There is a problem with water based heating systems. Water will dissolve and carry just about anything. It can contain traces of metals, chemical run off, and especially minerals. If you’re in a mineral-rich area like our local Pennsylvania area, your water is going to have a lot of minerals. These minerals are going to cost you, if you’re not properly equipped.
Rocks in the Pipes
The dissolved minerals are essentially harmless in things like streams. They’re pretty harmless to people as well. Once they’re in pipes however, things become more complicated. Tiny imperfections inside the pipes can snag the minerals and cause them to start building up. The electrical charge of the pipe itself can attract the minerals.
It won’t take long before the build up starts to clog a pipe. It’s like a clogged artery. As the minerals build up, less water can get through. At some point, this will start to damage your pumps, which have to work twice as hard to maintain the same flow under increasing pressure and then it’ll just cut off the flow of water altogether. When this occurs inside a furnace, it effectively destroys the heat exchanger. This wouldn’t be a problem except in many hot water heating systems, the heat exchanger is essentially welded to the entire furnace body. When that component fails, that furnace is essentially dead.
This build up is particularly dangerous for valves. In a pipe, the build up has to completely block the flow of water to become a noticeable issue. In a valve however, it just needs to block up the internal components. If it can stop the valve’s interior parts from spinning or actuating, by blocking them in, that valve will no longer function. We don’t call this hard water for nothing. The deposits it forms are as hard as the minerals themselves. To remove the deposits, you very nearly need mining equipment.
Cleaning an Infected System
Once there’s a hard water issue, you need a broad-spectrum approach to it. You can’t just go to every pipe in your facility with a huge drill bit and start mining the mineral deposits. It’d take forever and probably destroy your pipes. Fighting this problem calls for powerful acids.
You can flush specialized acids through the supply pipes and furnace system, something akin to using draino on a clogged drain. These chemicals will eat and liquify the minerals, allowing them to be washed out of the system harmlessly. This procedure should only be carried out by your HVAC professional and in accordance to recomendations and guidelines from your equipment manufacturers. The proper approach to this is going to vary by your water source and piping. Some cleaning agents cannot be used with well water due to toxic contamination risks.
Other parts of your system may need particular, separate care. Your furnace may need a different chemical or additional cleaning. The various fixtures around your facility, shower heads, sinks, and even appliances like dishwashers and laundry equipment will probably need individual attention. Shower heads for example, won’t be cleaned by the acid wash used on the pipes, there wouldn’t be enough exposure. They’re typically best cleaned by removing them and setting them in something like vinegar. Other equipment will need specific, different approaches.
Avoid The Problem Altogether
This issue can crop up regardless of water source. Public water and well water can both contain unwanted contaminants. Your utility will pump water in from somewhere and it may have extra minerals in it. In some cases, the water can leach things like iron, steel, and lead from the pipes and cause further issues for you.
There’s generally two solutions to the problem:
- Water Softener
- Water Filters
The exact solution will vary based on the exact contaminants you’re facing. Most mineral deposits can be handled with water softeners. Lead and other metals however may require specialized filters that capture them as they pass.
These solutions will need to be installed wherever water enters your facility. It can take hours to install or potentially days for larger facilities with larger water supply systems. Once installed however, equipment like this will ultimately save money. Rather than causing premature failure on valves, motors, heating equipment, appliances, and fixtures, you’ll be ensuring the full and long life of your hardware.
There are still some costs involved. The filter based systems will need their filters replaced periodically and water softeners tend to have a limited lifetime before they need maintenance. In particular, a water softener typically has special beads inside it that will eventually need replacing and it requires a supply of salt to keep the chemical reactions functioning.