By Greg Reyneke, MWS

Before tackling your first commercial/industrial (C/I) project, you need to learn about the process or application, understand the environment in which you and your employees will be working, as well as understand the legal implications of the work that you are considering doing and products and chemicals that you will be supplying. With the average residential water softening application, the worst thing that can happen when it doesn’t work properly is an inconvenience to the customer’s lifestyle, a temporary increase in expense and possibly a cleaning burden. If the softener in a laundromat fails, the soap doesn’t work as well; if the softener at a car wash fails, the cars aren’t as clean and the RO membrane(s) will fail faster. If a softener or dealkalizer fails in a commercial boiler protection application (even if it is at a low flowrate), the consequences can be catastrophic and devastatingly expensive. The consequences of failure, therefore, are really what differentiate commercial and industrial from residential applications. When you’re evaluating a potential C/I project, take the time to carefully understand what the true consequences of failure are so that you are able to meet the client’s expectations for deployment, longevity, efficiency and redundancy.

Image source: Aqua Mechanical, Inc.
Image source:
Aqua Mechanical, Inc.

Process water quality requirements
Every process has certain specific water quality criteria. Whether providing a particular quality of water as specified by the consulting engineer or acting as a 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 equipment to be used in the client’s process to ensure that you consider their operational water quality requirements for best performance, as well as warranty validation.

Site survey
Visit the job site, meet with the prospect and observe the potential location of the treatment equipment. This simple (and usually overlooked step) will save a lot of complications and hassle, while demonstrating to the client that you are committed to serving their needs. Consider the following:

  • How far is this job site from my office (travel time for installation and service)?
  • What time of day can the installation team have access to the facility?
  • What times of day are convenient to the client for you to install a bypass loop?
  • Are there any dimensional constraints (doorways, headroom and footprint)?
  • Are there any weight limitations (will equipment be on a platform or wall-mounted)?
  • Is there an adequate electrical supply for water treatment equipment?
  • Is there an adequate drain for the water treatment equipment?
  • Are there any specific environmental challenges to deal with (temperature, humidity, vibration, seismic issues, intrinsically safe environment)?
  • Are there any specific drainage restrictions for this project (acid/alkaline discharge, discharge salinity, etc.)?
  • Are there any specific legal requirements to meet for this particular project (increased liability insurance, HAZMAT, OSHA, local licensing, corporate procurement programs, union participation, tribal authority, security clearances, GSA, state purchasing agencies, etc.)?

Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Asking detailed questions now will save you from embarrassment, frustration and liability later.

Process water and operational requirements
Define what your client wants and what you can reasonably deliver.

  • What is the actual quality of water needed?
  • What continuous and peak flowrates are needed?
  • What delivery pressure is needed?
  • How many hours of run time will be required per day or during each operating cycle?
  • How much water will be used per day or during each operating cycle?
  • Is any significant increase or decrease in water consumption anticipated in the near future?
  • What level of redundancy is needed?
  • Does any of the equipment require an ASME stamp?
  • Is an engineer’s stamp required for the equipment and piping design?
  • How soon does the client expect the system to be installed and fully operational?
  • Who will maintain this system?
  • What are the consequences of failure?
  • What payment terms does the client expect?

A commercial client has a dramatically different set of expectations than a homeowner. Plan for an escalated response to all service issues, as well as a more critical analysis of product water quality. They most likely own the same testing gear that you do and know how to use it. Don’t promise anything that you can’t deliver.

Water sample analysis
Draw samples of the client’s raw water and have them tested for organic and inorganic contaminants that will have an effect on the process or interfere with the treatment equipment and process. I generally recommend the following minimum testing panel:

  • Hardness as CaCO3
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • TDS
  • Total alkalinity
  • pH
  • Sulfates
  • Silicates
  • Free chlorine
  • Total chlorine

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 actually no good time for doing that).

Consider the environmental impact
Industry currently accounts for almost 25 percent of the world’s consumption of fresh water; water efficiency and reclamation should now be an important part of your sales, design and operational considerations. Whether you believe in global warming or not, climate change is real, drought is real and there is an increasing scarcity of available potable water for use by business.
Reducing the water consumption footprint of a business can have a significant positive impact:

Cost reduction
Water delivery, processing and discharge cost businesses a lot of money. Any reduction in water usage will result in a proportional reduction in their cost of goods sold.

Competitive edge
When your clients are able to operate properly in areas with strict water usage/discharge restrictions, you are giving them a competitive edge by helping them be more water efficient and effective.

Tax benefits and incentives
Many water conservation districts, lending institutions, taxing agencies and civic organizations are rewarding businesses for energy and water efficiency—your efficient water system can possibly help them make money!

Social benefit
Employees love working for organizations that are responsible stewards of their environmental resources. By being water efficient, your clients are helping to safeguard the future availability of water, raise employee morale and increase investor confidence in their business.

Equipment selection
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 you have 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 functional flowrates and pressure drop through the entire treatment train. Also look at the water usage footprint of the equipment you’re considering. Consult with your vendor on ensuring that you can maximize water and regenerant efficiency wherever possible. Ask for components and media that meet the latest sustainability standards (such as those from WQA) through their sourcing, manufacture, life cycle and disposal.

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 schedule for you that can be tailored to the specific project. Discuss this with the client to ensure that the equipment is 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, corrosion inhibitors, disinfectants, 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 reasonable procurement and installation timeline. Carefully review (or have your lawyer do it for you) 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 and other boilerplate legal clauses that will inevitably be included.

Installation should be sub-contracted to a licensed professional or performed by your qualified 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, experience, 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 such as this, at trade shows, WQA’s Modular Education Program and from equipment manufacturers. Treat the client’s facility with respect by being punctual, clean, safe and orderly on the job site. Respect their corporate culture and be sensitive to dress codes and job-site behavior.

System startup and commissioning
While selection, sizing and installation are important, the startup cannot be overlooked. This important step involves systematic filling, rinsing, pressurization, sanitization and disinfection of the water treatment equipment as well as sanitizing the downstream piping, fixtures and 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 preventing Legionella growth. 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 your project binder and share with your client as appropriate.

Operator training
Unless you’re planning on having a member of your staff onsite 24/7, you will need 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 periodic maintenance visits, it simply enables them to keep things running properly between service visits. 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. Some clients may also require redline or as-built drawings that document the final installation of the treatment device(s). 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 part numbers and vendor information on hand in the project file for when replacement or repair parts are required.

The take-away
Reasonable expectations are the key to healthy commercial/industrial relations. C/I water treatment is certainly not for everyone (and I coach a number of dealers who have built very profitable and rewarding businesses without ever moving outside the residential realm). Be sure that you carefully analyze the risks and benefits as well as the impact it will have on your company before you over-commit yourself. Don’t be afraid to gracefully withdraw and defer to a more knowledgeable/experienced colleague if you become uncomfortable during the initial discovery process. Consider the environmental impact of what you’re proposing and be conservation-minded.

Supplemental reading  

About the author
Reyneke_Greg_mugGreg Reyneke, Managing Director at Red Fox Advisors, has two decades of experience in the management and growth of water treatment dealerships. His expertise spans the full gamut of residential, commercial and industrial applications, including wastewater treatment. In addition, Reyneke also consults on water conservation and reuse methods, including rainwater harvesting, aquatic ecosystems, greywater reuse and water-efficient design. He is a member of the WC&P Technical Review Committee and currently serves on the PWQA Board of Directors, chairing the Technical and Education Committe. You can follow him on his blog at


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