October 5, 2023

7.6 mins read

The Biggest Problem with Commercial Snow Removal—and How to Fix It

As businesses and organizations with parking lots know only too well, in most parts of western Canada, winter can be long. Over the course of those months, keeping the parking lot safe and free of snow can be a big and constant undertaking. When you have a solid, well-planned commercial snow removal contract with a company that does an excellent job, you’ll hardly have to give it a thought through winter—but what happens when you don’t?

What can you do to help ensure you get reliable, quality snow removal service and have your parking lot closer to the top of the route each snowfall? Well, it starts at the beginning, with the contract.

Here is an in-depth look at the biggest problem with snow removal contracts and how to fix it.

Plan ahead for commercial snow removal procurement

“One of the biggest things I see is people waiting too long to procure their snow removal contractor,” says Chris Hinton, senior operations manager, GRM Inc.

One of the resources GRM often shares with potential clients is a snow procurement timeline produced by Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA). SIMA’s 52-week guide spans the seasons with these high-level steps :

Spring: Qualifying vendors, beginning the RFP process
Summer: Walk-throughs, RFP responses and contract negotiations
Fall: Contract awarded, training and prep, services begin
Winter: Services underway, performance monitoring
Spring: Services end, restart 52-week schedule

What happens when you wait too late to hire snow removal contractors?

When a business waits until too late in the year and tries to secure snow removal service in late fall or after the first snowfall, vendors are already at the height of their busiest season and several risks arise:

  • Less opportunity for competitive pricing
  • Parking lot is not ‘in a state of readiness,’ creating a potential for damage
  • Unclear scope of work and mixed expectations

What happens when you have more time to procure snow removal contractor?

If you’re starting to think about snow removal in the spring, you and your potential contractors
have a lot more time to review:

1. Scope of work

Snow removal: on-demand or seasonal service

Have you tried on-call snow removal service in the past thinking it would save you money? Did you find that it put you at the bottom of the service list after scheduled clients?

When you plan ahead and collaborate on a seasonal contract, you know exactly what you’ll be paying each month or per snow event, and when the snow remover will be triggered to be dispatched.

A common trigger for snow removal is a 5 centimetre snowfall. With this defined in your contract, your company would know if that if it snows 5 cm, the contractor will automatically be on site for snow plowing.

That’s the parking lot. What about sidewalks?

Some businesses will also include the trigger for sidewalks in their snow removal contract. Sometimes that trigger is also 5 cm; sometimes it’s zero tolerance to help promote pedestrian safety.

“These are all things we would review together and have in place well ahead of the first snowfall,” says Hinton.

Pre-season and post-season inspections

Often, businesses at first only consider the actual snow removal as part of the scope of work, but pre-season and post-season inspections are a beneficial value-add for both parties.

In the pre-season inspection, existing damage to curbs or fencing is captured so it’s clear that wasn’t caused by the snow remover, and they’re reassured they won’t be held liable for that damage in the spring after the snow thaws.

You’ll also want your contractor to perform a post-season inspection so if any damage was caused to the building, fencing or landscaping by a snow plow, for example, the contractor can be held responsible for repairs.

“We tend to think of snow as light and fluffy, but once it’s hard-packed and half-way through the season, it gets heavy.”

2. Site visits and planning

On a walk-through of a site in the warm months, experienced snow removal companies will have their eye on several factors they should review with you, including:

  • Safety hazards. Supervisors want to identify things like dangerous potholes, damaged or uneven walkways, or areas where water is pouring onto sidewalks, for example. By identifying these in the spring or summer, there’s plenty of time to make parking lot curb repairs and get the site ready for a safe winter season.
  • Snow pile locations & haul away options. Where do you want all those days and months of snow to be piled up in your parking lot, and where is the best spot to help ensure proper drainage during melting to avoid refreezing and icy conditions.“We like to work with the client to figure out where they have room to pile snow,” says Hinton, adding depending on the property, this is also a good time to identify if snow stakes are needed so plow trucks aren’t hitting snow-buried curbs.For some businesses with just a few parking stalls in heavy snowfall regions, it may be worth considering adding snow haul-aways into the budget and contract. This additional fee covers a truck coming in to haul the snow off site. For properties with snow pile locations that could cause visibility issues or melting-refreezing challenges, this can be budget well spent.A clearly defined scope of work would identify if there are certain days of the year (i.e. Boxing Day) where you’d want to see snow hauled away.
  • Timing. Do you run a busy gym that sees a lot more traffic in the evening? Or are you a coffee shop with peak traffic and parking early in the morning? With planning, snow removal contractors can ask you about the best times of day to plow with the fewest vehicles.

    “When you wait until last minute to book snow removal, it’s harder to pull some of those details that make a big difference together,” says Hinton. The more time we have to get to know the property, the better we understand pieces your unique needs for timing.”

  • Materials. Depending on where you are, early planning is critical for determining what materials you’d like to see used to help reduce iciness in your parking lot.Here in Kelowna and through the Okanagan, snow removal often calls for using calcium chloride, a liquid anti-ice treatment applied before and after snowstorms to help keep the property free of ice and snow.In other regions and as temperatures vary, sand and salt can be used. Salt is only effective to -7, so that’s more common in Victoria, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. In the Prairies, sand is a cost-effective material to help give drivers traction—but it can get messy.“Ideally, you’re working with a partner who has experience with a range of tools and can adapt as your needs and the season changes. Winter conditions in some areas are getting milder, so we’re seeing more melting and refreezing, which can create dangerous driving conditions.”Note: If you receive a proposal that’s much lower than another, it could be because of a difference in materials used. Be sure you know what’s included and what best suits your budget and customer safety needs.

Post-season cleanup

Parking lots can look a little worse for the wear after several months of sand and salt, snow and ice. In regions that see use of those materials, post-season cleanups see a good “sweep of the lot” to get it looking shiny and bright for spring.

Teams will use streetsweepers or skid steers with brooms as well as blowers and brooms to clean up the ground, curbs and edges as well as remove any leaves or branches from winter storms. Learn more in our article ‘Parking lot sweeping and maintenance.’

Insurance

Some commercial property policies have exclusions for snow removal. You’ll want to know if you have such an exclusion and ensure your snow removal contractor insurance policy has the proper insurance in place in the event of a slip and fall incident on an icy sidewalk, for instance—because if your snow remover doesn’t have the proper insurance, that liability could fall back on the property owner.

When is the best time to consider commercial snow removal companies?

So, there’s a lot to be said for taking the time in the warm months to develop a snow removal contract with all the parameters to meet your business needs.

Going back to the SIMA, 52-week timeline, Hinton says GRM can do its most thorough contract support and help get a site ready by beginning the process as early as May and as late as July, if possible.

“The more time you have, the better you can receive and evaluate proposals, and have the contractor who can do the best work already in place.”

Are you looking for four-season property maintenance for your business? Reach out to the trusted professionals with expertise and dedicated teams across western Canada. GRM Inc. serves businesses of all sizes in BC, Alberta and in Winnipeg.

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