How to Win a Snow Battle

Readying for Snowgeddon: How to Win a Snow Battle

By Kevin McLaren, Green Earth

With all the talk about global warming, there is no concrete evidence that suggests that Mother Nature will be taking a winter break in our lifetime. Survivors of Snowgeddon 2010, property managers in our area are aware that winter storms are not a joke and should be taken seriously. Although meteorologists in the Washington, DC metro area are not forecasting a major snowstorm in the near future, it’s wise to be ready at all times for the next major North American blizzard.


Snow Removal Contracting

What should managers and their staff pay attention to while working with snow removal contractors?

As with all service providers, the expertise and experience of snow and ice management contractors varies greatly. It’s important to assess the contractor’s capabilities before signing the contract. Specifically, make sure that you address the following:

  • How long has the contractor been performing snow and ice management services?
  • What is its experience on sites that are similar to your property?
  • How does it teach and train its teams?
  • What storm plan does it offer for your site?
  • What type of equipment does it have?
  • How is its equipment maintained?
  • How much equipment does it have and will it be enough to take care of your community during an emergency weather event?
  • What deicing products does the contractor use? Does it have a sufficient supply of the products that will be used at your site?
  • If sand is used, who pays for the spring cleanup?
  • Will the company be able to bring in additional resources for larger weather events?
  • What is its quality control plan?
  • How does it communicate before, during and after the event?


Pre-Storm Planning

The first step in the preparation for the winter snow is pre-storm planning. Yet, it is often overlooked. The priority or sequence of snow clearing is only a small part of the pre-planning process. Managers should have a plan for different types of winter events, including severe storms and blizzards. Consider snow versus sleet versus freezing rain. Decide when clearing should start. Determine when—and how often—deicing materials are applied. Most importantly, remember that starting to plow when the snow is at two inches is not an effective plan!


Calculating Your Costs

The total cost of snow and ice management is another area that is frequently overlooked. Your goal is to provide a safe winter environment for pedestrians and vehicles at your community at a reasonable cost. That means that you should evaluate how much the snow and ice management services will eat into your budget. You should understand that the rate times the frequency of service affects your cost, not just the rate.

Here is how to determine your total costs on a time and materials basis:

  • Hourly rate + cost of products per ton x the number of tons = total cost
  • Example: 20 hours of time at $120/hour + $250 per ton of deicer x 2 tons of deicer used = $2,900

If sand is used, remember to include the cost to remove the sand from the site in the spring. If salt is used, there is no spring cleanup cost. In the snow removal business, the lowest hourly plow rate does not guarantee the lowest cost. There are other service models that might provide a better return on your investment. For example, fixed-price models are often more cost-effective and provide better quality control. Per Push and Per Storm are two examples of better fixed-price models.


Ensuring Success in Winning Snow Battles

What do managers need to do to make snow removal at their properties the most successful? Plan, plan and plan with your contractors and onsite staff. This is the best way to ensure success. A skilled and experienced snow and ice management provider should be able to assist you with this planning and offer expert insights into the best plan for your property. Your onsite teams will also have valuable input while fine-tuning the best plan possible. Work together as a team to create your snow and ice management plan and collaborate closely during the time of bad weather.

Ensure that your contractor has the proper equipment for your property. Sometimes larger is not always better. Make sure that your onsite staff also has the proper equipment, and the equipment is maintained and checked before the first winter event. Repair what can be fixed and replace what needs to be replaced. Check everything—trucks, plows, spreaders, shovels, snow blowers, sidewalk spreaders, etc.

Does your onsite staff have the proper winter clothes? Do they have snow boots, gloves, hats, parkas, etc.? Most likely, you haven’t thought about this aspect of storm planning. It’s one thing to put on something warm to get from your house to the car and quite another to keep yourself warm and dry outdoors for hours at a time in the middle of or in the aftermath of a blizzard. Remember, we are more productive when we are warm. Having a supply of winter work clothes for your maintenance crew will help them to do their work better when a storm hits.


Post-Storm Review

A post-storm review is extremely important. It should be conducted in a no-blame manner so everyone feels comfortable about sharing experiences freely. Discuss what worked and did not work during the prior winter event. Try to determine the reasons why certain tasks weren’t successful. Even if there were no problems or issues, review the entire plan and process. The goal of the post-storm review is an overall improvement of your efforts. During the review, look for opportunities to bring more clarity to your plan, improve communication and streamline the game plan, redefine priorities and expectations, etc. The post-storm review should be a positive experience where managers, onsite staff and the contractor meet to improve the plan, process and service.

Careful planning and collaboration with your contractor will ensure the success of your snow and ice management operations, and the safety and mobility of your residents and tenants. Have a worry-free winter!

Kevin McLaren is the owner of Green Earth, a full-service landscape company servicing the Mid-Atlantic region with offices in Northern Virginia and Maryland. Green Earth offers commercial landscape maintenance, landscape installation, and snow and ice management services


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