Hard Water Can Drain Energy and Expenses

Jan. 1, 2008

Hard water has a tremendous impact on the lifespan of plumbing infrastructure, energy use, and the environment

By Mike Pederson

Many commercial building owners and facilities managers are aware of the problems caused by hard water - from clogged pipes and inefficient boilers to premature hot-water equipment failure. What they may not always know is the impact of hard water on the lifespan of plumbing infrastructure, energy use, and the environment.

The Challenge: Hidden Costs of Hard Water
Energy inefficiency. The impact of hard water hits heavily on energy use and associated maintenance costs. Hot water heaters, boilers, and plumbing equipment must be maintained to keep a commercial building running at peak performance and profitability. Hard water contains dissolved rock that accumulates on heating elements and the internal surfaces of boilers, causing scale build-up and impairing efficiency. Scale build-up reduces the equipment's ability to heat surrounding water, causing it to consume more energy (thus, raising utility costs). According to the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, 1/16-inch of scale can increase energy consumption by 11 percent. Similarly, the Water Quality Research Council claims that it costs 29-percent more to heat untreated water.

Equipment replacement. The lifespan of hardness scaled equipment is shortened due to high failure rates and the need for expensive repairs or replacement. Periodic blowdowns are often used to salvage equipment by flushing impurities to the drain, and replacement water must be added to the boiler, causing a waste of water, energy, and chemicals.

Environmental concerns. Buildings using hard water must use more chemicals and detergents to match the cleaning results achieved when using softened water. For every grain of water hardness, detergent use increases by 2 to 4 percent per 1,000 gallons of water used. Hard water also means that more wastewater and impurities are transported to the sewer.
The Solution: Hard Savings with Soft Water
Cost savings. Problems associated with hard water can easily be minimized by using a water softener, which reduces scale forming or hardness ions (calcium and magnesium). This helps prevent scale build-up and overheating of hot-water-using equipment. Using soft water saves money on equipment replacement and service, electric and gas utilities, and detergent/chemical use. For example, in a typical commercial establishment (like a restaurant) that uses hard water, it costs $810 per month to heat the water (based on $27 per day to heat 2,900 gallons). Water softening can save as much as 30 percent in energy - a cost savings of $243 per month (more than $2,916 annually). Water softeners can also save up to 35 percent on detergent costs and up to 25 percent on downtime for equipment maintenance repairs. Finally, softer water helps extend equipment lifespan, meaning less scrap disposal.

Selecting the right system. To begin the transition to soft water, start with a professional water analysis and site survey to determine your water hardness or other potential water problems. Many water-softening solutions are available; always seek the consultation of a qualified, local water treatment specialist to ensure that you're getting the best recommendation for your needs. 

Mike Pederson is manager, application engineering, at Northbrook, IL-based Culligan Intl. (www.culligancommercial.com). He can be reached at ([email protected]).

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