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Best pracce water treatment opmises heang performance

installation to another. In contrast, the domestic heating sector has benefited from clear guidance on water treatment for many years.


Now this situation has been addressed through two best practice guides in the last couple of years. The first, developed jointly by ICOM and the Combustion Engineering Association, was specifically for industrial boiler plant and was published in 2016. Earlier this year, ICOM launched the ‘Water Treatment and Conditioning of Commercial Heating Systems Guide’ to provide expert guidance for everyone involved in the water treatment of commercial heating systems.

Commercial heang systems

The absence of clear and consistent guidance for commercial heating systems has historically led to a range of problems resulting from corrosion, limescale, fouling and biofouling. Such problems have a direct impact on heating performance and energy efficiency, as well as causing early failure of system components and central plant. Consequently, inadequate (or non-existent) water treatment has significant financial implications for end users in terms of both capital and lifecycle costs – as well as environmental impact.

Furthermore, these issues have become more significant as a result of changes in the design of commercial heating systems and the materials used therein. For example, modern systems tend to operate with higher pressure drops and lower flow rates than older systems. They also incorporate a wider range of materials than used to be the case. All of which makes the systems more vulnerable to water quality issues and, therefore, amplifies the need for effective water treatment.

Complex systems

In the past there has probably been a tendency to think that water treatment is straightforward – just adding some chemicals now and then. In reality, given all of the variables that impact on heating systems, delivering effective and reliable water treatment is quite complex. These variables include oxygen content, total hardness, conductivity, suspended solids, total metals, chlorides, settled sludge, sulphate, microbiological activity and pH. Consequently, choosing the wrong water treatment regime can be as damaging as having no water treatment at all. Water treatment companies have issued their own guidance, of course, but that’s not the same as having independent and authoritative best practice guideline.

Boiler manufacturers have also sought to ensure their products benefit from appropriate water treatment – not least because they often get the blame when a lack of water treatment causes problems with the boiler. But they are often not in a position to influence the ongoing maintenance of their products.

Early planning

As well as there being an assumption that water treatment is very simple, there is also


a tendency to leave such matters to the maintenance contractor or building operator’s in-house team. Ideally, though, the water treatment regime should be determined at the early design stages of the project, with this design intent being made clear to the installer and, after handover, to the maintenance contractor or in-house team.

However, even when this flow of information is achieved, the detail can be lost when the water treatment is sub- contracted in later years – especially as such contracts are frequently renewed every couple of years.

Comprehensive guide

All of these issues were taken into account in the compilation of the 60-page, freely downloadable ‘Water Treatment and Conditioning of Commercial Heating Systems Guide’ by heating and water treatment experts from ICOM member companies. As such, it is designed for use by anyone involved in water treatment of commercial heating systems, from specifiers and installers through to building owners and operators. Just as importantly, it is written in language that does not require specialist knowledge of water chemistry. The content ranges from design considerations for new systems through to analysing the water in existing systems and taking appropriate remedial measures where necessary.

Structured as a step-by-step guide, it encompasses every area from initial cleaning and flushing through to ongoing treatment. It also covers issues such as methods of system fill and water types (including use of demineralised, reverse osmosis or softened water), pressurisation, de-aeration and filtration.

It also underlines the need to establish the system’s water volume to ensure correct dosage rates, and to analyse the chemical make-up of the water to ensure the most appropriate corrective actions are taken. In this way, it provides a definitive guide on how to identify the best water treatment regime for a particular system and how to implement it effectively.

A PDF of the ‘Water Treatment and Conditioning of Commercial Heating Systems Guide’ can be downloaded at or a hard copy can be obtained from: for £10 +VAT.


u Further information on water treatment for industrial steam boilers is available at

*Ross Anderson is Director of the ICOM Energy Association.

uRoss Anderson, Director of the ICOM Energy Associaon, pictured at the launch of the Water Treatment and Condioning of Commercial Heang Systems Guide.

ntil recently the best practice for water treatment of commercial and industrial heating systems was very poorly defined and varied considerably from one

Ensuring optimum performance of commercial wet heating systems requires an effective water treatment regime. Ross Anderson, ICOM Energy Association Director, explains why a recently published guide can help to ensure the appropriate treatment is applied to each system.

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