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Water Quality: A Hidden Cost for Heat Networks

UK compliance consultancy Clear Safety explains why water quality is an essential consideration in communal heat network maintenance.

Communal Heating systems have been a key strategy adopted by social housing providers looking to demonstrate a responsible approach to delivering new social housing accommodation which addresses the drive towards low carbon heating provision while also lowering costs for social housing residents. In the current climate of rising gas and electricity costs and with ever greater focus on the climate crisis, district heating is likely to become an ever-increasing percentage of social landlords’ portfolios

While much effort is put into the design and maintenance of the system, maximisation of performance via emerging technology in appliances, control strategies and correct application of the design of supply networks and HIUs, one major area is frequently overlooked.

Our oversight of hundreds of plant rooms suggest inappropriate or non-existent water treatment and conditioning is often the root cause of poor system performance and the reduced life span of expensive equipment. Yet little attention is given to this important aspect of the maintenance regime and it is often left with an incumbent maintenance contractor to undertake and maintain records, without the independent assessment, which is present elsewhere in the contractor oversight regime.

The importance of water quality

Failure to monitor and maintain water quality in a heat network can have disastrous – and expensive – consequences. The corrosive effect of poor-quality water in the system can lead to system failure and premature failure of pipework, plant room appliances and heat interface units. The capital expenditure associated with resolving these problems is high. This is in stark contrast to the relatively low cost associated with implementing an independent, verified water sampling regime which represents an efficient and reliable means of mitigating the risk.

To function effectively, all heating systems must work with clean, good quality water. Put simply, this means the water must be proven to contain the appropriate oxygen content, total hardness, conductivity, suspended solids, total metals, chlorides, settled sludge, sulphate, micro-biological activity and correct pH.

Water treatment visibility

As with other areas of planned preventive maintenance (PPM), best practice should be for an independent accredited water treatment specialist to regularly analyse and report back on the quality of samples of supply and system water. Their role would include analysis of the samples and recommendations of the appropriate water treatment products to maintain water quality, minimise corrosion, inhibit the formation of mineral scale and the growth of microbiological organisms, in line with appropriate manufacturer guidelines. Any products used should be compliant with all materials used in the heating system, and not simply the cheapest or easiest available and should be evidenced as administered as per the approved instructions. This would bring the water treatment regime in line with other such schedules, such as maintenance works to appliances, and of course, compliance documentation. 

Audit trail: the benefits

Considering water treatment as part of the overall maintenance and compliance regimes, and evidencing its completion as part of the audit trail of PPM works via independent accreditation, provides the landlord with reassurance regarding contractor works and obligations as well as important evidence to manufacturers and principle designers that if appliances fail prematurely or systems underperform, unknown water quality cannot be used as mitigation of warranties, guarantees or potential design issues. In addition, water treatment ensures the heat network has the best chance of optimum performance, returning the greatest possible efficiency and cost – and alongside other properly evidenced maintenance, delivering the expected longevity of appliances and systems to maximise the lifespan of capital investment, as part of any BREEAM approach to value for money.

Sources

The Industrial and Commercial Energy Association – Water Treatment and Conditioning of Commercial Heating Systems Guide. www.icom.org.uk.

Author

  • Clear Safety

    At Clear, we specialise in safety, compliance and risk management consultancy. We have extensive experience of working with housing associations and educational bodies (i.e. schools, multi-academy trusts, local authorities and universities). However, we are used to working across all public and commercial sectors. We support organisations to help them navigate the often complex and challenging compliance journey, providing access to a dedicated team of professionals that works alongside your own staff. Our service is linked to our cloud-based management system to deliver a compelling picture of compliance alongside measurable financial savings. This means you can manage risks across your organisation, whilst saving time and money as well as looking after your most valuable asset of all - reputation.

CAMFIL HVAC Filtration Solutions

Clear Safety

At Clear, we specialise in safety, compliance and risk management consultancy. We have extensive experience of working with housing associations and educational bodies (i.e. schools, multi-academy trusts, local authorities and universities). However, we are used to working across all public and commercial sectors. We support organisations to help them navigate the often complex and challenging compliance journey, providing access to a dedicated team of professionals that works alongside your own staff. Our service is linked to our cloud-based management system to deliver a compelling picture of compliance alongside measurable financial savings. This means you can manage risks across your organisation, whilst saving time and money as well as looking after your most valuable asset of all - reputation.
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