Don’t Neglect Water Treatment


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Much of what Seamans Mechanical does involves some sort of process piping using water to move heat from one place to another. Any time you have water you’re going to have corrosion. Which brings us to our topic, Water Treatment. It’s an integral part of the service we provide to our clients. I have a basic knowledge of water treatment and when needed I call in the experts. The trick is knowing when to call in the experts before it’s too late.

We can’t emphasize enough to our clients the importance of water treatment. Treatment is needed to prevent corrosion not only in the piping, but the components that make up the rest of the system. We often see water related problems in buildings with cooling towers. Because the towers are located outdoors there can be multiple issues to address, such as water hardness, algae buildup, and freeze protection in the northern climates.

Algae growth is an issue that definitely requires attention. If not treated with a Biocide, Algae can grow and plug up the “Baffle” or “Fill” of a tower reducing efficiency. The “Fill” is made of a very thin plastic and is easily damaged. Cooling towers can also be a breeding ground for Legionella Bacteria if not properly disinfected and maintained, another good reason to treat your tower.

Freeze protection is another very important issue that requires attention in northern climates. Without proper protection a cooling tower can freeze and burst. Towers that have water flowing through them in below freezing temperatures require antifreeze.

We use Propylene Glycol in most applications. Propylene Glycol is safe to handle and can be purchased in a concentrate or premix. (Note: Just because it’s considered safe by the FDA it still needs to be disposed of properly.) The Glycol we use also has inhibitors to eliminate corrosion.

Water in the tower is constantly evaporating, so make up water is required. When water evaporates it leaves behind minerals suspended in the water. Minerals can and will build up on the tower interior reducing its efficiency if it’s not removed. Proper chemical treatment will suspend minerals in the water and prevent them from building up until it can be flushed out.

We had one instance where a 15-year-old tower, which had been properly treated every year, skipped a full season without any chemical treatment. By the end of the cooling season the inside of the tower looked like someone had poured concrete in it. This tower was made of galvanized steel, and the chemicals required to remove the mineral buildup damaged the galvanized coating. Within three years the tower had rusted through the sump and it had to be replaced, which cost approximately $60,000. That one season basically killed that tower, because the chemical treatment wasn’t done.

So, the new tower goes in, but the people who originally owned the building sold it to a company that had never owned industrial property. It costs about $6,000 a year to chemically treat that tower. The new owner didn’t understand why they had to spend the money. They said,The tower is 60 grand and in 10 years I will have bought a new tower.” So we had to say, “If you don’t spend the money to chemically treat it you’re going to put a tower in about every two years. So if you want your tower to last that’s what you have to do. “

There is also inconvenience involved in changing out the tower. This particular tower was an integral part of the cooling system of that building. So if the thing fails in the middle of the summer it might be six weeks before you can get it replaced. It isn’t like you go to a dealer and there’s one sitting on the lot. They have to have one made and built. So we had to educate the customer on why they needed to do this, and here’s what will happen if you don’t.

We find ourselves doing a lot of education, explaining that if you do these small things upfront it’s not going to cost you this much down the road. Those conversations are easy to have with somebody who’s in a building they are planning to own for the next 30 or 40 years.

On the other hand, If they’re buying and selling properties, it’s buy it, run it for awhile, fill the building up with whoever you have to fill it up with and then flip it, sell it. And sometimes we don’t see maintenance getting done. Unfortunately, if you put off maintenance for two or three years, or if you have a new owner of a building who doesn’t want to spend the money or the time to pay attention to that stuff it can be extremely expensive long term, which brings me to the last thing I’d like to pass along.

At a minimum, test your system water annually, more often if necessary. We use a local company that specializes in that area. We drop off our samples and they send us a water quality report a few days later with recommendations. Your customer is relying on you to inform them if they have a problem. They may not always do anything about it, but they never will if they don’t know.

Authors Note: Dave Galbreath is the Operations Manager at Seamans Mechanical in Grand Rapids, MI. 

Dave Galbreath
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Posted In: Building Performance

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