Things You'll Need
Calculator or spreadsheet
Pipe flow-pressure data for type of pipe being calculated
Use larger piping if the pressure losses are high as this will save pumping costs over the long term.
Never exceed the pressure ratings of a piping type as this could cause serious injury.
Pressure information such as pressure drops through sections of piping is usually related to flow capacity in gallons per minute (GPM). Each piping system is unique due to a variety of factors including smoothness and the way sections join, but generally pressure has to increase as a function of the square of flow increase. Therefore, if flow doubles, pressure has usually had to quadruple to affect the change in a flowing system. Manufacturers of different types of piping publish flow-pressure data about their products. You can use this data to calculate GPM from pounds per square inch (PSI).
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Define a pipeline flowing system. If water has to be pumped through a 2-inch Schedule 40 polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic pipe from a well to a pond 400 feet away, calculate how many GPM the system is delivering. The pressure gauge on the pipe at the well head reads 66 PSI and the one at the pond 50.8 PSI.
Subtract the lower value, 50.8 PSI, from 66 PSI to determine pressure loss through the pipe. This equals 15.2 PSI over the 400 feet of pipe, or 3.8 PSI per 100 feet of pipe length.
Read the pressure-drop flow correlation about 2-inch Schedule 40 PVC plastic pipe from the tabular flow versus pipe-loss data chart. The flow rate corresponding to 3.8 PSI loss to 100 feet of 2-inch Schedule 40 PVC plastic pipe is 75 GPM.
Determine the pressure loss at one-half of 75 GPM, or 37.5 GPM, to confirm the approximate square-power relationship between pressure and flow. Interpolating between 35 GPM and 40 GPM, the pressure loss computes to a value between 0.9 and 1.2 PSI loss per 100 feet of pipe. Since 37.5 GPM is halfway between the two flow readings of 35 and 40 GPM, the interpolation will work out to about 0.707 of the way between 0.9 and 1.2 PSI loss (again the square function). So the loss would be:
1.2 PSI – 0.9 PSI = 0.3 PSI X 0.707, which is 0.2121 PSI greater than the 0.9 PSI value, or 1.1121 PSI.
Multiplying 1.1121 PSI by 4 to check against twice the flow yields a value of 4.45 PSI, or only 0.55 PSI greater than actually measured. This difference of about 14 percent greater pressure drop would only work out to be about a 6 percent flow difference, which is close enough to support the general square-power relationship between flow and pressure, especially in piping that can vary that much in interior size and smoothness.
Pauline Gill is a retired teacher with more than 25 years of experience teaching English to high school students. She holds a bachelor's degree in language arts and a Master of Education degree. Gill is also an award-winning fiction author.