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Water treatment as a concept is not new; removing debris from water to make it useable for different purposes has happened for centuries. Even as far back as the ancient Egyptians in 2000 B.C., who originally discovered the benefits of coagulation by adding crushed almonds to clarify dirty drinking water. The Romans used a similar process with alum and lime to make bitter water drinkable.
The filtration of water and its importance developed significantly with the microscope. Scientists were now able to examine contaminant matter, including harmful microorganisms, in the water for the first time. This led to the discovery that heating water killed off harmful bacteria and that, at low temperatures, microbiological organisms are more likely to proliferate. This knowledge would later come in useful with the development of appliances that heat water at lower temperatures, such as ground and air source heat pumps and the associated pipework.
Also, the concept of filtering out particles in water has been applied to boiler powered central heating systems. System debris and contamination of system water is often the result of corrosion deposition forming when a system metals come into contact with water. Limescale deposition can also occur, in hard water areas, which is exacerbated by the heating cycle. Filtration processes and chemical treatments were developed to address this problem.
The older a heating system is, the more likely it is to be suffering from a build-up of limescale and sludge — which consists mostly of iron oxides formed through this corrosion.
Sludge causes havoc with heating systems. It can sit at the bottom of radiators and cause cold spots, meaning more energy is spent trying to heat the home to the required temperature. Sludge can cause considerable damage to other components of the heating system, like the heat exchanger or pumps which may cause them to block or fail. The system will consume more energy resulting in higher gas bills because the boiler has to work a lot harder to heat the home.
Limescale is a killer for heating systems too and those living in hard water areas are particularly at risk of problems. British Water calculates that just 1.6mm of scale on a boiler’s heat exchanger can cause a 12 percent loss in heat transfer from the energy source to water.
Cleaning and flushing
The solution in this case would be to start by adding a chemical cleaner to the system. A cleaner should be left in the system for up to seven days, and the central heating should be run at operating temperature. This enables the cleaner to work effectively, dislodging the corrosion deposition in the radiators and pipework. The system can then be drained down and flushed to remove the debris before refilling the system with clean mains water. The system can be manually flushed, but the most effective way to clean is via powerflushing. This reduces the time spent by the installer on site and gives the homeowner the most thorough, effective clean.
Fernox introduced the first powerflushing machine, known as “The Squid” in 1990, and today they have developed the Fernox Powerflow MKIII, which is based on the same technology.
A good tip for installers to improve the speed of the flush is to connect the machine to 22mm pipework instead of a radiator, as using the radiator would reduce the flow rate.
Inhibitors and filters
Once the cleaning process is complete, installers should think about the best way to prevent the build up from reoccurring in the system.
In-line system filters directly protect the boiler from being damaged by system debris should corrosion develop. High quality filters remove and contain all the magnetic and non-magnetic contaminants from a heating system, trapping the sludge and stopping it being circulated around the system. Also, as a filter is easy to fit and clean, it helps to cut the time spent on the system’s annual maintenance which should ensure optimum efficiency.
A system filter does not prevent corrosion or improve the energy efficiency of the central heating system in the same way as chemical water treatment — a filter simply traps the system debris. Chemical water treatment prevents the formation of corrosion and scale, which is responsible for the reduction in energy efficiency and breakdown problems occurring within the system.
The two elements should always be used in combination for ultimate protection and to ensure system and boiler longevity.
Inhibitors too are easy to use and they can be used in both open and sealed systems. What’s more, it’s a solution which will not break the bank — a 1-pint bottle or aerosol product costs under $30, and that will be enough to treat an average 10 radiator 3-4 bedroom house or 26-gallon system.
Following these steps ensure that older heating systems are treated effectively ensuring that they continue to run efficiently. But, what about installers who are fitting a new heating system?
Contamination in a system can lead to noisy boiler operation, radiator cold spots, low heat levels, slow operation, leaking valves and the eventual breakdown of the system — so ideally water treatment should be applied to all new installations as well as existing systems, to prevent problems from starting.
Even the newest and most efficient boilers will not be able to function for long, if steps have not been taken to prevent limescale and sludge from forming within the system. Therefore, at the time of installation a filter should be fitted and an inhibitor should be added to the system water.
A system which is not working at full capacity will inevitably mean higher energy bills for the customer as well as further unnecessary carbon emissions. In fact, a new system can be up to 6 percent less efficient within a matter of weeks if not correctly treated.
Pros and cons
The obvious benefit of using water treatment in a heating system is that it can save customers money on their energy bills — and it’s great for the environment by reducing carbon emissions. Water treatment has become more important for commercial and domestic heating systems to run smoothly. For customers, it can drive down bills, and for installers it gives the opportunity to cross-sell with other products to clean, powerflush, service and treat a system.
However, statistics relating to specific savings to the homeowner are tricky to measure. This is mainly because by the time the figures are approved by the relevant governing bodies, they are likely to be out of date and therefore not a true representation.
Also, there is no such thing as an “average house” in the U.S., which makes it more complicated to measure exact savings. However, what manufacturers will say is that the higher the fuel price — which is something that is fast becoming an inevitability — the greater the savings to the homeowner.
Selling the benefits and importance of water treatment to a homeowner should not be a difficult task, particularly in the current climate. Fuel prices are rising and look set to keep on climbing. As a result, homeowners are paying much greater attention to their heating bills than ever before.
Remember, proactive water treatment will not only lead to all of the benefits mentioned above for the homeowner, but will save the installer, time on-site, reduce the number of call-backs, leave their customers content and confident about their newly treated system. It will also make the annual servicing easier and less labour intensive. It really is a win-win situation for all.