Tackle rising energy costs by optimising heating and cooling systems

Steve Simmonds of Spirotech
Steve Simmonds of Spirotech

With energy costs set to rise this winter, many businesses across the country are looking at how they can improve the efficiency of their HVAC systems and make gains wherever possible. Here, Steve Simmonds, Special Projects Engineer at Spirotech, looks at the benefits of water treatment and why it’s important that facility managers are clued up on this topic.  

Businesses across the UK have worked tirelessly to survive and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, only to be faced with another financial difficulty this year in the form of soaring energy costs. Consequently, many businesses are currently having to reassess how they operate this winter, with some businesses considering reduced opening hours or choosing to close completely, knowing the alternative is impossible.

However, while not a total solution, there are ways to fight back against rising energy costs, by ensuring your business is running efficient energy systems. An unhealthy system can be costly for businesses in many different ways; not only will it result in higher running costs, but an unhealthy system can also require more downtime and maintenance, as well as expensive repairs to damaged parts of the system. 

Despite the significant impact of an unhealthy system, in many buildings water quality is an element often forgotten or not realised, as it is often regarded as “out of sight, out of mind”. However, there are a few key signs that facility managers can look for, that will indicate that water treatment is required.

Common symptoms to look for

If not expelled, trapped air in the system will create oxidation, causing corrosion and leading to unwelcome dirt and magnetite, and scaling. As well as being destructive, it can cause issues to many other parts of the system.

Leaking AAVs - A build-up of dirt in the Automatic Air Vent will cause it to leak as the internal armature becomes clogged and is unable to function correctly, adversely affecting the float. Ensuring the system water is properly conditioned, and regular maintenance of the AAV, will alleviate this issue.

Reduced heat transfer - An accumulation of air and dirt in radiators will reduce the radius of the heated surface, with cold spots in the affected areas. This can lead to users turning up the thermostat in order to try and heat the building to the level desired, which consequently leads to higher energy use.

Pump inefficiency - A build-up of black sludge and magnetite can cause the pump to become too hot and operate inefficiently, which will ultimately shorten its working lifetime as a result. When the pump isn’t working effectively, this can also lead to the boiler ‘kettling’.

Poor circulation - Air accumulation around the pump axle causes a lowered pump head. Air around the pump circle also causes bad cooling which seriously limits the lifetime of the pump.

All of these points ultimately lead to extra costs by making the boiler work harder to deliver the expected results and lead to increased maintenance requirements, as well as shortening the lifespan of the system.

Sourcing a solution

When a heating or cooling system is found to be running inefficiently, all too often the temptation is to treat the problem with chemicals. But these inhibitors only really tackle the symptoms and are not a ‘cure’. Their effectiveness wanes and it becomes only too easy to slip into a cycle of regular redosing and maintenance, without actually getting to the root of the problem.

Experience shows that a deeper delve can help truly understand the root cause of these issues. As such, when looking to resolve these issues, the best course of action is to start with having a water quality test carried out. Testing can range from a basic sampling and laboratory analysis with initial feedback, to a full interrogation and in-depth 30-section report with specific recommendations.

Water quality tests, such as those offered by Spirotech, benchmark against the recommended levels of pH, conductivity, water hardness, and if there is any protector present. The results from these will help in putting a plan together to tackle the two main issues of corrosion and scaling.

Depending on the results of the water test, recommendations could range from many mechanical solutions, such as the fitting or replacement of a pressurisation unit, vacuum degasser (for the elimination of microbubbles and dissolved gases), or a dirt separator.

Broken radio

Another new technology currently growing in popularity here in the UK are demineralisation solutions. Demineralisation solutions treat the water to ensure it is pH stabilised before it enters the system. By removing all the hardness (calcium and magnesium) from the water, to prevent the boiler from scaling and eliminate calcium deposits, and remove all salts (ions) from the water to help slow down corrosion, this can have great improvements in the performance of the heating or cooling system.

Water quality tests can be done at any time but should be part of a regular service agreement to guarantee long-term results. If the site does not have an agreement in place, the chances are the water will not have ever been tested in the past.

Another good reason for carrying out a water quality test is that many HVAC manufacturers will only offer a warranty if the system water meets certain standards.

With causes both identified and remedied, heating systems will harness the potential to work optimally, thus consuming less energy for the same desired outcome and in turn, having a positive effect on the associated costs with energy heating bills. At a time when it is important to consume energy more efficiently from both a financial and environmental point of view, testing and upgrading commercial water systems can help reap the benefits of each perspective.

Professional Development

In order to really get the best from any heating or cooling system and benefit from improved efficiency, it is important that facility managers are taking the time to educate themselves on the best practices when it comes to water treatment.

We offer heating and plumbing professionals technical insight into the benefits and importance of these changes to a water system, through its Understanding Water Quality and Total Solutions CPD. The course identifies common problems caused by poor water quality, and outlines 8 key steps that can be taken to remedy these issues.

Other topics covered include hydronic stability, the latest regulations and guidelines, how water conductivity causes corrosion, along with other factors such as the impact of hard and soft water. Bacterial contamination in closed heating and chilled water systems is also examined and explained.

For more information on the Spirotech range of water treatment solutions and to find out how to register for your free CPD session, visit: www.spirotech.co.uk/renovation

Steve Simmonds is Special Projects Engineer at Spirotech

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