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Valve Cavitation & Water Hammer


Cavitation occurs when the pressure of a flowing fluid drops below the vapor pressure of that fluid (Figure 3). In this two-step process, the pressure first drops to the critical point, causing cavities of vapor to form. These are carried with the flow stream until they reach an area of higher pressure. The bubbles of vapor then suddenly collapse or implode. This reduction in pressure occurs when the velocity increases as the fluid passes through a valve. After the fluid passes through the valve, the velocity decreases and the pressure increases. In many cases, cavitation manifests itself as noise. However, if the vapor bubbles are in contact with a solid surface when they collapse, the liquid rushing into the voids causes high localized pressure that can erode the surface. Premature failure of the valve and adjacent piping may occur. The noise and vibration caused by cavitation have been described as similar to those of gravel flowing through the system.

Water Hammer

Water hammer is a series of pressure pulsations of varying magnitude above and below the normal pressure of water in the pipe. The amplitude and period of the pulsation depend on the velocity of the water as well as the size, length, and material of the pipe.

Shock loading from these pulsations occurs when any moving liquid is stopped in a short time. In general, it is important to avoid quickly closing valves in an HVAC system to minimize the occurrence of water hammer.

When flow stops, the pressure increase is independent of the working pressure of the system. For example, if water is flowing at 5 fps and a valve is instantly closed, the pressure increase is the same whether the normal pressure is 100 psig or 1000 psig.

Water hammer is often accompanied by a sound resembling a pipe being struck by a hammer—hence the name. The intensity of the sound is no measure of the magnitude of the pressure. Tests indicate that even if 15% of the shock pressure is removed by absorbers or arresters, adequate relief is not necessarily obtained.




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