Winter is hard on parking lots. The extreme weather, freeze-thaw cycles, and snow removal equipment can cause damage--especially to parking lots that aren’t prepared and maintained well.
A little planning, preparation, and training could go a long way in ensuring your recreation facilities and park parking lots are cleared, safe for visitors, and undamaged during the snow removal process.
In this article, learn how winter affects parking lots, how to prepare parking lots, and what to do when winter weather strikes. Finally, get some pro tips on parking lot snow removal that will help reduce the risk of damage to property and plows.
How Winter Damages Parking Lots
How can winter cause parking lot issues for your facilities and parks? Here are the most common ways:
Cracks and Potholes
Winter weather is harsh on asphalt pavement. Existing parking lot cracks will only worsen during fluctuating winter temperatures and conditions.
When snow melts, moisture seeps into the pavement. A cold snap can cause the water to expand as it freezes. As the weather warms, the frozen water contracts when it thaws. This continual flexing of the pavement, coupled with the stress of vehicle traffic, can cause potholes to form.
De-icing chemicals can deteriorate the paint of parking lot markings. Faded parking lot markings can cause traffic and parking problems. They may also make it harder to see accessible or reserved parking spots.
Snow Plow Damage
Snow plows have metal blades that can come in contact with the asphalt while removing snow.
Blades set too low can scratch the asphalt surface. Uneven surfaces can make it difficult for the snow plow operator to know where the snow ends and the pavement begins.
The plow can create more cracks and chips in the parking lot surface. Snow can melt into these cracks and refreeze, causing deeper and larger cracks and eventually--you guessed it--potholes.
Also, parking lots without clearly marked boundaries can result in damage to nearby turf and landscaping. Improperly placed snow piles may also damage nearby structures or landscaping.
Preparing for Winter
Inspect & Repair Your Parking Lots
We all know the importance of preventative maintenance for our assets. Parking lots are no different. What you do before winter weather strikes can help reduce the risk of parking lot damage.
Look for cracks, dips, and uneven edges that can catch on a snowplow’s blade and cause more damage. Also, look for drainage issues that may worsen during winter’s freeze-thaw cycles.
Sealcoating is a combination of materials that protects asphalt from UV rays and fills in minor cracks. With the gaps filled in, moisture is less likely to seep into the asphalt.
Sealcoating can also help increase the rate of snow melting, which means less that needs plowing. The rich black color of a sealed surface helps absorb and hold more of the sun's heat.
Mark the Parking Lots
Reflective markers should show the boundaries of areas that need plowing. Clearly mark any nearby catch basins, shutoff valves, or other hazards. Make sure markers are at least three feet above ground--higher if you experience significant snowstorms.
You may have that old faithful plow clearing parking lots for years. But is it also tearing up your parking lots?
Plow blade technology has improved over the years. Segmented plow blades can contour to the pavement surface. If part of the contour gets damaged, you only have to replace a single segment instead of an entire blade. Also, rubber and plastic blades can work well on some surfaces, causing less damage.
Plow and snow pusher attachments are also available for backhoes, loaders, and skid steers. These attachments can help you better navigate snow removal in tight spaces, trails, and sidewalks.
Investing in some newer plows, attachments, and equipment could prevent costly damage to pavement and asphalt.
Inexperienced drivers should undergo some training and possibly do some “ridealongs” before starting their snow removal routes. They should understand how to operate the plows safely in any winter weather conditions.
Plow drivers should also know what items to keep in their snow plows to ensure their safety and the plow's continued operation. Ensure operators are familiar with the plow’s owner manual and how to perform safety checks and inspections on the equipment to prevent mechanical failures.
Understanding calibration and spreading rates helps operators use the proper amount of anti-icers and deicers.
During Winter Events
When winter weather is about to strike, consider a 3-pronged approach to parking lot snow removal.
Anti-icing can effectively melt heavy frosts and light snows, reducing the need for plowing during minor winter events. Anti-icing prevents the bond between snow and ice and the paved surface from forming by applying liquids like magnesium chloride or sodium chloride.
Anti-icing is a cost-effective and environmentally friendlier way to help maintain safer pavement surfaces in the winter.
When applied correctly before a storm, anti-icing agents keep the snow from sticking to the pavement. Since the snow doesn’t stick, it is easier to clear.
The most common snow removal method is physically clearing the snow with plows, snow blowers, shovels, and other devices. The more snow you remove physically or mechanically, the less deicer you’ll need to use.
Clearing snow as soon as possible can help you avoid snow compaction, which requires more deicers to break up the snow and ice on the pavement. It’s also the simplest way to save on salt and deicers.
For heavier snows, the first pass should clear a bulk of the snow. Use the second pass to get the plow closer to the pavement. The two-pass method helps clear snow more effectively and reduces the risk of damaging the pavement.
Use deicing agents after a bulk of the snow gets cleared. Deicers are best used for frost, snow, or ice that has bonded to the pavement and is hard to remove. Apply enough deicer to break the bond between the pavement and the frozen mess to make clearing easier and faster.
Do not use deicers before a snow event. A lot of the deicer will be shoveled or plowed off before it has a chance to work.
Tips for Maintaining Parking Lots Before, During, and After a Winter Storm
- Decide where the snow gets piled before the first storm.
- Make sure drivers understand their specific routes. Recreation maintenance management software can help make assigning routes easier.
- Plow in straight lines whenever possible. Push to the outer edges of the lot. Be mindful of wind direction to minimize drifting later.
- Do not plow snow into bodies of water, wetlands, or vegetated areas.
- Move snow downhill from any salt storage areas.
- Apply deicer in the parking lot's drive lanes. Cars and other vehicles will move it into parking spots.
- Higher-traffic parking lots need less deicer. The vehicles help mix it into the compacted ice and snow.
- Once the area is cleared, clean up excess deicer. Excess salt can make it harder to walk on parking lots.
A little bit of upfront work can go a long way in protecting your parking lots during winter. Understanding snow removal best practices allows your team to operate their equipment safely and with minimal damage to parking lots and nearby areas.