Protecting Plumbing Systems: The Rising Trend of Neutralizing Condensate Waste in Condensing Equipment

By Phil Warren, MD, SFA Saniflo Canada,  National Sales Manager and Managing Director

The popularity of condensing technology in gas-fired water heaters and boilers has increased steadily since their introduction several years ago. Greater energy savings have played an important role, because condensing water heaters and boilers offer significant efficiency gains over non-condensing models.

Condensing water heaters use a secondary heat exchanger to boost efficiency by capturing more heat from combustion gases as they escape up the flue. This secondary heat exchanger then preheats the incoming water on its way to the primary heat exchanger, increasing the unit’s efficiency.

Capturing more heat from combustion gases lowers their temperature, necessarily creating condensate in the flue: an acid-water mixture that drips back into the water heater and through the secondary heat exchanger. As we will discuss, allowing this mixture to drain through the plumbing system untreated creates serious corrosion and other problems.

If you are a plumber or a building trades professional who actively promotes the use of high-efficiency, condensing water heaters and boilers, you should be equally energetic in keeping systems running effectively for your customers.

Condensate neutralization and removal are impactful measures to ensure proper system performance and protection of the drainage system in a building or residence.

Why neutralization is important

Discharge coming from high-efficiency, condensing water heaters or boilers should be treated with some sort of neutralization process. That’s the only way to protect your customers’ plumbing from the potentially harmful side effects of the condensation process.

Condensate tends to be acidic because of the chemical reaction caused by the heat of the gas burner. Indeed, the higher the efficiency rating, the higher the acid level in the water runoff.

If this runoff is disposed of directly through a structure’s plumbing system, its piping could corrode or rust over time, necessitating costly repairs. In addition, pumping the waste outdoors or into sanitary sewers could contaminate the groundwater or degrade the local water infrastructure (local sewers and water treatment facilities). For homes with septic tanks, condensate waste might also destroy the good bacteria that are essential to keeping the system operating properly.

The higher, front-end costs of high-efficiency equipment are typically justified by lower energy consumption and the resulting lower monthly fuel bills. But those savings could be wiped out, and then some, if the plumber must return in just a few years to tear out and redo all the plumbing.

The smart, long-term solution is to neutralize the condensate waste’s acidic content before it enters any piping.

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Condensate removal and neutralization solutions

  • What is the best way to remove condensate and neutralize?

Neutralization can be accomplished in several ways: 

The new Sanicondens Best Flat combines a condensate pump with a pH-neutralizing pellet tray into a single, space-saving, environmentally friendly solution for ultra-high-efficiency condensing equipment

1) Manually, by cutting a bed of limestone into the floor where the condensing water heater, boiler, etc., is located, and letting the condensate drip into it. 

2) Positioning a limestone-filled cartridge inside of the condensing unit to neutralize the water internally.

3) Hooking a neutralization kit — essentially, a piece of pipe filled with limestone — to the exterior of the condensing equipment and letting the condensate flow through it.

However, a more sophisticated neutralizing solution is now available that falls into the fourth category: a condensate pump that is coupled with a neutralizer. The pump moves the condensate from the water heater or boiler through limestone granules in a tray before discharging it into the sewer or septic system. This 2-in-1 solution uses the built-in neutralizer to boost the pH of the acidic condensate before it can be discharged into a drain line — thus preventing corrosion.

Why opt for a pump? In many residential and commercial applications, the condensate evacuation cannot always be done by gravity to an existing sewer line, usually because the application lacks conventional, below-floor drainage. In such cases, a condensate pump becomes essential. The pump ensures condensate waste does not linger inside or around the water heater or boiler, while the neutralizer removes the acidity that would damage water and sewer pipes.

  • How a 2-in-1 condensate pump works

Condensate from the water heater or the boiler enters the system via two 1-inch inlets on the side condensate pump unit and a third inlet on top of the enclosure. This inflow automatically activates a float mechanism that, in turn, starts the motor whose spindle/shaft drives the impeller.

The condensate is neutralized as it comes in contact with the neutralizer pellets in the tray before being pumped safely away through a 3/8-inch discharge line connected to the structure’s main drainage line and, ultimately, to a sanitary sewer or a septic tank.

Not all condensate requires neutralization, however. In these instances, drainage can be routed into a third inlet located on the top of the unit near the discharge line. This drainage bypasses the neutralizer pellets and moves directly to the pump impeller, where it is immediately discharged.

When selecting a 2-in-1 system, consider a pump capable of serving multiple mechanical systems — up to a combined input total of 500,000 Btu per hour — with an easy-to-refill pH-neutralizing pellet tray.

  • Neutralization with gravity feed

A gravity-feed, inline HVAC neutralizer can be used when a pump is not necessary to remove acidic condensation from condensing water heater or boiler systems. This type of device can be installed, by itself, when the

The SANINEUTRAL neutralizes condensate produced by many modern, high-efficiency appliances, preventing pipe corrosion and other lasting damage.

application’s gravity fall is sufficient for moving the neutralized condensate to the discharge line. It can also work with a pump system when the condensate needs to be pumped into the sanitary line.

Major codes take notice

As the backbone of modern buildings, plumbing and HVAC systems play a crucial role in maintaining a comfortable and safe environment. In Canada, adherence to strict codes and regulations is paramount to ensure the longevity and efficiency of these systems. One often overlooked, yet critical aspect is the neutralization of condensate, a process mandated by Canadian plumbing and HVAC codes at both the federal and provincial levels.

Condensate is the liquid formed when water vapour in HVAC systems condenses due to temperature fluctuations. As noted, the condensate produced is acidic, posing a potential threat to pipes, equipment, and the environment. To address this concern, Canadian Plumbing and HVAC codes emphasize the necessity of condensate neutralization to mitigate the corrosive effects and ensure compliance with environmental standards.

The Canadian Plumbing Code, as outlined by the National Research Council of Canada, specifies guidelines for the treatment of condensate in plumbing systems to protect infrastructure and prevent environmental harm. Additionally, provinces across Canada may have specific regulations that cater to regional considerations and environmental sensitivities.

In the realm of HVAC systems, the Canadian HVAC Code mandates the inclusion of condensate neutralization devices. These devices work by raising the pH level of the condensate, rendering it less acidic and thus less harmful to pipes and drainage systems. Compliance with these codes is not merely a suggestion; it is a legal obligation designed to safeguard the integrity of plumbing and HVAC systems.

Condensate neutralization is particularly crucial in provinces with varying environmental conditions and sensitivities. For example, in provinces with stringent environmental protection measures, such as British Columbia, the emphasis on condensate neutralization aligns with the commitment to sustainability and ecological responsibility.

Failure to adhere to these codes not only jeopardizes the performance and durability of plumbing and HVAC systems, but can also result in legal consequences. Violations may lead to fines, penalties, and, in severe cases, the suspension of operations until compliance is achieved.

The importance of condensate neutralization goes beyond mere regulatory compliance; it contributes to the overall sustainability of buildings and minimizes the ecological footprint of HVAC systems. By adhering to Canadian plumbing and HVAC codes, professionals in the industry uphold the principles of responsible construction and contribute to the long-term health of infrastructure and the environment.

In conclusion, the neutralization of condensate is not just a technical detail — it’s a fundamental requirement embedded in Canadian plumbing and HVAC codes. Professionals in the field must recognize and prioritize the significance of condensate neutralization to ensure the reliability, efficiency, and environmental sustainability of plumbing and HVAC systems across Canada.

The specific details of the Canadian HVAC code, including those related to condensate neutralization, may have been subject to updates or changes. HVAC codes are typically outlined in provincial and territorial regulations, and they can evolve over time.

To obtain the most accurate and current information on condensate neutralization requirements in the Canadian HVAC code, refer to the latest edition of the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) and relevant provincial or territorial building codes. The NBCC is typically adopted by each province and territory, and local amendments or additional requirements may be included in their specific codes.

Additionally, contacting the local building department or authority in the specific province where you are interested in the code information would be beneficial. They can provide details on the current standards, guidelines, and regulations related to HVAC systems, including condensate neutralization.

Keep in mind that codes and regulations are subject to updates, and it’s crucial to stay informed about the latest revisions to ensure compliance with the most current standards.

Conclusion

Enforcement of the condensate-neutralization codes will likely increase, as the problem — and its potential toll on plumbing systems — become more widely recognized. But if you are a plumber who frequently installs condensing equipment, you should not wait, if only for the sake of your customers.

High-efficiency condensing boilers, HVAC systems and water heaters will cut homeowner fuel costs dramatically. But to achieve maximum value — and to ensure the customer’s money-saving investment does not cause problems that cost thousands of dollars more down the road — it is vitally important to neutralize the condensate waste such units generate.

About the author:  Phil Warren is a distinguished industry leader, currently serving as the National Sales Manager and Managing Director at SFA SANIFLO Canada. Over the past three and a half decades, Phil and his team have spearheaded the remarkable growth and expansion of the Canadian subsidiary, offering a comprehensive line of above-floor pumping systems. With a remarkable evolution from three SKUs to an impressive 35, SFA Saniflo’s product range now caters to a wide array of plumbing-drainage applications, including heavy-duty commercial and industrial projects. Phil’s proven expertise as a Sales Leader is evident through his impressive 20-year track record in account management, relationship building, and sales coaching.

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ABOUT SFA SANIFLO®
SANIFLO Canada – whose parent company originated macerating plumbing technology – offers a complete line of macerating and grinding upflush toilet systems and drain-water pumping systems for residential and commercial applications. SANIFLO developed its innovative, “above-floor plumbing” technology more than a half-century ago and has led its commercialization worldwide. Today, the company markets macerating technology through 22 subsidiaries in 50 countries and has sold more than six million units worldwide since 1958. SANIFLO products are available through independent sales agents throughout North America, and the product line is currently available at most major plumbing wholesalers and hardware retailers.
  • For more information, contact Saniflo Canada at 1-800-363-5874. Or visit the Saniflo Canada website at https://www.saniflo.ca/en/
     
  • For editorial assistance, including photography, contact Madelyn Young ([email protected]) c/o GreenHouse Digital + PR: 708-428-6385.

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