Have You Heard There’s a Salt Shortage?

CAT and Front Loader Snow Removal 2018

Wait, What Salt Shortage?

To do snow removal on the level we do every year, you need a lot of salt. Salt is one of those things you don’t think about until you start to run out. It seems like such a simple thing! But, like most things in life, it’s actually a complex system of interdependent parts: companies, governments and old mother nature.

Before we go any further, this really only concerns our larger snow removal clients and doesn’t have a whole lot to do with clearing snow from your driveway or sidewalk.

If you’re just looking for some tips as to how to remove some snow at home, we published an article last year on tips for home snow removal which you’ll find useful.

But if you’re here to know about costs for clearing a massive parking lot or other commercial or industrial property, buckle up! We’re going for a ride!

How Did We Get Here?

It’s important that you know what we use salt for in the first place (which will tell you why we used so much of it last year). If you’re not familiar with how rock salt works, it’s pretty simple: the salt lowers the freezing temperature of water. That means the water stays in liquid form for longer.

Last year was particularly big for salt not just because of the snow events, but also because of the variations in temperature! The snow fell, melted, then froze again to form ice, which then needed salt. The temps dropped so low that a little rock salt wasn’t effective anymore (below -10 degrees F) so we had to use more.

So frustrating. And it used a lot of salt!

But just using a lot of salt shouldn’t mean that there isn’t more being produced, and that’s where we get to our perfect storm.

We have had a labor strike at one major salt supplier and then flooding at another. That leaves one major regional salt supplier to make up for the problems at their competitors, but that’s left the entire market reeling. Salt may be coming as far away as Morocco and Egypt this year (yes, you read that right), which means increased prices for suppliers, distributors and ultimately: consumers.

Are There Alternatives to Rock Salt?

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is “none that have been shown consistently to be demonstrably as effective.”

Rock salt fits a golden mean between effectiveness, availability and cost. Usually, rock salt is in plentiful supply. But, when there are shortages, it’s inevitable someone is going to ask why we just don’t use something else.

Suggestions have been made that we use more “aggressive” salts like calcium chloride. Which, to us, would be like using a flamethrower to clear snow from your deck. Sure, it will remove the snow, but it can cause a lot of damage even if you’re careful with it. Please don’t take that as an endorsement of using a flamethrower to do anything. Not even snow removal. 

On the other hand, other less aggressive means like sand just don’t do enough, in our opinion, to deal with the realities of a Minnesota winter. Sand can get you some traction on the ice, but in the end the ice is still there. Sand would be a good short term solution to a minor ice incident but long term, you need that ice gone. Rock salt is again the champion.

What Does that Mean for Goodmanson Construction and Snow Removal?

Snow removal makes up a big part of our business in the wintertime. Part of snow removal is making sure ice doesn’t accrue in our wake, so we have to put down some of that very same rock salt in order to prevent ice. So our costs to purchase this major material, which we need to fulfill our obligations, goes up accordingly.

Some of our customers have decided to pre-purchase salt. For those that did: your price won’t change for what you’ve already purchased.

Those of you who didn’t pre-purchase salt, or if you need to purchase more salt, your costs will go up accordingly at $10 additional per ton for salt starting January 6th, 2019.

What Can I Do?

If you want to lock in the lower price for your salt this year, call your representative ASAP and get in your pre-orders before the January 6th deadline.