If you have an open condenser system as part of your facility, this is a blog post you will not want to miss. Commonly referred to as the "cooling tower system," your open condenser system needs to be properly treated and maintained in order to run at peak efficiency. This post will address what you need to do before the end of cooling season.
WHY is this So Important?
A cooling tower introduces condenser water to the atmosphere so that heat energy can be transferred to the open air by way of evaporation (hence the term "open" condenser - because it's "open" to the atmosphere). In doing so, the water in the cooling tower is always exposed to whatever may be flying around in the air, like dirt, organic materials, bugs, bacteria, etc, etc... These types of materials can accumulate in the tower water and, if left untreated, they could lead to very big problems like biofouling and corrosion issues. A system that runs dirty is using more fuel and energy to maintain cooling than a system that runs clean. In some cases, this can translate to tens-of-thousands of dollars down the drain in lost energy. Operating a dirty cooling tower is also dangerous; a fouled cooling tower presents ideal conditions for harmful bacteria like Legionella (the cause of Legionnaires' Disease) to grow. The proper water treatment chemistry program, pre-treatment of makeup water, system filtering, regular tower cleanings and proper layup procedures during non-use, will ensure that your tower system will operate at peak efficiency and hazard free for years to come.
What Needs to Happen at the End of the Cooling Season?
Many of the best cooling tower cleaning companies will quote OSHA standards becuase of the safety benefits:
“Cooling towers should be cleaned and disinfected at least twice a year. Normally this maintenance will be performed before initial start-up at the beginning of the cooling season and after shutdown in the fall.”
Regardless of whether or not your cooling tower runs year round or not, it should be cleaned at LEAST twice per year. Additionally, if you shut your cooling system down during part of the year, there are methods of "laying up" your system that you will want to follow to keep it well protected during its non-use. Many industrial water treatment service providers offer these services as part of their monthly water treatment contracts and they will know which method of mechanical cleaning and layup is best for your system. We are still experiencing some pretty mild weather in the northeast United States but those cooler months are coming up on us quickly. Now is the right time to start thinking about cleaning your cooling towers and laying them up for the winter.
What Happens If I DO NOT Lay Up My Towers During Non-Use?
You are taking a pretty big risk. Chances are you will experience some kind of issue(s) in your system. Many operators believe that their stainless steel cooling towers will hold up to anything that mother nature can throw at them, however, this is very often not the case; and it is not even the cooling tower itself that is most susceptible to damage - it's the chillers that they share their water with. Chillers are expensive pieces of machinery that contain the most important heat transfer surfaces inside of them (they are usually made of very thin copper tubes); whatever 'lives' inside the towers is making its way to the chillers. Deposits love heat, so the heat transfer surfaces are usually where you will have the biggest issues. Sulfur reducing bacteria can eat their way through copper tubes and mild steel tube sheets given the right circumstances.
My Water Treatment Company is Responsible for that Stuff, Right?
Technically yes; but as a facility owner/operator there are ways for you to double check that things are being done correctly. Check out this video for an example of what we found inside a one-year-old cooling tower/chiller system that was not properly maintained at the end of the cooling season:
Don't make this mistake with your cooling towers!
What Should I Be Doing To Protect My Tower During the Off Season?
In the northeast United States, the end of cooling season is coming up soon. Now is a perfect time to have your towers professionally cleaned and chemically passivated. Consult with your water treatment service provider as to which method they recommend to lay up your system for the winter. If your cooling system runs year round, it is still a good idea to consider a cleaning during the next month or so. If you need help in assessing your specific situation, we are always available to help.
My Cooling Tower Always Looks Dirty, What Can I Do?
Dirty water doesn’t always mean bad water treatment; however, it is something that needs to be dealt with. While you may need to re-evaluate your current water treatment program, many times there are mechanical issues that need to be addressed first. For instance, if it doesn’t already exist, you may need to add filtration to your system of some kind. Usually an industrial grade sand filter on a cooling tower system is a very good thing; however, picking the right kind can be the difference between a clean cooling tower system and a complete waste of money. These decisions should be made with the help of an Industrial Water Treatment Specialist from a reputable water treatment company.
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Greg Frazier is an expert in Industrial Water Treatment and is currently the Managing Partner of Clarity Water Technologies. He has over 18 years of Industrial Water Treatment experience and holds a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Tennessee.