Guest Editorial: Switch off your scale problems
Have you ever wondered how much easier your life would be if you could just get rid of hard water and scale issues with a flick of a switch? Well, now you can with new electronic technology that has been performance-tested by IAPMO R & T Labs using the IGC-335 Rapid Scaling Test protocol.
IAPMO tested an electronic water conditioner and showed it can reduce scaling by 83% when tested on Las Vegas water heated to 180o F. (The water in Las Vegas is 90% Colorado River water drawn from Lake Mead with a hardness in excess of 18 grains.)
The Rapid Scaling Test is deliberately set up to generate as much scale as possible in the shortest possible time. It does this by heating the water to higher-than-normal temperatures. At normal water heater temperatures of around 140o F, there is less scaling, so an 83% reduction in scaling at a high temperature could equate to an even more significant reduction at lower temperatures.
How physical water conditioners work
What is this electronic device that solves hard water issues so easily? It is a radio transmitter that uses an antenna wrapped around the outside of a pipe to generate ultra-high frequencies in the water. These radio signals travel in the water — both upstream and downstream — across great distances. In fact, they have been detected more than three miles from the device, though the effective range is less than that.
These radio signals affect the structure of the iron (atomic symbol “Fe”) molecules that are already in the water. The scale formed when the water is heated now attaches itself to the Fe molecule instead of the surfaces where it would normally occur. Scale has to precipitate onto a surface, which is why it sticks to heaters and pipes and causes problems.
This device causes the scale to nucleate in suspension in the water. It stops it sticking to surfaces and keeps it in suspension. Once in suspension it flows out with the water, not causing any of the typical scale problems.
This technology needs no servicing or maintenance, and there are no consumables such as salt or other chemicals. It takes up no space in the plant mechanical room, it is very easy to install and retrofit, and it is very inexpensive when compared with traditional salt-based water softeners.
Water softener alternatives, commonly known as “No-Salt Softeners,” suffer from a bad image. Many have turned out to be unreliable — if they work at all, they often won’t work for very long, and the absence of any form of national performance certification has done little to encourage their adoption.
Ironically, the need for effective water treatment has grown at the same time as the acceptability of conventional softeners has diminished.
The UPC 2018 Code, Appendix L.505, identifies the need to “prevent the accumulation of lime scale and consequent reduction in energy efficiency.” Scale is 400 times less conductive of heat than copper, so just 1/8 inch of scale can equate to a 12% loss in heating efficiency. That is the same gain that you can get from a high-efficiency condensing boiler.
Meanwhile, the waste water that comes out of chloride contaminating salt softeners can’t be used for re-cycling — it’s getting to be like sea water. There is a massive campaign to ban softeners in many parts of the country to facilitate recycling. If you are short on water, why make what you have unusable by contaminating it with salt?
Benefits for contractors
The focus for mechanical contractors is much more on the damage that hard water can do to water heaters and plumbing systems. In many cases, the higher-efficiency heaters are much more prone to scaling. If the water isn’t treated and it is any more than three grains hardness, you know that sooner or later, scale build-up is going to cause problems.
By using a small electronic device that you can install in a few minutes on existing pipework, you can flick a switch and walk away.
The increased adoption of residential tankless heaters, which are more vulnerable to scaling compared with tank-type water heaters, has been a major driving force in finding acceptable scale-reducing systems. Many of these treatments involve chemicals, but these are unacceptable in the light commercial, hotel and hospitality sectors. They may not have performance certification, either. As the tankless manufacturers diverge away from the residential sector, they need to find an acceptable treatment system that does not add significantly to the cost and keeps the maintenance and servicing to a minimum.
Radio wave-emitting electronic water conditioners can do this. The radio signals in the water travel both ways so they can treat all the water all the time, not just as it passes through the coils. The treatment imparted to the Fe molecules by the coil devices only occurs as they pass the device. With radio waves, you can even treat the neighbor next door.
Giving it a try
So, how does one know if there is Fe in the water? That is a subject for a whole separate article, though some areas are naturally Fe-free, such as Lubbock, Texas. And if you are supplied by Municipal RO systems such as the Orange County Ground Water Replenishment System in the lower Santa Ana Valley or the Chino De-salter Authority in the Inland Empire, to give two examples, you won’t have much, if any, Fe in the water.
Elsewhere, however, there is often enough Fe to make this technology worthwhile, even if the local water quality report marks Fe as “ND” — not detected.
This technology doesn’t cost a lot to try, and if it is IAPMO tested, you know it meets their high performance certification standards.