Ready your sealcoaters for spring - you can clean them now or pay later

By now, most ?northern? contractors have sealcoated the last driveway or parking lot for the year. Machines are stored and ready for a quick, flawless start this spring. No big deal, right?

Maybe, depending on how thoroughly equipment was winterized. When ?put away? properly, sealcoating machines will be ready to jump into action next spring. Less fortunate units will not only fail to function, they will create hours of work and needless expense.

?The single most important winterizing move a sealcoating contractor can make is to thoroughly flush out the sealcoating system,? says Keith King, general manager, Anders Manufacturing. ?Once the sealant is exposed to air, it hardens and becomes nearly impossible to free up. Neglecting to flush out the system will create many, many hours of labor replacing elbows, tees, pipe fittings, and ball valves.?

In addition to ridding equipment of sealer, King says purging ensures that sand and other potentially corrosive material will be removed.

Different manufacturers recommend different flushing procedures. Some advise running fresh sealant through equipment to help remove sand deposits, then follow up by flushing with water. Some recommend flushing only with water (depending on the type of sealant used) and some recommend flushing the system with water and then adding an anti-freeze solution that will stay in the system until spring.

The key, says King, is to make sure the entire system, including the tank, pump, filter basket, all discharge lines, and surge tank, is completely clean of sealant, debris, and water. He says an anti-freeze solution (windshield washer fluid or RV antifreeze - both of which are environmentally friendly) will help protect valves and other critical components from being damaged by cold weather.

Steve Dixon, co-owner of Nealco distributor Dixon Sealer & Supply, Scranton, PA, recommends leaving an anti-freeze solution of 1:1 ratio in the machine all winter long. ?After the machine is completely clean, contractors should suck antifreeze into the plumbing and pump until the pump goes to neutral,? Dixon says. ?It will take approximately five gallons. Turn the motor off and the pump and plumbing is now ready to go through the winter.?

Set a date

?People don?t appreciate the destructive power of water and sealant freezing,? says Craig Erickson, founder and vice president of Equipt. ?Thoroughly cleaning equipment at season?s end should take top priority. My advice to contractors is to set a date for their last sealcoating job, and stick with it. Maybe it?s when they have only 10 to 20 gallons of sealant left in their tank. They can run that out, and then winterize their equipment. Otherwise, it can be very tempting to continue taking late-season jobs and one day end up with a full or partially full tank of sealant. Then, spending time cleaning up his machine becomes even less attractive, not to mention having a couple of hundred dollars of sealant in the machine and nothing to seal.?

Like King, Erickson advises contractors to flush out the entire system and then leave the ball valves open to allow all the water to escape. King notes, too, that contractors with a water fogging system need to ensure that it, too, is free of water.

Timely tips

King also advises contractors to store equipment indoors and to remove the battery to a warm, dry place. Putting it on a trickle charger for the winter will help maintain cells. Adding a fuel additive to keep fuel fresh, inspecting bearings to make sure they?re not leaking, and following manufacturer recommendations for oil changes should be part of a solid winterizing strategy.

?When flushing the unit, check for leaks around the ball valves and look to replace worn hoses and belts,? King adds. ?Twenty minutes of preventive maintenance during the off season is better than spending a couple of days in spring readying equipment when projects are waiting.?

Erickson agrees. ?Grease the tank agitator and replace the filter basket and tank lid gaskets if needed. Overhaul kits are available for most pumps and certainly there is no better time than the offseason to make the necessary repairs.?

Dixon Sealer & Supply repairs more than 20 pumps a year and Dixon advises to contractors rebuild their pumps every year. ?Doing so will help ensure they will go through the season without costly downtime.?

Just in case

For contractors who have already put their equipment to bed but failed to winterize it, all is not lost. There?s still time to get it ready, but the process can be labor intensive and costly.

?Typically, a sealer breaks down into a solid and water if it allowed to set around for any length of time,? explains Erickson. ?Removing this material is like trying to free up a clogged pipe. It requires removing and cleaning all pipes, pipe fittings, and hoses, and possibly replacing valves. Even then, you may not be able to get rid of all the solid material, which can be problematic in the spring.?

Contact your sealer producer for information about a release agent that would facilitate cleanup.

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