Going with the cheapest snow removal contractor can sometimes feel like going with the cheapest bridge builder, sure it looks nice at first, but when everything collapses you are going to regret saving that extra dime. Yet if you take time and effort in the beginning of the process, you will find there are ways you can save money.
We talked to Martin Tirado, CEO of the Snow and Ice Management Association for his insights about how clients can save money on their commercial contracts. Here are some of the tips Tirado gave us about saving you money.
You need your lot cleared for people on your property, but do you need the ENTIRE lot clean as a whistle at all times? Keeping your back lot clean might make as much sense as cleaning your attic on a daily basis…don’t do it. Traffic patterns on your property at different times of the day and during certain times of the year are not always the same. You should designate different zones on your property for different levels of service.
You could identify areas that need to stay clear at all times, zones that just need to be cleared at the end of the storm, and zones where snow can be stacked and left until the spring melt. The less work the snow removal crews have the less your cost is going to be.
While it may take a little work to redo your landscaping, parking lot, or walkways, it could save you thousands of dollars every year. These issues can be identified by a professional snow removal contractor longer before winter arrives so you get your property fixed right away.
The first issue is drainage, when the snow and ice melts, where does the water go? If the water stays on your parking lot or walk ways, when the water freezes at night you could create a slip and fall hazard you will have to treat almost daily to avoid a lawsuit.
The next issue is snow stacking. You can save yourself a lot of money if the snow is moved to piles only 200 ft away versus if the crew has to move snow a quarter mile away or even worse, if the snow needs to be moved off site by hauling or melting. Tirado puts in, “You want a close location for pushing and stacking the snow, a place where you don’t have to worry about it.”
Another issue is what you put in your landscaping. “Sensitive plants should not be near salting surfaces or where snow gets stacked,” Tirado warns. Using the wrong plants or even the wrong landscaping elements in these “danger zones” means you will spend money every year replacing some of your landscaping.
You need to be sure your snow removal contractor is your best overall value to keep your costs down. Here are some things you want to check:
If your local laws allow for it, storage of salt and equipment on site can save a lot of money. Eliminating the transportation cost from every snow event adds up quick and newer methods of salt storage can keep the salt from being an eye sore or from leaching into the drains.
In Ontario, almost every contract is a fixed seasonal contract where a price is agreed upon regardless of how much snow flies. This type of contract is not yet the standard in the United States. Tirado informed us, “just about any 5-year period will average out to be the same as the lifetime average for the area, so in the long run, you don’t save any money” by paying per event only.
Instead, you end up introducing uncertainty for both sides of the table. You need to keep a higher budget just in case it is a bigger snow year and you have to fight with the accountant to keep that budget number high after a light snow year. That issue goes away with a fixed amount every year.
For the snow contractor, they can make better equipment and business decisions with a level income stream over the years. Those better decisions save you money in the end because your contractor has a stronger business, not to mention uncertainty always increases costs because you have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Don’t like the idea of “not getting my money’s worth?” You can talk to your snow plow contractor about floors and ceilings. Tirado explains, “If there is significantly more or less snow in a season, floors and ceilings protect both parties.” If it is a dry year, the client gets an extra savings. If there is a year with extra snow, the client will pay a little more.
Having the fixed contract is a bit like buying insurance. Tirado equates it to “insurance in a state of readiness” to keep your property safe. With fewer surprises for both parties, everyone tends to feel like they have won.
When you come up with a snow removal site plan, you need to trust your snow removal contractor without “arm chair coaching.” One of the biggest problems is with salt application. Tirado shares, “Most customers think if they don’t see salt on the ground, there isn’t enough, when in reality, if you see the salt, you probably have too much, wasting salt and damaging your lot and landscaping.”
Unless it is clear that the snow removal contractor is not following the plan, you should trust the experts to be the experts. If you are concerned, give your contractor a call to see what is going on, but shouting orders first and asking questions later is a good way to increase costs in a variety of ways.
Tirado shared how a hospital in the Minneapolis area recently researched and implemented changes in their snow removal reducing their spring landscaping costs alone by over $100,000/year. If you look at your snow removal cost as a winter only cost, you may not evaluate your options properly.
There are a lot of options a professional snow contractor will know that you may not know. Using certain deicers near entrance ways can mean less work for your housekeeping crew and a longer lasting floor. Liquid deicers before certain storms may mean your sidewalk stays safe or it is quicker to clear snow. Different kinds of wear edges (the part that touches the ground) on a plow will treat your pavement differently. Some deicers can eat away at your building while others can fertilize your lawn.
The point is, when you talk to your snow removal contractor, make sure you are taking into account ALL of your costs, not just the cost to clean off snow and ice. A quality snow removal contractor knows they will only stay in business if you both win and they will be as interested in keeping your costs down as you are.