Avoiding the pitfalls of poor water treatment chemicals

maintenance, refurbishment, Sentinel Commercial, water treatment, inhibitor
Water treatment that works— Ian Barnes.

Poor-quality water-treatment chemicals can very quickly lead to major problems in heating systems. Ian Barnes of Sentinel Commercial explains how specifiers can ensure the delivery of best water-treatment practice procedures and, therefore, long-term heating system protection.

Inexpensive and readily available, industrial and white-label water- treatment chemicals are used commonly in the treatment of commercial heating applications. However a lack of quality standards means that most are unsuitable for modern high-efficiency boilers and fail to offer sufficient long-term protection from corrosion and limescale. A host of operational and efficiency problems can follow — sometimes within months of system commissioning and often leaving building specifiers to deal with costly remedial works.

In a competitive trading environment, users and owners of commercial premises are forced to shop around for the most attractive deals when it comes to installing, replacing, or maintaining their heating systems. Unfortunately, many will be prepared to cut corners, failing to understand that when it comes to heating-system water treatment, taking the cheap option is a false economy with potentially costly consequences.

Part of the problem is that, unlike domestic systems where installers are required to clean and flush a system and protect it with inhibitor, regulations in the commercial market are non-existent. The non-domestic building-services compliance guide to Part L has no regulations for water treatment whatsoever — a fact which makes no sense at all given that domestic heating systems and commercial heating systems will be adversely affected by untreated system water in exactly the same ways.

The story is similar when it comes to quality standards. In fact, there is only one, BuildCert, but this only applies to domestic inhibitors and verifies only minimum quality anyhow. Unfortunately, even this standard can be questioned since there is only one major water treatment brand that is BuildCert certified via an independent laboratory; the others are self-certified. To exacerbate the situation, cleaning chemicals are not controlled by any standards, meaning that any formulation can be sold and packaged as a system cleaner no matter how poor the quality. In short, anything goes in the commercial market when it comes to the water treatment of heating systems.

In general, there is a clear lack of awareness about water treatment and why it is important in the commercial arena. Vital steps such as cleaning can easily be overlooked by specifiers, while contractors (unless instructed otherwise) are at liberty, through choice or ignorance, to use the cheapest, poorest-quality chemicals in order to increase margin.

Using high-quality cleaning chemicals and inhibitors from reputable brands overcomes corrosion and limescale — and protects boiler components.

So, what’s the actual issue with using own/white-label chemicals?

Firstly, they often cannot be trusted to effectively clean or protect heating systems. For instance, many such cleaning chemicals are too aggressive (often highly acidic), and can promote corrosion. At the opposite end of the spectrum, many chemicals lack the strength to shift persistent, heavy sludge. As a consequence, irksome cold spots and blockages can remain, while any inhibitor that is introduced after cleaning may not work effectively.

Inferior-quality inhibitors also lead to problems — even when a system has been cleaned properly. In fact, low-quality inhibitors failing to fully protect all metals in a heating system can lead to the almost-immediate onset of corrosion and limescale accumulation (the latter being especially problematic in ‘once-through’ heating systems and water heaters).

The result is that systems that the customer assumed had been cleaned and protected may still corrode and, if in a hard water area, continue to accumulate limescale. The upshot is reduced running efficiency, leading to higher energy bills, which in the case of large commercial facilities can equate to thousands of pounds a year, as well as a higher potential for breakdowns, downtime, repairs and even replacement — all in the name of saving a few pounds on water treatment. In some cases these issues can even occur within months of a system being commissioned.

For those thinking the boiler guarantee will cover it, think again. Most boiler manufacturers stipulate that incorrect or insufficient water treatment invalidates warranties.

In contrast, high-quality cleaning chemicals and inhibitors from reputable brands use innovative chemistry to overcome corrosion and limescale and protect system metals such as boiler components, pump parts, radiators and pipework. As a guide, use water-treatment brands recommended by boiler manufacturers in their installation manuals, since these offer tested and trusted performance. In addition, select inhibitors that demonstrate protection levels well over and above the BuildCert Standard for the best results.

Low-quality inhibitors fail to fully protect all metals within a heating system and can lead to the almost immediate onset of corrosion.

To further ensure optimum water treatment, specifiers and building managers should adopt a more active role to deploy the industry-best-practice CPM (clean, protect, maintain) process. CPM ensures that system health is maximised and protected in the long term.

Firstly, correct cleaning removes sludge, limescale and installation debris to prepare a system for better performance. Secondly, protection with a high-quality inhibitor prolongs system life and efficiency by preventing corrosion and limescale build-up. Finally, maintaining a system through the regular checking of water quality ensures lasting protection.

Ultimately, the combination of high quality reputable-brand water-treatment chemicals and the application of the CPM ethos will pay enormous dividends. It may cost a fraction more in initial expenditure, but is sure to save thousands in the long term.

Ian Barnes is head of Sentinel Commercial

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