The Commercial and Industrial water quality management segment is exciting and filled with many potentially lucrative opportunities. It is satisfying to the ego when you’re able to point out the various manufacturing plants, hotels, casinos and other entities that “have my water”, but before entering into this segment of our industry, you would be wise to learn some things…
Every year, my company helps a number of dealers across the country with projects where they have tackled an application that stretches them outside their comfort zone, and beyond their skillset and/or carrying capacity. When you attempt to do work that you don’t have the training, cashflow, or skilled labor to handle, you are going to damage your company’s reputation and bottom-line.
Commercial and light industrial work can be a natural extension to the scope of work you already perform, but it is very important to comprehend that commercial and industrial systems are not just bigger versions of residential systems and that they require significant knowledge, resources, and planning far beyond typical residential work to be truly successful and profitable. Remember, breaking-even is not the definition of a successful project!
With an average residential water softening application on municipal water, the worst thing that can happen when it doesn’t work properly is an inconvenience in the customer’s lifestyle, an increase in cleaning burden, soap usage, water heater scale, heating expense etc… If the softener in a laundromat fails, the operator could spend significantly more in operating expenses, and potentially damage their water heaters, washers and even their water reclamation system. If the softener at a car wash fails, the cars aren’t as clean and the RO membrane/s will fail faster. Costing the owner not only more money, but potentially losing them future business from dissatisfied customers. If a softener fails for a critical boiler protection application (even if it is a small “residential-size” softener), the consequences can be catastrophic and devastatingly expensive.
Consequences of failure, therefore, are the first major differentiator between residential and commercial/industrial (C/I) applications.
Figure 1. Comparing the consequences of failure.
No major financial impact
Minor – medium impact on the process
Minor – medium financial impact
|Industrial application||Catastrophic failure of the process
Major financial impact
When you’re evaluating the client’s application, be sure to carefully understand the actual consequences of failure as well as the necessary response times and contingency planning required for ensuring a continuous supply of properly treated water for your client.
Before tacking any C/I project you need to learn about the process or application, understand the environment in which you will be working and deploying equipment, and also understand the legal implications of the work that you are considering doing.
Process water quality requirements
Each process has certain specific water quality criteria. Whether you’re simply providing a specific quality of water as specified by the project engineer or you’re acting as the consultant to solve a water-quality problem, it is important to understand the actual water quality required and create a reasonable set of expectations for yourself and the client. Consult with the manufacturer of any equipment to be used in the client’s process to ensure that you comply with their operational water quality, flow, and pressure requirements for best performance as well as warranty validation.
Visit the job site, meet with your prospect and observe the potential location of the treatment equipment. This will save you a lot of complications and hassle, while demonstrating that you are truly committed to serving their needs.
Consider the following:
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions; it’s much more intelligent to ask “dumb” or simple questions now than to wish that you had later.
Your C/I client has a dramatically different set of expectations than a typical homeowner. Plan for an escalated response to all service issues, as well as a more critical analysis of product water quality.
Uptime and incident response requirements
Frequently overlooked by most contractors, uptime and incident response time requirements should be discussed and included in the Scope of the Project. Some applications have zero tolerance for downtime and require redundant systems to ensure continuous operation. Response time can also impact the viability of a project, as some applications require on-site response within hours of an incident. Coupled with response times is evaluating the spare parts that you will need to keep in stock to properly support your prospective client. There’s no point in selling a 6” pipe size six-plex softening train if you’re not going to keep replacement valves, actuators and other parts to provide service is a timely manner.
Cashflow (or rather the lack thereof), is typically the single largest hurdle facing small businesses in today’s volatile economic climate. Tackling a $100,000 project with progress payments over the next 6 months as the might not be appropriate for your business. Be sure to ask detailed questions about how the prospective client is expecting to handle this critical aspect of the project.
In addition to whatever project-specific insurances are required by the prospective client, understand that adding commercial work to your company’s current scope of work can have an impact on your general liability, errors & omissions, and workmen’s compensation insurance premiums. Talk to your insurance agent/s about the potential impact on your insurance before tackling commercial and industrial projects. Don’t be afraid to turn down work that could jeopardize the financial stability of your company.
Training and Oversight
Evaluate the licensing and employee skillset required as well as whether your water treatment design needs to reviewed and approved by a locally licensed engineer. All of this affects your net cost of the project and should not be overlooked or underestimated.
Answer the questions below before attempting a C/I project:
Water sample analysis
Draw samples of the client’s raw water and have them tested for the organic and inorganic contaminants that will have a negative or complicating effect on the process or interfere with the treatment equipment.
I generally recommend the following minimum testing panel:
Perform additional tests as needed, especially if the water supply is non-municipal or in an area where the municipal supply quality is known to fluctuate. Armed with an influent water quality analysis, you’re ready to compare the raw water against the process water requirements. Always use appropriate certified testing facilities. Now is not the time to cut corners or be cheap (there’s never a good time or reason for that).
Work closely with your equipment vendor to ensure that you specify an appropriate solution for this project. Have a frank discussion about who will be liable if the incorrect equipment or technology is specified, the extent of that liability and what recourse is available to protect yourself. I often see commercial projects where the previous contractor has undersized the equipment or caused an unacceptable pressure drop in the delivered water. Pay particular attention to projected functional flowrates and pressure drop through the entire treatment train and use sensible safety margins. Also, look carefully at whether the equipment you’re considering is rated for commercial use; many residential system warranties are void when used in commercial applications, so make sure you understand they warranty impact of the project.
Service and preventative maintenance
While periodic service is important on residential water treatment systems, preventative maintenance is critical on commercial and industrial systems. Your equipment manufacturer should have a model preventative maintenance and disinfection schedule for you that can be tailored to the specific project. Discuss this with the client to ensure that the equipment will be properly maintained. Your goal is to prevent or fix problems while they are cheap and easy, with a minimum of operational downtime. If the system includes consumables like acid, caustic, coagulants, flocculants, polymers, chlorine neutralizers, resin cleaners, or performance enhancers, be sure to develop a consumables replacement schedule to facilitate easy procurement of consumables by your clients.
Documentation, contracts and purchase orders
Carefully document the expectations of both parties with a realistic procurement and installation timeline. Carefully review (or have your lawyer do it) 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, progress payments, two-party checks, and other boilerplate commercial contractual clauses that will inevitably be included
Installation should be sub-contracted or performed by your in-house installation team to be on time and within the criteria agreed to by the client. This is not house plumbing and will often require the installer to have additional training, licensing and insurance to complete the work. Consult with the appropriate local code enforcement office to make sure that the project is compliant with all local codes and that the necessary permits have been acquired. In addition to following the law, you’d be wise to follow industry best practices by learning from your peers in magazines like this, at trade shows (The Annual WQA convention is this month in sunny Orlando), WQA’s Modular Education Program (MEP) and from equipment manufacturers. Treat the client’s facility with respect by being punctual, clean and orderly on the jobsite. Respect their corporate culture and be sensitive to dress codes, site parking/driving rules, and other job-site activities.
System startup and commissioning
While selection, sizing and installation are important, the startup cannot be overlooked. This important step involves systematic filling, rinsing, pressurization, purging and sanitization of the water treatment equipment as well as sanitizing the downstream piping, fixtures and process apparatus. This should be done to prevent contamination that could compromise human health or the client’s workflow. Be especially mindful of new regulations and concerns, like ASHRAE’s Standard 188 for Legionella risk management. Once the system has been properly 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 the project binder to share with your client.
Unless you’re planning on having a member of your staff onsite 24/7, you’re going to have to train your client or their employee/s on the proper regular operation and maintenance of the water treatment system. This does not take away from your planned periodic maintenance visits, it simply empowers them to keep things running and minimize the need for future emergency service calls. Take the time to train carefully, as many warranty issues are usually caused by operator error, which inevitably stems from inadequate training.
Documentation and drawings
Be prepared to provide three copies of all Operation and Maintenance (O&M) manuals to the client. Most clients will also require redline or as-built drawings that document the final installation of the treatment train. For your own purposes, you should carefully document and photograph the installation location and each component in operational condition to simplify troubleshooting and training. Keep serial numbers, part numbers and vendor information on hand in the project file when replacement or repair parts are required.
Realistic expectations are the key to healthy commercial/industrial relations. I know many dealers who have built very profitable and rewarding businesses without venturing outside the residential realm. You don’t need to do everything to be a success in our industry, but what you do should be done well. Don’t allow yourself to feel pressured to dive into the C&I market just because your competitors have. Study and analyze the risks and benefits as well as the impact it will have on your company before you over-commit yourself. It’s quite OK to gracefully withdraw and defer to a more knowledgeable/experienced colleague if you become uncomfortable during the initial discovery process.
WQA Modular Education Program: Commercial Water Treatment Modules
What I love about the water treatment industry is that no project is ever exactly the same. Whether it’s the influent water quality, the desired output water quality, or how that water will be used, each water quality improvement/management project depends on environmental, physical and personal variables.
To some people, “acceptable” water is water that’s safe enough to drink, for others, it has to be purified to >18 Mohm•cm resistance and contain no Total Organic Carbon and Pyrogens. When it comes to mission-critical applications, we have the convenience of ASTM D1193, USP and Ph.Eur. water specifications for specific grades of water to ensure that there is no confusion in what we provide. In less-critical applications, the definition is often left open to interpretation by the client, vendor, and equipment supplier with the possibility to fail catastrophically in meeting the client’s expectations.
Something as simple as “soft water” or “water softener” are terms that I’ve seen adults get into shouting matches and professional feuds over what each really means.
At the most elementary level, most people understand that “hard water” is water where it is hard to get soap to lather, so it follows intuitively then that water where soap lathers easily should be called “soft” water.
We understand from the chemistry of calcium and magnesium reactions with soap, that “hard” water contains high amounts of minerals that interact with the soap. These calcium and magnesium minerals are responsible for the inhibitory effect on soaps suds as well as the formation of hard water scale on pipes, faucets, fixtures, glassware, and heating surfaces.
For almost a century, people have typically purchased water softeners to address one or both of the following issues:
Soap interacts with hard water minerals, causing significant negative effects to the user. It takes more soap and other cleaning products to get things clean, glasses are cloudy, silverware is spotted, whites are gray and dingy, hair and skin are affected, and life in general is “harder”.
Mineral Scale and Precipitation
Hard water scale is easily recognized as the cloudiness on glasses, spots on silverware and crustiness on faucets, showerheads and other fixtures. Hidden scale and precipitation is harder for users to notice until electric water heater elements scale over, tanklesss water heaters lose flow, or the gas-fired water heater starts to make “snap, crackle, and pop” noises.
Physically removing calcium carbonate hardness ions to a level of approximately 2 gpg (34.2mg/L) is recognized by industry experts as “water softening”. Removing hardness ions from the water ensures that the soap and scale interactions cannot occur.
A traditional salt-based (sodium or potassium) ion-exchange water softener is currently the most cost-effective way to address both scale and soap issues on the market. There are some legitimate concerns about salt-based ion-exchange systems:
Salt consumption (cost and inconvenience) – Ion exchange systems use either sodium or potassium salt to regenerate. The easiest way to provide sodium or potassium to the softener is with cheap, ubiquitous chloride salt. The net environmental impact from harvest, packaging, storage, and transportation of salt is typically outweighed by the resource, labor, and material savings that these types of softeners provide. The resource-efficiency of salt-based systems continues to improve thanks to resin matrix enhancements, upflow regeneration, improved brining and reserve algorithms, along with the use of resin exhaustion sensor technologies.
Brine Discharge – When a salt-based softener regenerates itself, a concentrated solution of calcium chloride and other ions is flushed to drain along with associated backwash and rinse water. Concerns have been raised at the municipal and small systems level about chloride concentrations in wastewater. Softener bans in California have yet to show significantly beneficial results that justify the loss of convenience and energy/resource savings to the homeowner/business when removing salt-based softeners.
Some homeowners don’t like the feel of water produced by sodium-based water softeners (no it’s not the body’s natural oils – stop perpetuating that silly myth, you’re embarrassing yourself). While relatively easily remedied with different regeneration strategies, and various resins, some people will eschew purchasing a water softener because of this personal preference.
Other homeowners simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of hauling salt. There is an obvious need in the marketplace for salt-free alternatives to address scale and soap issues.
The Quest for alternatives
Salt-based Ion exchange is not the only way to physically remove hardness ions. Membrane separation with Nanofiltration or Reverse Osmosis membranes is a proven method of “softening” the water. Another method of hardness removal is electrodeionization (EDI), where hardness ions are selectively removed using arrangements of ion exchange membranes that regenerate electrochemically instead of using salt. These are true salt-free softening technologies where the efficacy can be very easily tested by measuring the amount of calcium carbonate in the product water. Like salt-based softening technology, these alternative technologies have their own strengths and weaknesses to be considered before use.
There are times when space, electrical supply, drainage availability or maintenance concerns prevent someone from being able to purchase a traditional water softener, or other softening technology like EDI, or membrane separation. Instead of these people being left with no alternative, the free market has provided a plethora of products to compete for the customer’s business.
I have yet to see a technology that truly softens water outside the realm of ion exchange or membrane separations. I am excited for the day when such a technology is developed; it will be one the most significant technological breakthroughs of the century.
There are many salt-free devices for sale, using various approaches like magnetism, radio frequency, ultrasonics, pressure modulation, heat modulation, organic acids, mono/bi/trimetallic reactions, phosphate compounds, chelating agents, and various iterations of media-assisted crystallization. Some do not work at all, but I have seen salt-free scale control options in the marketplace that actually work well under certain chemical and operational conditions in reducing and even preventing hard water scale accumulation. My frustration with most salt-free vendors is the lack of consistent, repeatable, verifiable data on where, when and why these technologies will perform or not perform.
To make matters worse, due to loose definitions and overzealous marketers, some products are promoted as more than what they really are. When playing fast and loose with definitions like “softener”, you will inevitably disappoint a customer who might even feel that they were deliberately deceived. If a device doesn’t physically remove or sequester water hardness, then it is simply not a softener and should not be claimed as such.
Responsible companies are calling these appliances “scale-control” devices, or “water conditioners” to help minimize confusion in the marketplace. This is a healthy first-step in ensuring consumer confidence and satisfaction, but we still need more disclosure to help us know when something will work. “Just buy it and see how it works”, is not an acceptable answer to the dealer or their client.
The next step in being a good corporate citizen is to be honest, scientific, and objective about when, why and how your device will work. Much like the difference between nails and screws, each has their place of strength or weakness, and no one product is going to work perfectly for every application. Some salt-free devices work rather well in particular hardness ranges in some areas, but not in others, much to the frustration of plumbers and end-users who are excited to adopt more efficient and economical technologies. Very few manufacturers have disclosed when and why their devices work or what the exact interference factors are.
This has been and continues to be a problem in the “alternative treatment technologies” realm, especially when it comes to delivering environmentally friendly, cost effective solutions to our customers. I think this is shortsighted and limits their credibility in the marketplace.
I am very excited about a proposed Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF) project to assess the capabilities of salt-free technologies by conducting credible 3rd-party benchmarking tests. Potential outcomes of research surrounding this topic could include the validation, creation or amendment of industry standards as well as corresponding professional and consumer education. This study could measure salt-free technologies against the IAPMO Z601 standard and measure the scale reduction effects inside residential water heaters (tank and tanklesss). It could also measure the scale build-up and ease of removal from glass shower doors and coffee makers. IAPMO is currently considering a new standard for scale reduction devices that proposes a very low threshold for efficacy (60% scale reduction). This type of research could address the consumer impacts of poor performance and help prevent the adoption of this low efficacy threshold in plumbing codes.
I am objectively open to explore all “alternative technologies” and not at all biased towards a “salt-based ion exchange only” mindset. Just as with ion-exchange or membrane separation technologies, I need to understand how something works, when it will and won’t work, and how to measure efficacy of the technology before I stake my reputation or client’s money on it.
Neti Pots have become common fixtures in many homes to flush out clogged nasal passages and help people to breathe easier. Neti pots and other Nasal Irrigation Devices (NID) which include bulb syringes, squeeze bottles, and battery-operated pulsed water devices, use salty water (saline) to help provide relief from sinus congestion, colds and allergies. They’re also used to moisten nasal passages exposed to dry indoor air. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), improper use of neti pots and other NID can actually increase your risk of infection and expose you to potentially life-threatening bacteria.
In 2011, two cases were reported in Louisiana where patients contracted infections after using neti pots filled with “safe” tap water. A 20-year-old man and a 51-year-old woman both died from bacterial infections traced to their Neti Pots.
The culprit was an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, which is commonly found in lakes, rivers and hot springs. This kind of infection is exceedingly rare, but it usually occurs when people get water up their nose after swimming or diving in lakes or rivers.
Naegleria fowleri can travel from the nose into the brain, where it causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a disease that destroys brain tissue and is almost always fatal.
Naegleria infection may be mild at first and include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Later symptoms may include stiff neck, confusion, seizures, and hallucinations. The disease generally causes death within about 5 days after symptoms start. In 123 known cases from 1962 to 2011 in the United States, only one person has survived, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If you are irrigating, flushing, or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution,” said Louisiana State Epidemiologist, Dr. Raoult Ratard.
“These nasal rinse devices are usually safe and effective products when used and cleaned properly“, says Eric A. Mann, MD, PhD, a doctor at the US FDA.
Tap water isn’t really safe for use as a nasal rinse because it’s not adequately filtered or treated for nasal use. Some tap water contains low levels of organisms — such as bacteria and protozoa, including amoebas — that may be safe to swallow because stomach acid kills them. But in your nose, these organisms will stay alive in nasal passages and cause potentially serious infections. They can even be fatal in some rare cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Always make sure that you actually follow the usage instructions. There are various ways to deliver a saline solution into your nose. Nasal spray bottles deliver a fine mist and might be useful for moisturizing dry nasal passages, while irrigation devices are better at flushing the nose and clearing out mucus, allergens and other foreign material.
Information included with the irrigation device might give more specific instructions about its use and care. These devices all work in basically the same way:
Sinus rinsing can remove dust, pollen and other debris, as well as help to loosen thick mucus. It can also sometimes help to relieve nasal symptoms of sinus infections, allergies, colds and flu. The saline allows water to pass through delicate nasal membranes.
If your immune system isn’t working properly or compromised in any way, consult with your health care provider before using a Neti Pot or any other nasal irrigation systems.
Recommended procedure for safely using Nasal Irrigation Devices:
Consult with your health care provider or pharmacist if the instructions on your device do not clearly state how to use it or if you have any questions.
Finally, make sure the device fits the age of the person using it. Some children are diagnosed with nasal allergies as early as age 2 and could benefit from the use of nasal rinsing devices if a pediatrician recommends it. Whether for a child or adult, talk to a medical expert to determine whether nasal rinsing will actually be safe, beneficial, or effective for the specific health condition.
If symptoms are not relieved or worsen after nasal rinsing, then return to your health care provider, especially if you experience fever, nosebleeds or headaches while using the device.
Health care professionals and patients can report problems about nasal rinsing devices to the FDA’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program.
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