As winter approaches, the importance of effective snow and ice management becomes increasingly apparent. For many snow removal contractors and property owners, bulk rock salt is the go-to solution to keep roads, driveways, and walkways safe and clear. However, improper storage can turn this valuable resource into an unusable, hardened mass. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the art of storing bulk rock salt correctly to prevent it from hardening and ensure it remains a reliable ally throughout the winter. We’ll also discuss the costs associated with rock salt, what causes it to harden, whether it can still be used after hardening, and what to do if your salt has already solidified.
The Cost of Rock Salt: Know Your Investment
Before diving into the intricacies of storage, it’s essential to understand the financial aspect of rock salt. Bulk rock salt is a significant investment for snow removal contractors and property managers. The price can vary based on location, quantity purchased, and the supplier’s rates. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $40 to $100 per ton of rock salt. Given this cost, proper storage becomes not only a matter of convenience but also a matter of cost-efficiency.
Understanding the Hardening Process
Rock salt hardening, often referred to as caking, occurs when the salt absorbs moisture from the air. This absorption is a result of rock salt’s hygroscopic properties, meaning it readily attracts and retains moisture. When the moisture interacts with the salt, it forms a brine solution, which eventually recrystallizes and solidifies the salt particles, leading to clumping and hardening.
Several factors can accelerate the hardening process:
- Exposure to Moisture: Exposure to rain, snow, or high humidity can introduce moisture to the salt pile.
- Temperature Fluctuations: Rapid temperature changes, such as freezing and thawing cycles, can exacerbate the absorption of moisture by the salt.
- Inadequate Covering: Failing to protect the salt pile with appropriate covering materials allows moisture-laden air to come into contact with the salt.
Can You Use Hardened Rock Salt?
A common question among those who encounter hardened rock salt is whether it can still be used effectively. The short answer is yes, with some caveats. Hardened rock salt can be used, but it typically requires additional effort to break it down into usable form. Here’s how:
- Mechanical Breakdown: One method is to use mechanical means, such as a rock salt spreader or a salt auger, to break the hardened salt into smaller pieces. This process can be time-consuming and may not result in the same even distribution as non-hardened salt.
- Crushing and Grinding: Some contractors opt to crush or grind hardened rock salt into smaller particles, making it easier to handle and distribute. This method may require specialized equipment.
- Prevention Measures: Ideally, you want to prevent rock salt from hardening in the first place by following proper storage techniques.
Proper Storage Techniques: Preventing Hardening
Preventing rock salt from hardening is more cost-effective and efficient than trying to salvage hardened salt. Here’s how you can store bulk rock salt correctly to keep it in optimal condition all winter long:
1. Covered Storage
One of the most effective ways to prevent rock salt hardening is to store it in a covered area. A dedicated salt storage shed or bin provides protection from rain, snow, and moisture-laden air. If you have the space and resources, investing in a covered storage solution can save you time and money in the long run.
2. Pallets and Tarps
If a dedicated salt storage structure isn’t feasible, consider using pallets and tarps. Place pallets on the ground and stack bags or pour loose salt on top of them. Cover the salt pile with a tarp securely anchored to prevent exposure to the elements. This method provides a cost-effective alternative to covered storage.
3. Keep It Dry
Maintain a dry environment within your storage area. Ensure proper drainage to prevent water from accumulating near the salt pile. Use a dehumidifier if necessary to reduce moisture levels in enclosed storage spaces.
4. Proper Ventilation
Proper ventilation is key to preventing moisture buildup within covered storage structures. Adequate airflow helps reduce humidity and keeps salt dry. Make sure your storage area is well-ventilated.
5. Keep It Tightly Sealed
For containers or bags of rock salt, ensure they are tightly sealed when not in use. Use heavy-duty plastic bags or bins with secure lids to prevent moisture infiltration.
6. Avoid Stockpiling
Avoid stockpiling large quantities of rock salt in one area if possible. Smaller, manageable piles are easier to cover and protect effectively.
Reviving Hardened Rock Salt
If you’ve discovered a batch of hardened rock salt, all hope is not lost. While it’s ideal to prevent hardening in the first place, you can still attempt to revive it for use. Here’s how:
- Break It Down: As mentioned earlier, use mechanical means, such as a rock salt spreader or salt auger, to break the salt into smaller pieces. This will make it easier to handle and spread.
- Store It Properly: Once you’ve broken down the hardened salt, store it correctly in a covered area to prevent further hardening.
- Mix with Fresh Salt: To improve spreading and de-icing efficiency, consider mixing the broken-down hardened salt with fresh, non-hardened salt. This blend can help mitigate any clumping issues.
Conclusion: Protecting Your Winter Asset
Bulk rock salt is a valuable resource for snow removal contractors and property managers during the winter months. However, its hygroscopic nature makes it susceptible to hardening when exposed to moisture and temperature fluctuations. Understanding the costs associated with rock salt, the causes of hardening, and the potential uses for hardened salt are all essential aspects of effective winter preparation.
By implementing proper storage techniques, such as covered storage, pallets and tarps, maintaining a dry environment, ensuring proper ventilation, tightly sealing containers, and avoiding excessive stockpiling, you can protect your rock salt stash from hardening. Remember that prevention is more efficient and cost-effective than trying to salvage hardened salt.
In the event that you encounter hardened rock salt, you can still use it after breaking it down into smaller pieces and mixing it with fresh salt. However, your best strategy is to follow correct storage practices from the start to ensure a steady supply of usable rock salt throughout the winter season. Protecting this valuable winter asset not only saves you money but also ensures the safety and accessibility of roads and walkways for your community.
Have questions? Contact our experienced team at SISCU for answers and more tips.