Unless you live in an area with very soft water or use a water softener in your home, you'll likely eventually face some scale build-up issues with your plumbing. Scale occurs due to minerals (magnesium and calcium being the most common culprits) found in water. While harmless for human consumption, these mineral deposits can create unsightly scale on fixtures and clogs in pipes.
Since hydronic systems rely on municipal water or water from your home's well, your hydronic heating system can experience the same scale issues as the rest of your plumbing. In fact, scale problems are often far worse in hydronic systems, even in homes that may not otherwise have a significant hard water problem.
Understanding Scale Deposition
These minerals were in the water long before reaching your home, so why do they stick around in your plumbing? Of course, the water going down your drains will still have a high mineral content, so plenty of minerals remain in the water. However, the scale build-up on your fixtures and pipes occurs due to processes known as precipitation and deposition.
Temperature is one of the primary factors impacting these processes. Higher temperatures cause more minerals to precipitate from the water in your home. These minerals will then form deposits (scale) on reactive surfaces, such as metal pipes. As a result, you'll typically see the most build-up in metal hot water supply pipes, hydronic heating pipes, or inside water heaters.
Since scale deposition is a lengthy process, you're more likely to experience the problems it can create if you own an older home. Scale can build up over many years in these homes, having relatively minor impacts on your heating and plumbing systems until it eventually becomes too severe to ignore.
Recognizing the Signs of Hydronic Heating Scale
Descaling and cleaning should be a normal, routine maintenance procedure for any home with a hydronic heating system. However, neglected systems may eventually develop scale problems that require more than these simple steps. You may experience noisy heating or, eventually, your boiler may overheat and trigger its safety shutdown. The system may also lose efficiency before it stops working.
It's important to understand that severe scale build-up in a hydronic heating system isn't a minor problem. If left unaddressed, scale and sludge can prevent effective heat transfer, allowing your boiler to overheat and even cause damage to its heat exchanger. While modern boilers have plenty of safety systems to prevent catastrophic failure, that doesn't mean there's no risk of damaging the boiler itself.
If you suspect a scaling problem in your boiler, or you haven't recently had a professional clean and descale the system, it's probably a good idea to contact an experienced heating contractor. Scale problems are no laughing matter, and taking care of them sooner rather than later can save you a substantial amount of money.
Reach out to a local heating contractor to learn more.