Tag Archives: snow removal

There’s no business like snow business

They all look the same from a distance but show subtle differences when examined closely.
The same might be said of snow removal contractors.  We may all look the same at first glance, (trucks, tractors, plows, etc.), until you take the time to find out a little more about what we do and how we do what we do;
and you should take that time.
The subtle (or sometimes extensive) differences in capabilities, commitment, and conscientiousness will have a significant impact on the performance on your property; and that performance can make you, the property/facility manager, look like a hero to your residents, tenants, and employees…or not.
Here are five important lines of questioning to help you ensure that you are hiring the contractor best suited to make you look like a hero.
  • CONTRACTS:  What is your contract structure and how are fees applied?
Contract terms have many variations (per plow, per inch, lump sum, time & material, etc.).  You need to have clear terms that suit your specific needs, with reliable pricing, and no surprises. While cost is always a factor when making contractor choices, the less obvious consequences of using a lower priced but ultimately incapable snow removal contractor can cost you much more than money if that contractor fails to perform during one of Chicago’s challenging winters.  Additionally, if those less expensive contracts are peppered with “extra” charges, you can find yourself paying much more than you would have had you chosen a more comprehensive service provider.
  • CAPABILITIY:  What is your company’s policy in regard to the amount of snow removal business you will commit to in any given winter and where will my property fall in your list of priorities? How do you determine the maximum thresholds that you can manage?  How do you allocate your resources during a weather event?
Do you handle the snow removal work in-house with your own employees or do you need to rely on the help of outside subcontractors who may not offer the same level of commitment to the work?
Who are some of the customers you work with now that I can talk to about their experience with you?
  • PLANNING: What is your specific operational plan for my property?  Are you familiar with properties like mine and clear on our specific needs? What resources are you willing to commit to this property?
  • TECHNOLOGY:  Do you subscribe to a reliable weather forecasting service that will provide site specific forecasts on a real-time basis, daily operating forecasts, snow and ice warnings that are geographically targeted to our service area, and snow accumulation reports to assist us in the management of your force?
How are your crews dispatched and monitored throughout an event?
Do you rely on media broadcasts, airport reports, your own production yard, or will you send a representative out to my property to assess conditions on the site prior to mobilization?
  • ACCOUNTABILITY:  How do you measure and document snowfall to determine commencement triggers, billing parameters, and mobilization?
What is your reporting process to ensure that I will be kept informed of progress and problems throughout a weather event?
Who will be available to me for communication regarding issues and special needs?
What is your policy for repairing or resolving damage that occurs as a result of the snow removal efforts?
Taking the time now to find out a little more about the differences between contractors by asking these important questions will help to ensure that you are using the company best suited to satisfy your needs.
At ILT Vignocchi, we welcome your scrutiny; and if you become a customer, we will make you look like a hero.
Call or email us today and find out more about the ILT difference.

Chicago may break 134 year old record for snowfall

In Case You Were Wondering…if this current snow drought that we are in sets a record for longest period between snow events of 1” or more, read on.

Chicago’s official snowfall records began with the winter of 1884-85. Over these 134 years, Chicago’s longest spell without a snowfall of at least 1 inch occurred twice: 64 days from Dec. 3-Feb. 4, 1905-06, and Dec. 23-Feb. 24, 1953-54.  On Dec. 17, Chicago recorded 1.7 inches of snow, the city’s most recent snowfall of at least 1 inch. As of Feb. 16, that would be 61 days ago.  Our streak must persist for at least one more week to have a chance at setting the record.

Lest you think that my interest in snow seems self-serving (after all I am one of the managers of the best snow removal company in Illinois), there are important benefits from regular winter snowfall that we all share.

The most obvious is the moisture.  The following equation varies based on the density of the snow which is determined by the temperature, but generally, every ten inches of snowfall melts into the equivalent of one inch of rain.  Chicago has received, on average, about 36” of snow annually over the last three decades, which translates into 3.6 inches of equivalent rainfall or about 10% of our annual rainfall total.  Granted, much of our snow melts and runs off in the spring, but the snow cover prevents evaporation during the winter, conserving soil moisture.  Plus not all the snow melt runs off, further adding to soil moisture for the upcoming growing season.

Another major benefit of a good snow cover is that snow functions as an excellent insulator of the soil. Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper. This could lead to damage to the root systems of trees and shrubs.  The insulation effect of snow also helps protect perennials, bulbs, ground covers, and other shallow rooted plantings from alternating freezing and thawing cycles. Without snow, milder temperatures and the sun could warm the soil surface, leading to damage from soil heaving, which can break roots and dry out plant parts.

And, lastly, snow is aesthetically pleasing.  A snow-less winter in Chicagoland is drab, dreary, and gray.  Snow brightens everything, bringing out the colors and textures of evergreens, ornamental grasses, and tree and shrub bark.  Snow cover just makes a Chicago winter more complete.

In case you were wondering…

Last week we offered some interpretation of the terms of a typical ILT snow removal contract as they relate to the service provided to your facility or community.

But in case you were wondering about the mobilization process that takes place prior to a snow event, read on…

PART 2 of 3: The mobilization process: from forecast to flakes.

It starts with our people; dedicated, capable, accountable people who care about the work they do and take ownership over the properties for which they are responsible.

While snow removal is an occasional topic of conversation at ILT throughout the landscaping season, the conversation starts to get serious as early as August into September. At that point, the Sales Manager, Snow Commander, and Zone Leaders finalize contractual arrangements, take inventory of equipment, confirm staffing, and review property needs. By October, our assessment of the workload and the assignment of our resources is all but complete. Crews are confirmed and assigned their properties (repeating from year to year wherever possible) and equipment is allocated.

The Sales Manager and Snow Commander then discuss our capacity to accept additional snow customers. Unlike landscape maintenance, snow removal requires a very concentrated effort over a relatively short period of time. Therefore, we believe we should limit the number of customers to whom we offer snow service so as to never be over extended. We make a commitment to our customers to only accept as much snow business as we can manage under the most adverse of conditions, ensuring that all of our customers will be serviced in a timely manner during the absolute worst of circumstances. That said, now it’s November and we are ready.

The key to making sure we are always equipped with the data we need to make informed, effective decisions lies in accurate, proactive forecasting. General media outlets can provide a good overview, but they do not offer much specific information. ILT hires a private forecasting firm to provide us with periodic and highly refined updates on every impending winter weather event, often 24 – 72 hours in advance, and then as frequently as conditions warrant. Specific information is sent to us for (90) different villages in the geographic area we service, containing data on precipitation, accumulation, icing conditions, freeze/thaw cycles, etc.

When a weather event becomes imminent, our Snow Commander talks with this forecasting service to open a dialogue about the details of that event. She contacts our zone leaders to inform them of the forecasted conditions in each of their specific geographic areas. Additionally, every zone has an individual who is responsible to physically inspect and measure accumulations on each of our properties and report back on conditions. Once it becomes clear that service will be necessary, they agree on a mobilization plan which includes property specific start times, unusual manpower needs, special equipment status, material usage, etc. Snow personnel are then notified of the plan and of what will be expected of them. The information is also relayed to the Sales Manager to handle customer inquiries.

No two snowstorms are exactly alike so each event must be analyzed independently. Our mobilization response must be organized specifically to address the characteristics of each storm by considering the following information.

o What type of precipitation is expected?
o When is the precipitation expected to start and stop?
o How much accumulation is expected over that period of time?
o What are the temperatures going to be like throughout the event?
o Will there be freeze/thaw conditions; high winds, drifting, etc.?
o What are any customer specific or event specific needs for this storm?

The plan is in place, men and equipment are ready, and the storm hits at the exact time as was forecasted and behaves in exactly the manner that was expected. RIGHT??? The only thing we can really be sure of when it comes to Chicago weather is that you can be sure of nothing and you better be ready for anything.

Coming next time, PART 3: The operational process from flakes to finished.

In case you were wondering…

You rely on your snow removal vendor to make sure your roads, driveways, and parking lots are plowed; your sidewalks and entrances are clear; and your property is always safe and passable for your residents, guests, employees, and tenants. But in case you were wondering about the process that leads to making all of that happen, read on: PART 1 of 3: Understanding the snow removal contract. It all begins with the contractual agreement between the vendor and you, or your property management company, building owners, or HOA board members. Snow removal contracts are usually customized to meet the needs/specifications of the employees, tenants, or residents of the subject property, according to established budgetary considerations. (The financial parameters of the snow contract is a subject for a future post). But all snow removal contracts do have certain common elements. • The tolerance level (or trigger) determines the minimal amount of snow that must accumulate before plowing operations are to be initiated. The most typical is 2”, but 1” is not uncommon. Less common is a zero tolerance contract by which clearing is to be initiated after any snowfall. • The vendor’s arrival on site will usually depend on the timing of the storm. Daytime storms can create a need to keep main aisles, arteries, and entrances clear throughout the day until a more thorough clean up can be performed overnight. Evening storms offer a bit more flexibility on start time provided operations commence in time to have everything clean and passable by early morning, whenever possible. It is important to understand that plowing operations do not necessarily begin as soon as the trigger amount is on the ground. The start time for the clearing operation will depend on the expected total accumulation of the storm. If a given storm is forecasted to drop 3” – 4” of snow, ILT will likely wait for the storm to end before we commence our operations, then clear all of it in one push. However, if a storm is expected to drop more than that, we will likely do a clearing at 3”- 4” and repeat as often as needed to leave the property clean at the end of the event. • Deicing operations are not necessarily performed automatically after a plow event or an ice storm. Most of our customers put this decision in our hands, i.e. we are to use our discretion as to when and how much material should be applied to keep conditions safe. Others customers prefer to notify the vendor on a case by case basis when they would like them to apply deicing materials. • Operations such as return visits to clear drifting, checking for ice issues, cleaning up after Village plows, etc. are addressed specifically in the contract but are generally customized to the needs and budget of the property owner(s). Understanding ahead of time, the expectations set forth in the snow removal agreement between your property manager/building owner and your vendor can save lots of anxiety if you find yourself asking questions like: “Why are the snow removal crews not here yet?” “Why was no salt put down?” “The Village plowed my driveway/parking lot entrance closed, when will that be cleared?” Feel free to contact me directly with questions about your specific contract terms or contact our property manager/building owner. Kevin Block, Sales Manager @ ILT kblock@iltvignocchi.com Coming next time, PART 2: The process of mobilization; from forecast to flakes to finished.