How to Control Water Flow Using Water Flow Regulators

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Water this and water that, almost all functions of the natural and man-made world connect to water as an essential resource. Whether it is a lake day in the summer sun or a wastewater treatment plant, water is flowing back and forth, dirty and clean, vapor to rain, in a constant cycle that becomes ever more pressing in our developed world of increasing population.

The time for highly energy-efficient and effective water flow systems is necessary now more than ever. The cost to use, move, and dispose of water accounts for large portions of the operating cost of goods and services. As one can see, water and water flow is an extremely important topic not only to the industrial world but to the consumer and this circular environment we all live in day to day. 

This article will focus primarily on how to control water flow in a water system for any application using a water flow regulator, and the importance of using one.

What creates water flow?

This may seem like a trivial question but it’s very important in our discussion of water flow. Naturally, water flows from a high point to a low point under the influence of gravity, much like you or I would push a rock down a hill. You can also imagine mountain snow melting and flowing into a river. This same concept applies to water towers we see looming over us in every passing city. The water is stored up high and creates pressure in the piping system; then it uses the force of gravity to flow towards homes and businesses.

However, what if height and gravity are not on our side? Well, this is the case for most cities with skyscrapers or homes far away from a water tower. As a result, cities will have large water pump facilities and homes will have their own water pumps if necessary to maintain adequate pressure (because nobody enjoys a low-pressure shower). Overall, whether it be gravity or electric pumps, the same goal is achieved to make water flow and at an adequate pressure level.

How is water flow controlled?

Since we now know that water flows naturally and artificially through the use of gravity and current water pump technology, how do we control the flow to a fine degree? Households and businesses do not want extremely low or extremely high water pressure, common consumers need the goldilocks pressure right in the middle but also want to save as much water as possible. 

On the other hand, for precise manufacturing processes, a very calculated amount of water either needs to flow or be added to the process in an efficient manner, since water and the electricity it costs to move it will create a larger portion of the product cost.

So how do we control water flow?

The golden ticket to controlling water flow is flow valves and regulators. Valves will primarily open and close water lines, so flow regulators are the main focus in controlling water flow by finding the medium between open and closed.

Note: the words valve and regulator are often used interchangeably. So in this article, we will mention mostly water regulators but they are also referred to as pressure-reducing valves.

What is a water flow regulator?

A water flow regulator is a device that controls the flow of water from the source to the rest of the line—primarily reducing the pressure from the source. For example, pipes will have a water flow regulator connected before entering your home. This stops the water supply line from coming in with extremely high pressures and damaging your home’s plumbing or bursting a pipe in the worst case. 

These regulators can be very complex to very simple in design, but most commonly they are created to take high water pressure and lower it to a reasonable pounds per square inch (PSI) level. In this way, extremely high water pressure or water pressure surges in the supply line, thanks to regulators, will not break any water lines or other internal plumbing. Most water lines and faucets in municipal plumbing systems can handle around 50 PSI, however, water pressure surges can range from 150 PSI and above. So it pays to have a water flow regulator.

How does a regulator control water flow?

Regulators come in many shapes and forms, but look relatively simple on the outside (like a traffic cone with a water line shooting through it). In any case, they all utilize a similar design with a spring, o-rings, a throttling stem, a diaphragm, and so on.

How to Control Water Flow Using Water Flow Regulators
Internal view of a pressure-reducing valve or water flow regulator

In the case of the picture above, a manual screw is used to adjust the water flow regulator. When the spring is tightened it decreases the water flow and vice versa for loosening the regulator. Industrial facilities like wastewater treatment plants will usually have automated water flow regulators to ensure the flow is consistent 24/7 instead of having a human operator check and adjust the regulator every so often. However, in a personal home, a simple screw regulator will do just fine as you usually won’t have to adjust them that often.

But the question remains, how do you know the exact water pressure flowing through your regulator? In most cases, attached to the water line directly after the regulator will be a ⅜” flow meter (or whatever the size of the piping). With this setup, like the picture above, one can easily control the water flow with the regulator and then physically read the pressure with a water flow meter. 

Additionally, if you’d rather not install another water flow meter and are just looking for the pressure output after the regulator. One can use an embedded pressure sensor from Atlas Scientific to easily screw into a water, gas, or oil piping system to begin taking measurements.

Overall, the importance of controlling water flow with a regulator, and then measuring it with a meter, can not be understated. These low-frills pipe fittings can increase the efficacy and safety of all water systems from household plumbing to industrial processes.

What is a water flow meter?

A water flow meter kit measures the volume of water moving per unit of time. These meters will normally attach directly to piping and measure the amount of water flowing through the pipe per time. Most commonly this unit will be measured in liters or meters cubed per minute (L/min = m3/min), or gallons per minute (gal/min) for those lagging behind the metric system. This can then be converted into PSI, most electronics will perform this conversion automatically. A variety of designs and types of water flow meters exist, but they all achieve the same result—measuring the amount of moving water directly or indirectly. 

Flow meters utilize a variety of technologies from mechanical gears to electromagnetic technology to ultrasonic technology to measure this water flow. Basically, by measuring how long it takes a volume of water to pass through the flow meter dimensions, one can relate that number to liters per minute. The advantage of each approach depends on the level of accuracy, maintenance, and environment in which these meters will operate.

Why is controlling water flow important?

As discussed above, by not controlling water flow with a regulator you are creating a scenario where any rapid changes in water pressure can permanently damage a system’s plumbing and be costly to repair. By using a water regulator, plumbing and appliances are protected from high pressures that can cause pipe bursts, switch breakages, even minor pipe leaks can be attributed to changes in water flow and pressure.

Additionally, as in most industrial settings, the water is also being measured for other parameters like dissolved oxygen, chlorine, etc. Without a regulator, the water is prone to sporadic flow causing extra air bubbles. These extra air bubbles can decrease the accuracy of water sensors and probes, eliminating the purpose of the whole setup.

On the environmental side of things, water is a valuable and limited resource. It is also very heavy and costly to move around due to electricity demands. And electricity is not cheap for facilities running 24/7. 

Therefore, great cost savings and environmental impact are achieved by reducing the amount of water used with a water regulator. Think of a low flow water shower head. In most cases, you are clean just the same; but the amount of water used is a fraction of the previous showerhead—saving money through electricity and water usage.

In summary, most water regulators may seem expensive for such a small plumbing piece, but by not having one a water system is prone to damage that will cost 10 times the amount of a water regulator. Preventative maintenance at its finest. To go even further, if manufacturing lines go down due to a high-pressure pipe burst, the loss of finished goods on top of the plumbing repairs will create an even higher cost that no facility wants to experience. 

In short, use a water regulator or pressure-reducing valve to protect all plumbing systems.

Are water flow and water pressure the same? Flow vs. pressure regulators

Are flow and pressure the same in water systems? No. Do they influence each other? Yes. The volume of water moving through a system is considered to flow, but since water has mass and density the more water that flows into a constrained space will increase the pressure on the piping. If you measure flow, that flow measurement can be converted into a pressure number and vice versa. However, the pressure value only has physical meaning in a constrained environment.

If a water system has high water flow from the source, like a water tower, and the other end is blocked, like a closed faucet, there will be a pressure build-up. Additionally, a water flow regulator acts like a semi-closed faucet between your house and the water tower, ensuring a high flow from the water tower pressure will not enter the house plumbing. 

In any case, flow regulators (as we’ve been discussing) are primarily used in water and liquid applications, whereas pressure regulators are using more in gas applications. They both have the same goal—to decrease pressure to a safe level—but are used in different applications.   

Putting it all together: controlling water flow with a water regulator

By now, the importance of a water regulator to a plumbing system should be very clear: to prevent high water pressure build-ups, pipe breaks, and leaks. No matter the application, from household plumbing to chemical manufacturing to advanced hydroponic setups, even a backyard pool (anything with water flow into a closed system) will benefit from a water regulator to provide safety and peace of mind from any sporadic water pressures. In this way, pipes will not burst unexpectedly, pumps will not break under high operating pressures, and expensive maintenance and repair will not be needed.

If you have experience with plumbing, these flow regulators can be a relatively easy installation, especially when building a new house or manufacturing line—it’s best to do it right away. Even if installation is done after the fact, and some pipe cutting needs to occur, don’t fret, turning the water off and installing a regulator will still be a fantastic preventative maintenance decision. Although, if you do not feel comfortable with installing a flow regulator contact your local plumbing company for advice or services. 

Additionally, a water flow regulator pairs nicely with a ½” water flow meter to understand precisely how much the water flow is reduced after passing through the regulator. Think of it as an extra level of measurement to ensure even the greatest regulator is doing its job.

If you are unsure which water flow regulator, or water flow meter, will fit your specific application, reach out to us at Atlas Scientific so we can understand more about the piping system and the requirements you seek. Additionally, If you would like to learn more about other water quality measurements, characteristics, or applications for water flow meters and regulators, do not hesitate to reach out to the world-class team at Atlas Scientific.

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