Forget solar panels make huge savings by blitzing limescale

Forget double-glazing or solar panels, you can make huge savings by blitzing limescale


PUBLISHED: 22:24, 2 March 2013 | UPDATED: 10:04, 4 March 2013

The Government’s controversial Green Deal, which allows homeowners to borrow to improve home energy efficiency, has focused on expensive options such as double-glazing or solar panels. But what about easier, cheaper choices? One that receives little publicity but can bring dramatic savings, is cutting limescale in water systems. 

Plumbers and engineers have long known about the damage and costs caused by limescale – calcium carbonate deposits that form when water is heated – but water suppliers, housebuilders and homeowners are only now waking up to the savings.

Calcium levels vary by region. 

Broadly, properties east of a line between Leeds and Southampton are classified as having ‘hard to very hard’ water with high calcium. 

Only Cornwall, western areas of Wales and parts of Scotland have ‘soft or moderately soft’ water.

In ‘hard’ areas, homeowners will regularly need to clean deposits from showerheads, kettles, dishwashers and other appliances. 

But the more serious damage is harder to see and remove. 

Of the average home’s total annual energy consumption – 23,000 KWh and costing £1,250 – the Government estimates that 84 per cent goes on heating. Much of this involves heating water to use directly and to fill central heating systems. 

Limescale on boiler elements and in pipes drastically reduces the efficiency of a heating system or even wrecks pumps and other equipment. 

The Carbon Trust, which advises on energy efficiency, calculates that every millimetre of limescale on

CRACKING DOWN ON LIMESCALE IS SAVING ME MONEY, Forget solar panels make huge savings by blitzing limescale.

One homeowner who has used the unit in several properties is Charles Sterling, pictured above, who lives with his family in a Victorian farmhouse in Baldock, Hertfordshire. The house was draughty and cold and lacking in insulation, Charles recalls. 

He double-glazed the sash windows, insulated the roofspace and many walls, fitted solar panels and installed the latest ground-source heating, which taps into the heat in the earth. 

Limescale-reducing technology was part of the upgrade and the property has two Fast Systems units. 

‘I’ve had these in two previous properties,’ says Charles, who runs a firm selling products for Britons driving abroad. ‘They do not eliminate limescale, but without a doubt they stop it coagulating. 

‘I fitted the units myself very easily and there is no doubt that they play a significant part in the energy efficiency of the house.’

a boiler’s element boosts energy consumption by seven per cent. Limescale builds in hard water conditions at about 1mm a year.

Research by the University of Plymouth found that a boiler with no limescale took 90 minutes a day to supply the average home’s hot water, while a boiler with 5mm of scale took more than four hours. With 10mm of scale, this rose to more than six hours, adding hundreds of pounds to a household’s annual gas bill.

In 2006, the Government required new homes in hard water regions to have water softeners installed. Several local authorities are now putting them in during council property refits

There are two major ways of treating hard water. Traditional systems, known as ‘ion exchange’ softeners, introduce salt to the water as it flows into the property, offsetting the effect of the calcium. 

These systems take up significant space, cost from about £300 and require occasional refilling with salt at about £30 a year. 

The advantages are that the water is noticeably ‘better’, with users reporting easier lathering and less detergent residue on clothes. Many report improvements in skin conditions such as eczema.

Other systems rely on electric fields generated in coils of wire on the supply pipe. The field alters the structure of the calcium and prevents it accumulating, it is claimed. Instead of a hard limescale, a powdery dust appears that is easily removed. 

Consumer group Which? says: ‘Electric and magnetic treatments have little scientific evidence to support their effectiveness.’ But such systems are increasingly used in business premises and homes, with growing numbers of satisfied customers. The advantages are low cost – as little as £100 – and simple DIY installation.

Thames Water is promoting two softeners to its 14 million customers, including the electronic Fast Systems Scaleguard unit at £118. The electricity to power it costs just £5 a year.


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