A smart water dealership strives to perform a wide variety of water quality improvement tasks well for their clients. As your business matures, it is natural to be asked to help with commercial and industrial projects. You’d be foolish to assume that commercial work is merely a larger version of what you would do for a home, though. There are myriad additional concerns, the first and most important being your understanding of the consequences of failure of your solution/equipment.

When selling a residential softener, the worst thing that can happen if it doesn’t work is an inconvenience in the customer’s lifestyle and temporary increase in expense and cleaning burden. The consequences of failure are really what differentiate commercial and industrial applications.  If a softener fails for a car wash, the cars aren’t quite as clean; if the softener in a laundromat fails, the soap doesn’t work as well; but, if a softener fails for an industrial boiler protection application, the consequences can be catastrophic. One can then logically deduce the following:

Consequences of failure
Residential application InconvenienceNo major financial impact
Commercial application InconvenienceMinor impact on the process

Minimal financial impact

Industrial application Catastrophic failure of the processMajor financial impact


So, when you’re evaluating the client’s application, be sure to ascertain what the consequences of failure are to ensure that you meet and exceed their expectations for deployment, longevity and redundancy.

Things to consider

As with anything, the first step to success in the C/I field is to understand with what you’re working. You need to learn about the process for which  you’re treating water, understand the environment in which you will deploy the equipment and also understand the legal implications of the work that you are doing.

Process water quality requirements

Each process has certain specific water quality criteria. Whether you’re simply creating a particular quality of water as specified by the project engineer or you’re acting as a problem solver to eliminate complicating factors from water, it is important to understand the actual water quality required and to create a reasonable set of expectations for yourself and the client. Consult with the manufacturer of equipment to be used in the client’s process to ensure that you consider their operational water quality requirements for optimal performance as well as warranty validation.

Site survey

Visit the job site, meet with your prospect and observe the potential location of the treatment equipment. This frequently overlooked step will save you numerous complications and hassles, as well as demonstrate to your prospect that you are committed to serving their needs. The site survey will help you in further understanding the process and developing a complete, logistical snapshot of the project.

 Ask the following questions:

  • How far is this job site from my office (Travel time for installation and service)?
  • What time of day can the installation team have access to the facility?
  • What times of day are convenient to the client (if any) to install a bypass loop?
  • Are there any dimensional constraints to the system (doorways, height, floor space)?
  • Are there any weight limitations (equipment to sit on a platform or to be wall-mounted)?
  • Is there an adequate electrical supply for water treatment equipment?
  • Is there an adequate drain for the water treatment equipment?
  • Are there any specific environmental challenges to deal with (temperature, humidity, vibration, intrinsically safe environment)?
  • Are there any specific drainage restrictions for this project (acid/alkaline discharge, discharge salinity etc…)?
  • Are there any specific legal requirements to meet for this particular project (increased liability insurance, HAZMAT, OSHA, local licensing, corporate procurement programs, union participation, tribal authority,  security clearances, GSA, state purchasing agencies etc…)?

Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, it’s much more fun to ask questions now than to wish that you had later.

Process water and operational requirements

Define what your client wants and what you can reasonably deliver.

  • What is the quality of water required?
  • What flow rate is required?
  • What delivery pressure is required?
  • How many hours of run time will be required per day/operating cycle?
  • How much water will be used per day/operating cycle?
  • Is any major change (increase/decrease) in water consumption to be expected in   the near future?
  • What level of redundancy is required?
  • Does any of the equipment require an ASME stamp?
  • Is an engineer’s stamp required for the equipment and piping design?
  • How soon does the client expect the system to be installed and fully operational?
  • Who will maintain this system?
  • What are the consequences of failure?
  • What payment terms does the client expect?

Reasonable expectations are the key to healthy commercial/industrial relations. Your C/I client has a dramatically different set of expectations than a homeowner. Plan for an escalated response to all service issues, as well as a more critical analysis of product water quality.

 Water sample analysis

Draw samples of the client’s raw water and have them tested for organic and inorganic impurities that will have an effect on the process, as well as those contaminants that could interfere with the treatment process itself. I recommend the following minimum testing panel, regardless of the application to get you started:-

  • Hardness as CaCo3
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • TDS
  • pH
  • Total alkalinity
  • Free chlorine
  • Total chlorine

Perform additional tests as needed, especially if the water supply is non-municipal. Armed with an influent water quality analysis, you’re ready to compare the raw water against the process water requirements. Use appropriate certified testing facilities as needed; don’t be cheap when it comes to water testing for commercial and industrial applications.

Equipment selection

Work closely with your equipment vendor to ensure that you specify an appropriate solution for this project. Who is liable if the incorrect equipment or technology is specified, and what recourse do you have to protect yourself? Be sure the equipment is appropriate to the situation.

Service and maintenance

While periodic service is important on residential water treatment systems, it is critical on commercial and industrial systems. Consult with the equipment manufacturer on preventative maintenance schedules and discuss with the client to ensure that the equipment is properly maintained. The goal is to fix problems while they are cheap and easy with a minimum of operational downtime. If the system includes consumables like acid, caustic, coagulants, chlorine neutralizers, ProGuard, or other performance enhancers, be sure to create a consumables replacement schedule and to facilitate easy procurement of consumables by your clients.

Documentation, contracts and purchase orders

Carefully document the expectations of both parties with a procurement and installation timeline. Peruse all purchase orders and letters of engagement before accepting them to ensure the terms are as originally negotiated and that you understand lien releases, delay penalties and other commercial terms that may be a surprise to some. Don’t be afraid to engage the service of a commercial attorney to advise you on your rights and responsibilities before entering into a contract.


Installation should be contracted or performed by your in-house installation team to be on time and within the criteria agreed to by the client. Be sure to adhere to all local codes as well as industry best practices. Treat the client’s facility with respect by being punctual, clean and orderly on the job site. Respect their corporate culture and be sensitive to dress codes and job site behavior.

System startup and commissioning

While selection, sizing and installation are important, the startup cannot be overlooked. This important step involves systematic pressurization, sanitization, and flushing of the water treatment equipment as well as the water-using piping, fixtures and apparatus to ensure a consistent baseline of operations. Once the system has been commissioned, draw samples of the effluent product water and have them tested by the same testing facility as the original tests for uniformity. Save copies of pre- and post-treatment test data in your project binder.

Operator training

Unless you’re planning on having one of your own employees onsite 24/7, you’re going to have to train your client and someone on their staff on the proper operation and maintenance of the water treatment system. Take the time to train carefully, as many problems are caused by operator error, which usually stems from inadequate training.

Documentation and drawings

Be prepared to provide three copies of all O&M manuals to the client. Some clients may also require ‘redline’ (record drawings in some areas) drawings that document the final as-built construction of the treatment device(s). For your own purposes, you should carefully document and photograph the installation location and each component in operational condition to simplify troubleshooting and training.

Commercial and industrial water treatment is not for everyone, so be sure that you carefully analyze the risks and benefits and the impact it will have on your company before you over-commit yourself. Take advantage of the WQA’s new educational materials on the commercial/industrial sector and enjoy this exciting and challenging segment of our industry.