How to Keep Parking Structures Safe in the Winter

How to Keep Parking Structures Safe in the Winter

By David DeMoss

While the goal of chemical de-icers and snowplows is to help keep the roads and parking structures safe for drivers, they may actually be doing more harm than good. To avoid corroding the concrete in parking structures, there are a few options for equipment operators. Marking expansion joints in a clear way, so that they will be seen even if covered in snow, will help plow operators to approach the joints at an angle no greater than 75 degrees. In addition, ensuring snowplows have shoes or rubber guards on their blades and bucket loaders will help avoid any potential damage. 

When dealing with lots of snow, snowplow operators may think it’s best to pile snow at the end of a parking structure. However, doing so could overload the structure’s weight capacity — creating cracks in the concrete — so we suggest avoiding creating piles. In regard to de-icers, they’re not generally recommended (especially not within the first 2 years of a structure being built), if they have to be used, using a solution with Calcium magnesium acetate in it as opposed to salt or sodium chloride will help minimize any adverse effects on the concrete or steel reinforcement. More from the Lodging Staff below.

Chemical de-icers and snowplows are commonly used in winter to eliminate hazardous ice and snow from parking decks and structures. While de-icers are doing their job melting away snow and ice, some may actually be corroding the parking structure’s concrete and reinforcing steel, and some snow removal techniques may actually be doing more damage than good. Western Specialty Contractors, experts in parking garage restoration and maintenance, recently offered several tips to minimize unnecessary damage to parking structures during the winter months and keep drivers safe.

1. Mark Expansion Joints

Clearly mark expansion joints in a way that will be visible to the equipment operator when the deck is covered with snow. Establish a snow removal pattern so that the plow blade approaches expansion joints, control joints, and tee-to-tee joints of parking structures at an angle no greater than 75 degrees.

2. Guard Snowplow Blades

Equip snowplow blades and bucket loaders with shoes or rubber guards that prevent direct contact with the deck surface.

3. Avoid Snow Piles on Parking Structures

Do not pile snow on the deck surface. Piles of snow can exceed the rated load capacity and cause cracking in the concrete deck surface of parking structures.

4. Use Chemical De-Icers Sparingly

Use of de-icing chemicals, in general, is not recommended. The safest way to remove ice and snow is to use a plow. Sand can also be used to increase tire traction on the deck, but be sure to protect the drainage system when washing down the deck after its use.

5. Use the Right De-Icing Chemicals

Using chemical de-icers to control ice and snow buildup is common. However, these chemicals can have a negative effect on concrete and reinforcing steel and should be used sparingly on parking structures. There are several different types of de-icers on the market that can be used, however, only those approved by the American Concrete Institute are recommended.

Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) has effects similar to salt, but it requires more time to melt ice. It has no adverse effects on concrete or steel reinforcement. If a de-icer is required, a CMA is recommended. The following are not recommended:

  • Sodium chloride (e.g., road salt, table salt) is the most commonly used salt de-icer. It has little effect on concrete, but promotes corrosion in reinforcing steel and other metals.
  • Calcium chloride is a major ingredient in most commercial de-icers. It has little effect on concrete, but promotes corrosion in reinforcing steel and other metals.
  • Ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate will lead to serious concrete deterioration due to its direct chemical attack on reinforcing steel.

6. Minimize De-Icing Chemicals on New Structures

It is important to minimize the amount of de-icing chemicals applied during the first two years of the concrete being installed. During this time, the concrete has an increased permeability which can allow the de-icing chemicals to migrate into the concrete more rapidly. As concrete ages and cures, it will become less permeable and chemicals will not penetrate as easily.

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