Condensate neutralizers are crucial for treating acidic condensate from high-efficiency heating appliances. Without a neutralizer, condensate has the potential to corrode a building’s foundation, floors, and drainage system. Properly installing a neutralizer is fundamental, but only part of the solution. Like heating appliances require regular maintenance, condensate neutralizers must also be routinely serviced by replacing the neutralizing media — part two of the preventative solution to protect against expensive corrosion. 

How Long Does Neutralizing Media Last?

A well-designed neutralizer can perform effectively with high-efficiency appliances for years, provided the neutralizer is routinely inspected and the media is regularly changed. 

The recommended replacement schedule for neutralizer media varies depending on myriad factors, such as the acidity and volume of the condensate leaving your high-efficiency appliance. Condensing heating appliances can create a particularly concentrated amount of nitric, sulfuric, sulfurous, and hydrochloric acid in their condensate. 

To ensure timely replacement of neutralizer media, operators or service technicians must regularly test the pH of the treated condensate leaving the neutralizer. Not all neutralizer media is created equal though.

What Is Neutralizing Media?

The pH neutralization process occurs as acids in the condensate react with an alkaline agent (e.g. calcium carbonate, magnesium oxide) through intimate surface contact. The reaction is not instantaneous though, making surface area and sufficient contact time with the agent critical. We refer to this crucial time required for sufficient neutralization as “soak time”.  

Limestone

Rudimentary neutralization solutions utilize limestone or marble chips to treat corrosive wastewater streams in various applications. In the heating and plumbing industries, the early neutralizers adopted the old school use of such media. However, as the industry came to realize, limestone is not well-suited for the demands of today’s high-efficiency heating appliances.  

The primary compound in limestone is calcium carbonate. When the calcium carbonate reacts with acidic condensate, it forms carbon dioxide, water, and insoluble salts. These salts coat the resulting limestone, impairing the further neutralizing effect of the media. As a result, limestone media is quickly rendered ineffective and must be replaced.  

Further, due to its lower efficacy, limestone requires much more surface area and soak time, requiring more physical holding space or capacity for sufficient soak time. Today’s high-efficiency appliances produce condensate that is (i) highly acidic (pH between 2.9 and 4.0) and (ii) in large volumes (measured in gallons per hour). Moreover, these appliances are installed in operating conditions where space is limited and the physical footprint must be minimized (e.g. basements, wall-hung).  It is important to select a neutralizer that not only has the appropriate configuration and capacity for your appliance, but also is designed with effective neutralizing media – a complete solution.  

pH Power Pellets®

CBM-227 inline tube neutralizer

JJM® neutralization solutions are purpose-built and designed to perform, ensuring the sufficient “soak time” for critical heating and plumbing applications. Further, JJM® utilizes its pH Power Pellets®, the proprietary neutralizing media found exclusively in JJM® products. The active ingredient in pH Power Pellets® is magnesium hydroxide, which results in a powerful, fast-acting media. With a pebble-like design, pH Power Pellets® are produced to maximize surface contact and provide layers of neutralization power without the insoluble salts of limestone. As such, pH Power Pellets® are designed to perform much longer, up to twelve months. 

How to Test the pH of Condensate

Condensate treated by a neutralizer should have a pH level of at least 5.0, or the level determined by the local water authority code, in order to be safely released. A service technician can test the pH of condensate via two different methods: paper testing strips or a digital pH meter. If the condensate has a pH of less than 5.0, the neutralizer media should be immediately replaced.

pH Paper Testing

Service technicians can use litmus paper strips to determine if condensate is acidic. The paper will change color if the liquid has a low pH. 

Technicians can also use pH testing strips, which are more accurate than litmus paper. Instead of informing whether or not the condensate is acidic, it actually defines how acidic the substance is. 

When testing pH, technicians should sample the condensate from the outlet and place the strip in the sample container. After a few seconds, the strip can be removed and read using the pH color chart included with the test kit. 

This method is inexpensive, but can be prone to human error. Because individuals see colors differently, the person testing may not accurately match the color on the paper to the key. The person testing may also use an expired testing strip or mishandle the strip, resulting in an inaccurate reading. 

Digital pH Meter

Digital pH meters use glass electrodes to measure the acidity levels of a liquid. These electrodes are placed inside a container holding the test condensate, and the meter displays the numerical pH value. 

In order to receive the most accurate reading, the electrode should be designed to measure low ionic strength samples. Probes should be properly cared for, to avoid malfunction or breakage. 

Digital pH meters are more expensive than paper tests, but they are more accurate and easier to read.  

Why Routine Maintenance of Neutralizers is Essential

Untreated acidic condensate can quickly eat through copper piping, cast iron pipes, and the concrete foundation in residential and commercial buildings. A neutralizer that is not properly maintained is comparable to not having a neutralizer at all. 

Replacing the media inside neutralizers protects buildings and wastewater systems from corrosion. It also ensures compliance with plumbing codes, which prohibit the release of untreated acidic condensate into the wastewater system. At a minimum, service technicians should replace neutralizer media annually.

JJM Alkaline Technologies® designs and manufactures innovative condensate neutralization solutions for residential and light commercial installations. View our collection of acidic condensate neutralizers and replacement pH Power Pellets® here

As high-efficiency appliances have become more reliable and affordable, they have been rapidly adopted as the preferred heating option for residential and commercial building owners. These boilers, furnaces, and hot water heaters can lower energy consumption and energy bills, but there is an acidic byproduct that, if left untreated, can corrode a building’s foundation, floors, and drainage systems. 

High-efficiency appliances are relatively new on the market, which is why many contractors, engineers, and service technicians are unaware of the associated acidic condensate and how to treat it. Industry experts have quickly countered this troublesome issue by designing a preventative device called a condensate neutralizer. Neutralizers treat acidic condensate from high-efficiency appliances so the condensate can be safely discharged from the home or building. 

For properties operating with high-efficiency appliances, neutralizing devices are critical to prevent corrosion of buildings, pipes, and septic systems, as well as pollution of the environment and groundwater.

How Condensate Neutralization Works

A condensate neutralizer is a reliable, purpose-built solution. It serves as a filtration device for the acidic condensate created during the combustion process in gas-fired, high-efficiency appliances. 

As the appliance extracts heat from exhaust gases, the vapor in the gases condenses into a liquid condensate. This condensate has a low pH level, usually between 2.9 and 4.0 pH, which makes it corrosive to floor drains, pipes, building foundations, sewer lines, and wastewater treatment systems. 

Neutralizers contain media that interacts with the condensate to lower its acidity, or raise its alkalinity.  

The steps that happen during neutralization are:

  • Acidic condensate leaves the high-efficiency appliance and slowly enters the neutralizer
  • Condensate makes contact with the media and “soak time” begins
  • The media neutralizes the condensate and raises the pH level to between 5.0 and 9.5 pH
  • The neutralized condensate is safe to be released into wastewater systems 

Acidic Condensate Neutralizer

The Power of an Effective Neutralizer

Early neutralizer solutions were essentially crude and inept instruments, often just a large box filled with marble or limestone chips. Then, companies, such as JJM Alkaline Technologies®, created innovative, purpose-built neutralization solutions that were extremely effective. 

JJM Alkaline Technologies® offers the broadest portfolio of neutralization solutions to safely and effectively treat acidic condensate for residential and commercial installations, such as a large boiler for a hospital or a water heater for a home. With five product lines, JJM® products are designed to suit various operating site conditions found in the heating and plumbing industries. 

JJM® products use pH Power Pellets®, the proprietary neutralizing media found exclusively in JJM® products. The pH Power Pellets® are non-toxic, with magnesium oxide as the active ingredient.  The media is evenly distributed throughout the neutralizer to ensure adequate surface area and “soak time” for the condensate to be treated before being released. 

Condensate neutralizers are relatively inexpensive, and they can save you or your client from expensive property damage. Neutralizers are key to protecting a home or building, city infrastructure, and the environment, a critical complement to today’s high-efficiency heating appliances.

Condensate Neutralizers are Not an Optional Add-On 

Condensate neutralizers should be installed in homes and buildings with high-efficiency appliances for several compelling reasons.  

1) Sustains septic systems

Untreated condensate can rapidly deteriorate septic systems. This occurs as acidic condensate moves from the building or home into the sewers. When condensate comes into contact with human waste in the septic system, it reacts with the good bacteria in the waste and kills the bacteria. 

Good bacteria is essential because it breaks down human waste so it can properly move through the septic system. In the absence of good bacteria, septic systems become backed up. This causes major problems for cities and towns, or for those who manage their own private septic system.  

2) Protects buildings and infrastructure against expensive damage

Acidic condensate can eat through many building materials, including concrete building foundations or cast iron pipes common in older homes. Once condensate has been neutralized to a safe pH level (pH 5.0-9.5), it is no longer harmful to such materials. Homeowners and building owners can avoid costly and frustrating repairs by installing a condensate neutralizer. 

3) Plumbing codes require the treatment of acidic condensate

Contractors, engineers, and service technicians have an obligation to ensure safe treatment and discharge of acidic condensate produced by high-efficiency appliances. It is against local, national, and international plumbing codes to release untreated acidic condensate into the wastewater system. This is because of the damage that untreated condensate can wreak on local drainage and septic systems. 

Contractors and engineers who do not implement a treatment solution for condensate can face severe consequences if their project or job is inspected, such as fines or operational shut-down. 

4) Maintains health of environment and groundwater

When untreated condensate is pumped into the ground, it contaminates and kills vegetation. This results in dead grass and plants in and around the area that condensate is released. Condensate can also pollute groundwater, which often flows into lakes, rivers, and wetlands.  

JJM Alkaline Technologies® is a leading designer and manufacturer of condensate neutralization solutions used in residential and light commercial installations. You can browse our collection of acidic condensate neutralizers here.