Weathering the Ice Melt Shortage this Winter
The weather outside is already frightful for some parts of the country, and leaner supplies of ice melt aren’t helping.
Severe winter weather last year and earlier this year along with increased usage of calcium chloride in oil and gas fracking are depleting supplies of ice melt products. The chemical is a salt of calcium and chlorine and is the most effective product on the market for commercial and residential use to de-ice sidewalks, steps and walkways. The product melts snow and ice in temperatures as low as -25 degrees F, which is especially attractive for communities in the northeast.
But getting it, including blends consisting of calcium chloride, may be difficult.
Raw material manufacturers have put ice melt suppliers on allocation because of increased usage of calcium chloride in the fracking industry. Calcium chloride is used along with other chemicals to break apart shale during the drilling process.
That, along with fears of another harsh winter, is driving pre-season orders upward say industry officials. Recent blizzards in the Midwest and Northeast have already depleted some supplies, following up a tough winter in 2013-14 when the East Coast endured an ice melt shortage well before the spring thaw.
One apartment industry supplier has already run out of some items.
The volume of orders for ice melt has already exceeded usage for last winter, according to sources. Typically, manufacturers receive 26 percent of their annual sales via pre-season orders but this year that number jumped to 60 percent. To keep up with demand, some suppliers are looking to overseas markets, which is stretching delivery times and adding shipping costs. As it stands now, lead times to get product is four to six weeks.
“The best thing people can do is plan ahead,” said Jennifer Lester, RealPage’s Vice President, Supplier Management. “Don’t wait until it snows to order ice melt. Be sure to have it on hand, and plan head. If you wait until the last minute to order, you may be out of luck.”
With heightened demand, prices have escalated about six percent. However, pre-season order prices have remained steady from those announced before pre-season buying began.
A number of ice melt blends are on the market that may be used as an alternative to calcium chloride, Lester said. Rock salt is one of the most popular because it is inexpensive, but only melts down to 20 degrees. Other products melt to sub-zero temperatures, but calcium chloride works in the coldest temperatures and is available in pellets, crystals and flakes.
Pellets are the preferred form for many because they can be used in fertilizer spreaders.
“If they have product on order, do not cancel it,” she said. “If they find something for the short term, that doesn’t mean that it will be there. That supply could go away.”
Regardless of the form, a calcium chloride find could be like locating a pot of gold. And once you order, Lester said, don’t opt out if more immediate product supply becomes available.