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Why condensate neutralization is important and the best way to do it
Written By Luis Arias
Inside Technical Sales, SFA Saniflo
If you are a plumber or a trade professional who actively promotes the use of high-efficiency, condensing water heaters, boilers or furnaces, you should be equally committed to treating discharge coming from this equipment with some sort of neutralization. That’s the only way to protect your customers’ 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.
What is condensate?
High-efficiency condensing water heaters, boilers or furnaces are powered by burning natural gas or propane. 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 wastewater, or condensate.
Condensate has the potential to cause property damage or even create health hazards that can affect indoor air quality. Many times, condensate is not able to drain adequately via gravity, usually because the application lacks conventional, below-floor drainage. This problem may, in turn, cause property damage or even create health hazards by adversely affecting indoor air quality.
1. Prevents damage to plumbing systems and infrastructure
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.
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.
This runoff could also cause serious damage to local sewers and water-treatment facilities. Pumping the acidic waste outdoors or into sanitary sewers could contaminate the groundwater or degrade the local water infrastructure.
The smart, long-term solution is to neutralize the acidic content in the condensate waste before it ever enters any piping.
2. It injures septic systems
For homes with septic tanks, condensate waste might also destroy the good bacteria that is essential to keeping the system operating properly.
3. Most plumbing codes require neutralization for corrosive waste
International Plumbing Codes (IPC) and National Standard Plumbing Codes (NSPC) require neutralization for corrosive waste. To elaborate: IPC (International Plumbing Code) and NSPC (National Standard Plumbing Code) 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.
Intended to ensure the proper installation of plumbing systems, the NSPC provides local and state governments, code administration bodies, and the industry with a modern code to protect health and promote safety.
The 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. Available for adoption by jurisdictions ranging from states to towns, the IPC is currently adopted on the state or local level in 35 states in the United States, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
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.
Even so, the trades must become more aware of this problem. The plain fact is, the acid in the condensate will just eat away the piping.
What is the best way to neutralize?
Neutralization can be accomplished in several ways:
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 corrosive 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.
Saniflo manufactures a neutralizing product that fits into a category of its own. One with a more sophisticated, 2-in-1 approach. While neutralizers and condensate pumps have historically been installed separately, the sleek, lower-profile Sanicondens Best Flat combines them into a single, space- and cost-saving system. The pump ensures condensate waste does not linger inside or around the water heater or boiler; the neutralizer removes the acidity that would damage water and sewer pipes.
The 2-in-1, pump-neutralizer combination makes this product the ideal, environmentally friendly solution for today’s ultra-high-efficiency condensing equipment, both residential and commercial: boilers, water heaters, air-conditioning and refrigeration systems, and other appliances.
How does a 2-in-1 condensate pump work?
The Sanicondens Best Flat is capable of serving multiple mechanical systems with combined inputs of up to 500,000 Btu per hour. Condensate from this equipment enters the neutralizing system through either of two, incorporated, one-inch inlets: one on the side, the other on top.
The arrival of the condensate automatically activates a float mechanism inside the Sanicondens Best Flat. This, in turn, starts the motor whose spindle/shaft drives the pump impeller.
Condensate is directed from the condensing appliance through an easy-to-refill, pH-neutralizing limestone pellet tray. After coming into contact with the neutralizing pellets, the condensate is 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 corrosion problem — and its potential toll on plumbing systems — become more widely recognized. But if you are a plumber who installs condensing equipment, you should not wait — if only for the sake of your customers.
According to Energy.gov, 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 doesn’t cause problems that cost thousands of dollars more down the road — it is vitally important to neutralize the corrosive condensate waste such products emit.
As a plumber who actively promotes high-efficiency, condensing water heaters, boilers, and furnaces, TAP Plumbing & Heating understands the importance of treating discharge coming from this type of equipment with some sort of neutralization. Travis Abaire has been the proud owner and operator of TAP Plumbing & Heating for the past three years and according to him, plumbing codes in his service area require neutralization for corrosive waste. That's why he didn't give it a second thought when he installed a neutralization pump in a recent water heater replacement project.
According to Abaire, the original, undersized, standard water heater could not keep up with the family's water demand. The homeowners finally had enough, realizing their hybrid water heater wasn't going to cut it. Opting for instant hot water and higher efficiency, they decided to purchase an on-demand tankless water heater with a 97% efficiency rating.
Abaire agrees that the higher the efficiency rating, the higher the acid level in the water runoff, placing increased importance on finding an effective, affordable way to neutralize the condensate and protect condensing water heater systems.
According to Abaire, Saniflo's condensate pump technology offers something most acid-neutralizers on the market don't: the ability to not only neutralize acidic condensate, but also pump it away, using a single pumping product.
"With Saniflo's condensate pumps, you kill two birds with one stone, because you don't have to install a typical acid neutralizer and then dump it into another condensate pump," he explains. "Saniflo's condensate pumps do it at the same time, not to mention the fact that the new Sanicondens Best Flat can handle a wide range of condensing units up to 500,000 Btu per hour, which is pretty incredible.”
Abaire adds that he doesn't like how, in some acid neutralizers, the neutralizer comes in a small cartridge that's probably about the size of a C battery. "There is just a little bit of acid-neutralizing media, so it wears out pretty quickly," he explains.
Abaire says he has installed more than four Sanicondens Best Flat units since the product's introduction in March 2020 and will continue to incorporate it into all high-efficiency, on-demand tankless water heater and combi-boiler installations.
About the author: 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.