Neutralize the Condensate

If your property makes use of high-efficiency, condensing water heaters, boilers or furnaces, you should be treating discharge coming from this equipment with some sort of neutralization in order to neutralize the condensate.

That’s the only way to protect your plumbing from the potentially harmful side effects of the condensation process. As the popularity of high efficiency condensing products grows, so too will the problem of acidic condensate.

As a matter of fact, International Plumbing Codes (IPC) and National Standard Plumbing Codes (NSPC) require neutralization for corrosive waste. To elaborate: IPC and NSPC state that corrosive liquids, spent acids or other harmful chemicals that destroy or injure drain, sewer, soil or waste pipe, or create noxious or toxic fumes, or interfere with sewage-treatment processes shall not be discharged into the plumbing system without being thoroughly diluted, neutralized or treated by passing through an approved dilution or neutralizing device.

Which States Use IPC and NSPC Codes?
The NSPC is designed to ensure the proper installation of plumbing systems, providing local and state governments, code administration bodies, and the industry with a modern code to protect health and promote safety. New Jersey uses the National Standard Plumbing Code (NSPC).

The International Plumbing Code (IPC) is a proven, comprehensive model plumbing code that works seamlessly with ICC’s family of building codes. It sets minimum regulations for plumbing systems and components to protect life, health and safety of building occupants and the public. The IPC is available for adoption by jurisdictions ranging from states to towns and is currently adopted on the state or local level in 35 states in the United States, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

What Is the Best Way To Neutralize? Why Is It Important?

The Problem

Condensing technology saves energy by maximizing the amount of heat energy transferred to the water during the combustion process. A by-product of this process is water, or condensate, which 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 through a building’s plumbing system, the piping could corrode, rust over time, and cause serious damage to local sewers and water treatment facilities. Pumping the waste outdoors or into sanitary sewers could contaminate the groundwater or degrade the local water infrastructure. For homes and buildings with septic tanks, condensate waste might also destroy the good bacteria that is 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 a 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 acidic content in the condensate waste before it ever enters any piping.

Although International Plumbing Codes require condensate waste-neutralization, enforcement is spotty. Some sections of the country, such as New England, strictly enforce the code requirements; others – including the Far West – tend to be lax. That said, more and more local jurisdictions are adapting to this code requirement and eventually all states will require it.

Building owners must become more aware of this problem because the acid in the condensate will just eat away the piping.

The Solution

Neutralization can be accomplished in several ways:

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

A neutralizing component exists that falls into the third category, but with a more sophisticated approach: A solution that couples a pump with a neutralizer to move condensate from the water heater or boiler through limestone granules in a tray before pumping the water into the sewer or septic system.

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 Does a 2-in-1 Condensate Pump Work?
Often, condensate cannot drain adequately via gravity, usually because the application lacks conventional, below-floor drainage. This problem can cause property damage or even create health hazards by adversely affecting indoor air quality.

But a 2-in-1 condensate pump uses a built-in neutralizer to boost the pH of the acidic condensate before it can be discharged into a drain line – thus preventing corrosion.

Condensate entering the system automatically activates a float mechanism that, in turn, starts the motor whose spindle/shaft drives the impeller. The said condensate is neutralized as it comes into contact with the neutralizer pellets in the tray before being pumped safely away through a 3/8-inch discharge line into the sanitary sewer or a septic tank.

Enforcement of the condensate-neutralization codes will likely increase as the problem – and its potential toll on plumbing systems – becomes more widely recognized.

According to Energy.gov, high efficiency condensing boilers, HVAC systems and water heaters will cut home and building owner fuel costs dramatically. But to achieve maximum value – and to ensure your money-saving investment doesn’t cause problems that cost thousands of dollars more down the road – it is vitally important to neutralize the condensate waste such units emit.

Luis Arias has been working for SFA Saniflo for 15 years as Inside Technical Sales. His vast knowledge of pump systems and the plumbing trade has been used on many large-scale projects. Luis has contributed to the overall company success by working directly with architects, engineers, and trade professionals on engineering bids.

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