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Water quality. Think again if you haven't spent a good deal of time thinking about its impact on hydronic heating system components, such as ECM pumps and heat exchangers.
Even boiler manufacturers now understand the importance of water quality. And this isn't just from an increase in awareness across the industry; it's from experiencing more and more failed boiler returns, due to poor water and magnetite in the system water.
As a result, some boiler manufacturers now have recommendations on cleaning and protecting systems, as well as clauses in their warranties if a boiler fails due to poorly maintained water.
So, what should you do? Typically, any water in a hydronic heating system should be tested. The ultimate way of extending the life of an existing system or protecting a new one is to clean and flush the water and then defend it with a magnetic filter and inhibitor.
In the following interview, Antonia Aldridge, ADEY's North American marketing manager and Canadian sales manager, answers some frequently asked questions about hydronic heating system water quality. She also offers solutions and guidance for the problems of system corrosion, and tips on selling to a building owner or a homeowner.
PHC News: What is magnetite?
Aldridge: Magnetite, also known as iron oxide, is a black sludge that forms as air and water mix with system metals in an untreated hydronic heating system. The particles are as small as 8 micrometers in diameter. To put this into perspective, the average diameter of a strand of human hair is 70 micrometers in diameter, which is why these particles are often invisible to the naked eye.
As magnetite circulates and accumulates inside the system, it affects heat transfer and boiler efficiency, especially nowadays, because high-efficiency waterways are so much smaller.
More importantly, iron oxide buildup can lead to equipment damage or failures, such as blocked heat emitters, ECM pumps and heat exchangers. The latter can lead to costly repairs and even boiler failures.
In short, a high-efficiency system is only as efficient as the water circulating through it.
PHC News: So, how should contractors test for water quality?
Aldridge: The best way to test for poor water quality is to find a water test kit that tests for crucial parameters, such as copper, chloride, pH, water hardness and iron. A water test kit will explain how these factors can cause corrosion or scale buildup in the system and will also come with a color chart and an analysis chart to identify and restore poor system water.
In addition, an inhibitor test will be included to determine whether enough inhibitor is in the system.
PHC: Why install a magnetic filter in addition to using a water treatment cleaner and inhibitor?
Aldridge: The best way to explain it is to compare it to car care. You would still install an oil filter in a new car. You wouldn't wait for the engine to get dirty before deciding to fit a filter onto it. That's the same theory behind installing a filter on a hydronic heating system, even if you're using chemicals.
In a heating system that is old and has been installed for quite some time, even if you clean it and use an inhibitor, there's nothing to prevent magnetite from building up again. So, the purpose of a magnetic filter is to provide ongoing protection.
A cleaner is designed to lift stubborn magnetite from surfaces, such as pipework and heat exchangers. The magnetic filter is designed to capture this, plus any future magnetite particles.
Also, keep in mind that an inhibitor is not a preventer. It slows the rate of corrosion, but it does not necessarily stop all of it. Magnetite uses up inhibitors, so both should be used together to stop ongoing scale and magnetite from forming.
An inhibitor's purpose is to provide a protective layer on system components to prevent buildup, while the magnetic filter will capture any particles circulating through the system.
PHC News: Can a contractor use just an air and dirt separator, instead of a magnetic filter?
Aldridge: If you need to remove air from a system, you need to do it from the flow side of that system, where an air and dirt separator should be used.
If you need to remove magnetite, you need to do it from the return side, where a magnetic filter should be installed.
It's important to note that magnetite is not dirt. Consequently, most air and dirt separators are not designed to capture magnetite or finer magnetic particles, which is the most damaging element of any hydronic system. Both filters are essential for the system, but a magnetic filter is needed to capture magnetite.
PHC News: What are the benefits of installing a filter and treating with chemicals that a contractor can explain to the home or building owner?
Aldridge: The most obvious benefit to the owner is that the heating system works more efficiently, meaning it will use less energy. Therefore, it will be less expensive for the system to operate.
Also, the owner will get a more even heat distribution throughout the structure, eliminating the need to constantly turn up the thermostat to increase the set-point temperature in different rooms.
Finally, the heating system is less likely to suffer breakdowns, because critical components, such as the heat exchanger and the pump, are protected from the dangerous iron oxide lurking in the system. Deposits of magnetite tend to accumulate anywhere there are low-flow areas in the heating system.
PHC News: How can a contractor sell this service to a home or building owner?
Aldridge: The easiest way to explain it is to show them the water. Take a sample of the system water and test it in front of them. Show them the magnetite. Then explain what will happen to the system if it is not treated. If you can provide expert information, the enduser is likely to understand and trust your advice.
It's essential also to understand the enduser’s needs, so if they are unsure or can't afford the complete solution to start with, provide a good/better/best offering. That way, they can choose a level of protection that suits their situation and needs.
In addition, if it is an existing system and components have failed or leaks are present, show them to the enduser, instead of just replacing or fixing them.
Often, owners have never seen their systems or know what's happening to them. If you can show them the evidence, they're more likely to opt for a solution.
Another great way of selling this service, whether it involves a new or existing boiler, is by showing the owner the boiler warranty manual and explaining that the service protects their boiler investment. l