June 15, 2012
A study of salt treatments on parking lots and sidewalks, scheduled for completion in 2014, will be the first in the world to develop an application standard.

The study, under the guidance of Raqib Omer of the University of Waterloo, was initiated by LO’s Snow and Ice Management Sector Group. Robert Roszell, treasurer of the group and one of the driving forces behind the project, says the reasons for the initiative are to help the environment, cost savings and documentation for litigation cases.  

Unusual conditions

The project just completed its second year of research. “This year was a rather bad (or you may call it good) year for snow, so we are reluctant to release any numbers at this point,” says Omer. Originally, the completion date was expected for Dec. 2013. That date has now been extended to April 2014 to provide a more normal snow season for the study.  

Roszell says the lack of snow this past winter wasn’t a bad thing. “It allowed us to see a season with periods of freeze-thaw and freeze-thaw. It also allowed us to experience a different level of conditions.”

Initially, testing took place at the University of Waterloo. Now tests are actual field tests on real parking lots with real traffic and exposure to the elements. “We collected maintenance and application data from other contractors to validate the results from the experiments at the university,” says Omer.

Roszell says that highway salting operations use a computerized system that calculates the amount of salt needed. Roszell says parking lots offer a completely different situation with angles, flat surfaces and parked cars. “We need to use a closed loop system that bases the amount of salt on the speed of the vehicle. A U.S. study has shown that 47 per cent less salt is used on such a system.”

The researchers also conducted an online maintenance practices survey through LO. “The online survey has been very useful,” says Omer. The research team will partner with contractors to conduct tests at their sites next winter. From this they will develop a preliminary snow/ice melting model that will suggest application rates based on actual site characteristics and local weather.

Four objectives

Omer says that four objectives remain: an understanding of where contractors are in terms of knowledge, equipment and willingness to optimize and improve; an estimate of what sort of application rates and materials are currently being used; determine the ideal application rates, translate them into simple and easy to understand tables that can be used by the average contractor; and conduct training sessions to educate practitioners about different materials, usage, equipment calibration and pros and cons of different types of equipment.

LO executive director Tony DiGiovanni says, “At the end of the day we should have a proper standard that will stand up in court. Right now, there is no standard rate for parking lot salt applications. This project has huge benefits, because of the liability challenges the snow group faces.”   

Roszell says there are also issues to resolve following the completion of the study. There will need to be further work on how the standards are applied in the industry, and the type of organization that will administer whatever system is developed.

Looking for funding

And, like everything else, there is a question of money. “We were fortunate that businesses and Landscape Ontario stepped up with funding to help establish this study,” says Roszell. There was no direct government funding for the study, and Roszell isn’t anticipating any down the road. “We hope that others will step up to help this project financially beyond 2014.”

The salting project is through the Innovative Transportation System Solutions (iTSS) Lab, a transportation engineering research group at the University of Waterloo dedicated to providing transportation system solutions. The group’s website states, “The results from the research will be adopted, initially by the members of Landscape Ontario and ultimately by all maintenance contractors across Ontario, which will improve professionalism and environmental stewardship while reducing over-salting and operational costs. The findings from this research are also applicable to other provinces in Canada and thus benefit all Canadians.”