Is Your Snow Contractor Servicing Your Facility Effectively?

Whether or not you've secured a contractor for this season, read on to see if these question are already on your list.

This article from WESTERN Plows highlights aspects of this service that facility management teams should ask potential snow and ice contractors when seeking their services. Whether you’ve secured your service provider for this season already, are looking now for the rest of the season, or looking to the 2022-23 winter season, read on to see if these questions are already on your list.

9 Questions To Ask Your New Snow & Ice Control Company

Trusting a new service provider can feel uneasy when you don’t ask the right questions up front. Starting with good communication to level set expectations will ensure they understand your needs. Here are nine questions to ask a new snow and ice control company and prove they are a good fit for your commercial property.

1) When Do You Typically Start Removing Snow During A Winter Storm?
Depending on your type of business, you may have regular store hours or continual traffic 24/7 so your needs may vary. If you have regular hours, you can expect that your property should be cleared before your doors open and/or are monitored to ensure it’s safe for customers and employees. Most contractors scout properties to anticipate when crews need to be dispatched to ensure your property can safely open. This takes the pressure and responsibility off you during a winter storm.

2) Will It Be The Same Contractor/Crew Servicing My Property Each Time?
Most winter contractors send out the same crew on the same route so they get to know your property and increase efficiency with each event. A plow driver that knows exactly where to pile snow and how to safely stack it is important in maximizing your parking availability and maneuverability of your property for regular business operations.

snow and ice control
Photo: WESTERN Plows

3) Do You Have Subcontractors? How Are They Vetted And Qualified?
It’s common for snow and ice control companies to subcontract during peak winter months to make sure they are taking care of their properties in a timely manner. Certain geographies have very demanding winters that require long hours for storms that can last more than 24-hours. During these times, subcontractors are used as an extension of the business you signed on with. These subcontractors are held to the same set of standards and treated just like any other employee. Clients should rarely notice a difference, business as usual.

4) Do You Plow Specialty Properties?
If you have a decorative cobble stone sidewalk, delicate parking garage, or unique space on your property that requires special attention, you’ll want to lead with this question. Not all contractors maintain all property types. Some surfaces require specialized equipment or cutting edges to properly remove snow and not cause damage. You will also want to make sure your plow driver has dependable experience at maintaining these property types and surfaces.

5) Can You Keep Up With Snow Events For A 24/7 Operational Facility?
For large manufacturing and commercial facilities, it’s usually best to have onsite equipment and storage if possible. Not having to transport large equipment back and forth speeds up the ability of the contractor to clear your property and keep it accessible throughout the storm. Smaller sites that cannot host onsite storage may require anti-icing to pre-treat the property before a storm. This technique eliminates ice from bonding to the pavement, making it safer and greatly reducing cleanup time.

6) What Does Monitoring During-Event And Post-Event Include?
Knowing that your snow and ice control company will fully monitor your property and take care of it as needed throughout a storm can ease a ton of worry. Some winter companies are technologically advanced to take the guesswork out of the job. A comprehensive weather log of site conditions can even alert the plow driver when the property needs attention rather than manually going to check the property themselves.

7) Explain Your De-Icing And/Or Anti-Icing Approach—What Should Be Expected?
This is a very important (but often forgotten) question to ask. De-icing is the most common method where once snow is removed; rock salt is dispersed on the pavement. This can be done with a walk-behind spreader for sidewalks or small spaces but most contractors that offer salting services have a tailgate or hopper spreader on the back of their vehicle for larger spaces. Salt provides traction and starts to melt the icy layer bonded to the surface.

Even with the popularity of de-icing, there are some major downfalls that should be considered. De-icing deteriorates paved surfaces and sometimes grass or garden beds near the edges of the property. Salt can be easily over-applied which takes a toll on the environment over time. Contractors have started anti-icing with liquid brine, which has been used by municipalities for roads and highways for a long time. This is made up of salt dissolved into water which is then sprayed onto pavement prior to a storm in order to prevent ice from bonding to the surface. This technique is starting to find its way into commercial and residential settings due to the outstanding benefits.

Brine can also be used to pre-wet rock salt. It activates the de-icing material to work at colder temperatures, reduces the bounce and scatter for a more precise application and reduces the amount of material needed to get the job done.

8) How Long Have You Been In Business? Do You Have Any Certifications?
Snow removal companies are easy to start up, but difficult to maintain with the up and down nature of the market. Being able to level out the margin to make up for times with minimal snow is important to the longevity of the businesses and the key to making this business strategy work. Being a member and having certifications through SIMA or ASCA shows commitment to the snow and ice industry. It shows that you take pride in leading with best practices. Proper insurance is also a must for the company and all its operators and subcontractors.

9) Who Are Some Of Your Long Term Customers/Clients In The Area? Could We Contact Them For A Reference?
If a snow and ice control provider is able to supply you with multiple 10 or 20+ year references, you can feel secure in your decision. Being able to talk directly to existing customers also shows transparency and that they are proud of the relationships they have built and the work they do. After a few conversations and reading online reviews, you’ll feel more comfortable with how they handle their business and be able to make an educated hiring decision.

If you’re looking for a new snow and ice control company, these foundational questions should help to determine which company is right for your business.

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