Daniel Cheung explains how installers and plumbers can make a smooth transition into light-commercial work by getting the water treatment process right every time.

The light-commercial area of the market, if catered to successfully, can offer a professional installer, plumber or contractor a potentially lucrative additional income stream, the opportunity to grow a business with genuine scale, and the means to hire more staff and expand operations.

Potential trade is plentiful, as businesses are looking to slash energy costs and save money, plus few can afford the consequences of system breakdowns, such as loss of business, temporary relocation of staff, and expensive provisional heating solutions. There is also a gap in the light commercial market for installers able to provide high-quality, professional, best-practice water treatment solutions.

Unlike the domestic market, water treatment guidelines in the non-domestic building service compliance guide to Part L of the Building Regulations tend to be few and far between. As a result, low-quality chemicals and poor practices can be commonplace. In fact, poor water treatment is one of the prime reasons boiler manufacturers are called back to site. The result is that many commercial installations are plagued with premature breakdowns, repairs and replacements, meaning that energy efficiency may be low on the agenda.

Get water treatment right and it’s possible to establish a good reputation, as well as a financially rewarding venture in the light-commercial market. 

Avoid getting into hot water

However, domestic installers can fail to get water treatment right in light-commercial systems even though they may have the skills. This can be attributed to three main factors: mistakenly treating commercial systems the same as domestic systems; using poor-quality products; and failing to follow best practice. All will inevitably lead to corrosion and limescale accumulation within the system, causing a loss of energy efficiency, poor system performance and, possibly, system breakdowns.

Fortunately, delivering high-quality water treatment is fairly straightforward, and getting it right costs relatively little in terms of time or money, especially when considering the potential rewards the light-commercial market has to offer. The first major consideration for light-commercial systems is to ensure the correct amounts of chemicals are dosed for the system in question. Unfortunately, in treating domestic and light commercial systems as the same, some installers may not dose enough chemicals in the latter.

An insufficient amount of cleaner will leave corrosion, sludge and limescale in a system. This will not only lead to a loss of efficiency and poor performance, but will also prevent any subsequently dosed inhibitor from working properly. Similarly, using too little inhibitor means a system can fall foul of corrosion and limescale. On the flipside, using too much cleaner or inhibitor won’t hurt a system, just profit margins – so it’s better to get it right.

A full analysis of system type and complexity is enough to identify the right chemicals and quantities for the job. Reputable, established water treatment manufacturers will have charts or calculators to help installers work out how much chemical is needed, and should be happy to provide help or training. In addition, handy tools such as conductivity meters and inhibitor test kits can be used to confirm whether a system is properly treated.

In terms of application, always follow the clean, protect, maintain (CPM) best-practice ethos: clean a system thoroughly using a high-quality, pH-neutral cleaner to prepare for optimum performance; protect the system with an inhibitor to prolong system life and efficiency; and maintain it using monitoring test kits to help ensure durable protection. It’s worth noting that regular maintenance not only offers peace of mind for the installer (and system owner), but also helps demonstrate professionalism and competency, and can present a potential extra revenue stream.

When it comes to selecting products, installers must exercise caution since quality can vary between brands. Unfortunately, cleaning chemicals are not subject to any quality standards or regulations, while inhibitors are required to meet minimum BuildCert standards. The best course of action is to use boiler manufacturer-endorsed brands, which can be found listed in most major boiler installation manuals. These reputable companies are recommended because boiler manufacturers recognise their value in maintaining the efficiency and reliability of their products, as well as protecting against unwanted warranty claims.

Take the plunge

While there are a number of professional installers and contractors catching on to the potential of using best-practice water treatment in the light commercial market, there is still plenty of room for more. Now is a great time to take the plunge into light-commercial work. Armed with water treatment practices that deliver long-term heating and hot-water system protection, ambitious installers have a real opportunity to clean up in the market.