaking up ice with solar action. Tends to have little effect after dark or at temperatures below 24° F.
    • Use urea to break up ice and then shovel.
  • Ethylene Glycol, or a solution of ethylene glycol and urea, is used by many airports for ice control on runways and planes. While effective to -40° F and non-damaging, it is considerably more expensive than urea.
  • Sand, or a mixture of sand and deicers, may be used to eliminate or reduce the use of deicers.

Recommended deicing measures, in order of decreasing preference, are:

  • Clean, plow, scrape off ice and snow. Use no deicing agents.
  • Use Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) when concrete is less than a year old. Apply CMA at the application rate recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Use Sodium Acetate (NAAC) when concrete is more than a year old or is protected by a traffic membrane. Apply NAAC at the application rate recommended by the manufacturer.
  • For increased effectiveness, spray apply liquid Potassium Acetate (CF7) before precipitation starts, followed by solid deicers (CMA or NAAC) after precipitation starts.
  • Use sand to increase traction. When washing down, place burlap or straw filters over floor drains to keep sand out of drainage systems.
  • Never use Calcium Chloride, Sodium Chloride, Ammonium Nitrate or Ammonium Sulfate.

*Federal, State, and Local codes govern most of these requirements and should be thoroughly investigated. Data presented herein should be considered guidelines only.  For more specific information and assistance with implementation of these guidelines, please contact THA Consulting, Inc. via email at info@tha-consulting.com