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Water Flowing in Pipes real systems (2)

What makes water

How fast will it flow?
Real pipes in real
How much pressure is
What size pipe do you

How fast will the

water flow?

Engineering & physics
Family history

These pages explain how to choose the

correct sizes of pipe when plumbing a
house, and why it matters. This section
includes a practical worked example.
The theory is explored in part 1 .
In this section I show how to calculate the flow-rate in
a real domestic water-supply system by using a
couple of design tools that link flow-rate to the
available head - the pressure that makes the water
move. The worked example starts here . If all you need
is the graph that links flow rate to the rate-ofpressure-drop for standard pipe sizes, it's here .
But before I design a water supply system for a real
house, I should explain how the apparently
impossible calculation problems involving turbulent
flow can be quickly and easily tackled in practice.

How much pressure is needed?

If the water has to move at a couple of metres per
second, or thereabouts, how much pressure is
It's a simple question, but unfortunately there is no
simple answer. It depends on what pipes are fitted,
and how long they are. Each case must be
individually calculated. But don't despair - the
calculation is very easy.
The main thing to remember about pressure is this:

Pressure supplies the energy to push the water along

the pipe. Each bit of pipe resists the flow. Energy is
lost as the water moves along the pipe, so the

lost as the water moves along the pipe, so the

pressure falls too. There's a pressure difference
between the ends of the pipe.
The longer the pipe, the more energy is lost, and the
greater the pressure drop. The rate of pressure drop
(that is, the pressure drop per metre of pipe) depends
on the pipe diameter and the speed of flow, as you
would expect.
The design goal is to choose the pipe sizes that will
give the flow rates you want. Each length of pipe wll
have a pressure drop along its length. So the aim is to
choose pipes that will drop just enough of the
available pressure (from the header tank, or from the
mains water supply in the street) to give the required
flow rates. This means checking the pressure drop
along each pipe.

Pressure difference calculation


One way to find the pressure difference between the

ends of a pipe is to use the Darcy-Weisbach equation
I mentioned in part 1. This predicts how much
pressure would be needed to push the water along a
pipe at a particular speed. The formula looks like this:

Here, the pressure difference P needed to achieve a

flow velocity v depends on the length L and diameter
D of the pipe as well as the density of the fluid ( about 1,000 kg/m3 for cold water). It also depends on
f, a fiddle factor - sorry, "friction factor", which is
included to account for the effects of the Reynolds
number. This graph (and its equation) shows the
relationship between Re and f.

The equation includes f on both sides, and looks

impossible to solve. In fact, it was quite
straightforward. The trick is to begin by guessing a
value for f (say, 0.01), putting this value (and Re) in
the right-hand side, working out the value of the lefthand side, and hence finding f. This new value for f is
closer to the actual value than the initial guess, so you
plug it back into the right-hand side and do the
calculation again . After a couple of iterations the
answer is usually close enough to be useful. (By the
way, the friction factor used by American engineers is
for some reason four times bigger than this. But then,
most things in America are bigger than they are in
The graph appears to show that the "friction factor"
decreases as the Reynolds number goes up. More
speed giving less friction? Hardly likely, is it? In fact,
that's not what the graph is saying. The "friction
factor" is purely a measure of how the pipe affects the
flow, and as the water becomes more turbulent the
pipe itself plays a smaller part in events.
Example - a kitchen sink

Theory is all very well, but let's see some

actual numbers. The kitchen sink is fed by
15mm pipe. How much pressure will it take to
get hot water (at about 60oC, say) moving out
of the tap at 2 metres/second, and is this head
1. Calculate

2. Look
3. Calculate

Start by calculating the Reynolds number:

Re = Speed x Diameter x (Density /

We know that the speed is to be 2 m/sec, and

the internal diameter of 15mm pipe is
13.6mm. From Table 1, (/) for water at 60o is
about 3.1 x106. Then the Reynolds number in
this case is:
Re = 2 x 13.6 x10-3 x 3.1 x106 = 84,000

near enough. From the graph above, this Re

has a "friction factor" f of about 0.019. So in
the pressure-difference equation

we know f (0.019) and v (2 m/s) and (992.1)

and D (13.6 mm). For now, assume that the
length L is just 1.0 metre. Then the pressure
difference (per metre) needed to get the water
flowing is:
P = 0.019 x 22 x (992.1 / 2) x (1.0 / 13.6
x10-3) = 2,800 N/m2

This means that each metre length of the

15mm pipe must have a pressure difference
of 2,800 N/sq.m. between its ends to push

of 2,800 N/sq.m. between its ends to push

water though it at 2 m/sec. If the pipe is 10m
long, the total pressure difference between
the ends of the pipe (that is, the head
required) would be 28,000 N/sq.m. Or, to put it
another way, the water will flow at 2
metres/second if the head happens to be
exactly 28,000 N/sq.m.
If you're more comfortable with pressure expressed
as the head in feet, the conversion factor is:
A head of 1 foot of
water 3,000 N/sq.m.
So 28,000 N/sq.m. is about the same as a head of 9 feet
(or 3m) of water. But if the head is not exactly 9 feet and in practice, Sod's Law says it won't be - the water
will flow at a different speed! More on this later.

Pressure difference from a graph - the basic

design tool
The equations are useful if you ever need to calculate
accurately, but in practice it's easier to check from a
graph that what you plan to do will work.
The log-log
1 bar
= 100,000
1 lb/
= 7,000
1 foot of water
= 3,000
7 m. of water
(the minimum
water pressure
guaranteed in the
= 69,000
1 Pascal
= 1 N/sq.m

This graph shows pressure drop per metre for a given

flow rate and pipe size. You'll find something similar
in the relevant British Standard. It was constructed
from the pressure-drop equation and covers water
speeds from 2.0 m/sec (at the top) down to 0.2 m/sec,
and is valid for all normal temperatures. It's saying
that the pressure drop along a length of pipe is
(nearly) proportional to the square of the flow rate
in the pipe.
The graph tells you nearly all you need to know. Use it
like this:
1. Decide
2. Choose

3. Use

Example - a bathroom sink

A bathroom sink is fed with 15mm pipe and

needs a flow rate of 0.3 litres/sec.
From the graph, this means the water speed
will be 2 metres per second and the head
required to achieve this flow rate will be 4,000
N/sq.m. (or 1.3 feet height of water) per metre
of pipe. So if the sink is fed from a tank 13 feet
above it, the pipe run could have an
(equivalent) length of 10 metres. If the pipe is
shorter, the water will flow faster.
Example - 22mm pipe connected to the water main

Suppose that the stop-tap offers a 22mm

connection, and that the water pressure here
is 2 bar. Assume a horizontal straight 22mm
pipe is connected to the stop-tap. What will

pipe is connected to the stop-tap. What will

the flow rate be if the pipe is 10m long? What
happens if it's 100m long?
From the graph, 10m of 22mm pipe carrying
0.7 litres/sec ( = 2 m/sec water speed) has a
pressure drop of
P = 10 x 2,500 N/sq.m = 25,000 N/sq.m

If a pressure of nearly ten times this (and 2 bar

= 200,000 N/sq.m) is applied, the graph can't
predict what would happen. I would guess
that the flow rate would exceed 2 litres/sec
and the noise level would be scary. This is not
a good idea!
However, with 100m of pipe, the 200,000
N/sq.m mains pressure works out at a more
modest 2,000 N/sq.m per metre. The graph
says this delivers about 0.6 litres/sec (36
litres/minute) at a water speed of something
under 2 m/sec. It would work fine.
Example - a fountain

Suppose that the 10m length of 22mm pipe

connected to the stop-tap points vertically
upwards. The 2 bar pressure at the stop-tap
will presumably cause water to squirt out of
the top. How high will it go?
The weight of water in the vertical pipe exerts
a pressure downwards, towards the stop-tap,
Pressure = Length x density x g
Pressure = 10 (m) x 1,000 (kg/cu.m) x
9.8 (m/sec/sec) 100,000 (N/sq.m)

This pressure acts downwards, opposing the

200,000 N/sq.m upwards pressure at the stoptap. The net upwards pressure is reduced to
100,000 N/sq.m. Over the 10m length, there is
now 10,000 N/sq.m per metre. This is off the
graph, as it represents a water speed of well
over 2 metres/sec. It might give a flow rate of
about 1.5 litres/sec.
The cross-sectional area of 22mm pipe is 320, so 1.5 litres in 22mm pipe occupies a, so 1.5 litres in 22mm pipe occupies a

length of
(1.5/1,000) / (320 x 10-6) = 4.7 metres

which means that when the water leaves the

top of the pipe it is moving at 4.7 metres/sec.
How high will it go? The equation I learnt at
school relates speed and distance for a body
moving under gravity like this
v2 = u2 - 2 g s

where u and v are the initial and final

velocity, s is distance, and g is 9.8 m/sec/sec as
usual. Here u = 4.7 m/sec and v = 0 (because
the water stops rising, pauses, then begins to
fall) so
4.72 = 2 x 9.8 x s ... s = 4.72 / (2 x 9.8)
= 1.1 metres ( 3.5 feet).

So at the end of a 10m vertical pipe - that is, at

rooftop height, 30 feet in the air - mains water
pressure would still produce a fountain about
as high as a child! No wonder water
companies' pipes leak.

What size pipe do you need?

How do you go about choosing the correct sizes for all

the different pipes in the house?
Here's a simplified sketch of the hot- and cold-water
supply system in a two-storey house. The cold-water
header tank in the loft feeds a bath on the first floor,
and the kitchen sink on the ground floor. It also feeds
the hot water pipes via the cylinder.
The first step is to sketch the layout and choose the
pipe sizes such that the water flows fast enough to fill
the bath and the sink in a sensible time.
Then calculate what will actually happen, and decide
whether anything needs to be changed.
So, here:
To fill a 10-litre kitchen sink in half a minute, the
flow rate of the pipe feeding it must be close to 0.3
litres/second, and 15mm pipe can probably handle
The flow rate for a bath should be higher, but as a
single 22mm pipe can comfortably deliver more
than 0.5 litres/second, two 22mm pipes (hot and
cold) will be more than adequate.
This house doesn't have a shower. Showers use about
10 litres per minute - that is, about 0.17 litres/second so 15mm pipes would be quite big enough if the
owner ever decided to install one. A five-minute
shower only uses about 30 litres of hot water. That's
why it's cheaper to shower than to have a bath. It's
cheaper still when you share with a friend,
Cold water pipes
The design starts with the cold feeds. The kitchen sink
needs 0.3 litres/sec, and according to Table 4 a 15mm
pipe will only deliver 0.22 litres/sec at a water speed
of 1.5 metres/sec. The choice is, to pay more and use

of 1.5 metres/sec. The choice is, to pay more and use

22mm pipe, or to fit 15mm pipe and put up with a
small amount of extra noise. Which would you go for?
A cautious person might ask, how much more noise?
A mountain stream, or Niagara Falls?
That's easy to answer. Increasing the flow rate by 30%
means that the water flows 30% faster - 2.2 metres/sec
instead of 1.5 m/s. The noise level would roughly
double. That shouldn't be a big problem.
The kitchen sink cold feed can therefore be 15mm, at
least up to the junction with the bath cold feed. The
pipe from here to the bottom of the cylinder serves
two purposes, though. Someone might be running a
bath whilst someone else is downstairs washing up.
What then?
Suppose that the bath cold tap and the kitchen sink
cold tap are both running at once, with 0.3 litres/sec
going to the sink downstairs and (say) 0.5 litres/sec
going into the bath. The total flow-rate would be 0.8
litres/sec, and 15mm pipe would complain at that.
Will 22mm pipe do, or should it be 28mm? You might
ask how likely is it that both taps would be on at the
same time, and if it did happen, would anyone mind
too much if the cold flow slackened off for a few
seconds? Probably not (unless they were having a
shower!) 22mm pipe should be adequate.
Finally, there's the pipe from the header tank to the
bottom of the cylinder. This one is more important
than it looks - it not only carries cold water to the taps
but also refills the cylinder as hot water is taken from
the top. Water flows through this pipe to every tap in
the house. It would be sensible to make it 28mm,
which can carry over a litre per second.
Hot water pipes
The hot-water pipes are easy to size, because the
thinking has already been done for the cold pipes. The
kitchen sink will be fed in 15mm from the tee under
the bath, and then in 22mm from the top of the
The vent pipe leading from the cylinder to above the
header tank should also be 22mm (as local authority

planning laws usually require). This pipe is only there

as a safety measure - if something goes wrong, and
the water in the cylinder boils, it can siphon up safely
into the tank instead of bursting the cylinder and
ruining all the carpets.

What's the actual flow rate?

It's all very well calculating pipe sizes by assuming a
flow rate, but what will actually happen in a real
house in practice? How fast will the water flow out of
the kitchen sink tap? How long will it really take to fill
the bath?
It is possible to predict how a real system will behave.
In this section I show how to calculate what will
happen in the two-storey house design described earlier.
Each step is explained in some detail in order to make
it easier to adapt the calculation to the different
problem you may be trying to solve.
Pipes often go round corners
The pressure driving the water along the pipes is the
head. For the bath, this is 3 metres (say), and for the
kitchen sink on the floor below it's 5 metres (say). This
pressure is opposed by the friction losses in the pipes,
which can be thought of as the pressure-differenceper-metre needed to push the water along at the flow
rate you want. The log-log graph can be used to find the
flow rate in a pipe run when the head is known.
There is one small difficulty. Real pipe goes round
corners, and through tees, and valves, and other
fittings. Each fitting creates its own bit of turbulence
and absorbs some energy. How can this be taken into
Quite easily, as it happens. In just the same way that a
length of straight pipe needs a pressure difference to
push water through it, so does an elbow, or a valve.
The pressure difference required across a 15mm
elbow to move water though it at, say, 0.2 litres/sec
can be measured. Whatever this number is, it must be
the same as the pressure difference required to move
water through some length of straight 15mm pipe at
the same speed. In fact, this equivalent length is about

the same speed. In fact, this equivalent length is about

0.4 metres for a 15mm elbow. So the pressure drop in
the elbow can be included by pretending that the
15mm pipe is really straight, but 0.4 metres longer
than it actually is. The "equivalent lengths" of some
common fittings are listed below.

Table 5: The equivalent lengths (in

metres) of some standard fittings
Pipe Elbow through

















One common fitting that doesn't appear in the table is

the shower head. Its function is to take the stream of
water flowing in a 15mm pipe and split it into many
little streams, each about 1mm in diameter. This
process takes a lot of energy. In terms of equivalent
pipe length, a shower head might represent as much
as 10-20 metres of 15mm, or even more, and this has a
serious impact on flow-rate. That's why many people
opt for a pumped shower, or one run directly from
mains pressure via a combi boiler.
Example - the kitchen sink feed from the bathroom

The 15mm pipes run under the bathroom floor, then

down to the ground floor, along to the sink, then up
again to the taps.
There are 5 elbows (right-angle bends) in each pipe.
According to Table 5, each elbow causes the same
pressure drop as 0.4 metres of 15mm pipe. So the
elbows represent 5 x 0.4m = 2m of pipe. The pipes
themselves are about 7m long, so the total equivalent
length of each one is 7m + 2m = 9m of pipe.
Then from the log-log graph, to achieve a water flow
rate of 0.3 litres/second, the head would have to be
9m x 4,000 N/sq.m = 36,000 N/sq.m.

Pipes are different sizes, too

Suppose someone turns on the cold tap at the kitchen
sink. What will happen?
Water will begin to flow out of the header tank, down
the 28mm pipe to the cylinder, along the 22mm pipe
to the bath, then down the 15mm pipe to the sink.
How fast it flows depends on the head and the
opposing frictional pressure drop. The head is known
to be 5m, but the opposing frictional loss must be
The problem is that each different pipe size offers a
different resistance to the same flow rate. What's
needed is some way of expressing these different
resistances in some common unit, so that they can be
just added together.
A clue comes from the log-log graph. The lines are
(nearly) parallel. This means that the rate of pressure
drop (RPD) for 22mm pipe (say) is always some
fraction of that for 15mm pipe, at the same flow rate.
At 0.05 litres/sec, 15mm pipe has a RPD of about 150
N/sq.m/m, whilst for 22mm RPD is just 20 N/sq.m/m about seven times smaller.
(RPD for 15mm pipe) / (RPD for 22mm pipe) = 7

And at 0.2 litres/sec the figures are 1900 and 270 again, a ratio of about 7 to 1. So to get the same flow
rate, 15mm pipe needs seven times the pressure
difference that 22mm needs!
1m of 15mm pipe
behaves like 7m of
22mm pipe.
These figures aren't exact, but they're near enough to
be useful in the real world.
1m of 22mm pipe
behaves like (1/7)m 0.13m - of 15mm pipe.
The idea can be extended to the other pipe sizes. The
table below shows the length of each standard size

table below shows the length of each standard size

pipe that is equivalent to a 1 metre length of 15mm
pipe. It says, for example, that just 3.5cm of 28mm
pipe has the same pressure drop as 1m of 15mm pipe.
Table 6: The lengths (in metres) of
standard pipe sizes equivalent to 1m of

10 15 22
mm mm mm






0.13 0.035 0.012 0.0047 0.0013

Flow rate calculations

So, back at the sink...
What is the flow
rate out of the
kitchen cold

The question was, how fast will water come out of the
cold tap at the kitchen sink?
1. Work
2. Work
3. Convert






The 15mm section runs from the kitchen tap itself up

to the tee with the bath tap. It is about 7m long with
five elbows, so it has an equivalent length of
[15mm actual] = 7.0m (the pipe) + (5 x 0.4m) (the

[15mm actual] = 7.0m (the pipe) + (5 x 0.4m) (the

elbows) = 9.0m.

The 22mm section includes two tees, and the pipe

itself. If the 22mm pipe is (say) 3.5m long, this
represents an equivalent length of
[22mm actual] = 3.5m (the pipe) + (0.09m + 1.1m)
(the tees: 1 in, 1 through) = 4.7m.
[Convert 22mm actual --> 15mm equivalent] =
4.7m x 0.13 = 0.6m.

The 28mm pipe is 6m long, with two elbows, giving an

equivalent length of
[28mm actual] = 6.0m (the pipe) + (2 x 0.9m) (the
elbows) = 7.8m.
[Convert 28mm actual --> 15mm equivalent] =
7.8m x 0.035 = 0.3m.

So the total equivalent length of 15mm pipe is:

9.0m (15mm) + 0.6m (22mm) + 0.3m (28mm) =

Now, the head is 5m, and we know that:

Pressure = Length x Density x g

so putting in numbers for density and g, the pressure

at the kitchen tap will be:
5 [m.of water] x 1,000 [kg/m3] x 9.8 [m/sec2] =
49,000 N/sq.m

This pressure drop is shared out along the pipe run that is, along the 9.9m equivalent length of 15mm which means the average rate of pressure drop is
49,000 / 9.9 = 5,000 N/sq.m per metre

... 0.35

more or less. From the log-log graph, 15mm pipe with a

RPD of 5,000 N/sq.m per metre has a flow rate of
about 0.35 litres/second. This is what will come out of
the tap, and more by luck than by skilful design, it's
close to the 0.3 litres/second that it should be.
But is this figure true? Cross-check the result by
working backwards. Breaking it down, the answer
says that the 9m of real 15mm pipe accounts for (9 x
5,000) = 45,000 of the 49,000 N/sq.m of available
pressure, the 22mm length takes (0.6 x 5,000) = 3,000
N/sq.m, and the 28mm needs (0.3 x 5,000) = 1,500
N/sq.m. This adds up to 49,500, which is close enough
to the expected figure of 49,000. This is supposed to be
engineering, not physics.

Then the flow rate in the actual 4.6m of 22mm pipe at

its RPD of (3,000 / 4.6m) = 652 N/sq.m per metre is,
from the log-log graph, about 0.35 litres/second. And for
the actual 7.8m of 28mm at its RPD of (1,500 / 7.8) =
192 N/sq.m per metre, the flow is once again 0.35
litres/second. Each pipe is carrying the same flow
rate, as it should do. So the kitchen sink tap really will
deliver 0.35 litres/second.
What if the pipes are too noisy?
In a different design - perhaps one with with fatter
pipes, or fewer elbows, or a larger head - the
calculation might have predicted a much higher flow
rate. In that case you would expect the pipes to be
noisy when the water is running. To make them
quieter, the water has to be slowed down, and this is
actually very easy to do. Any competent plumber
installing a system will have included valves at
strategic points, so that sections of the system can be
isolated - when, for example, you need to change a tap
All you have to do is find the right valve and turn it
down a bit. The extra resistance this adds will reduce
the flow rate to a more sensible value. Halving the
flow rate would reduce the noise by a factor of four.
Running a bath
What is the flow
rate out of the
bath cold tap?

This calculation is a bit more complicated, because it

involves both the hot and cold water pipes in the twostorey house sketched above. The approach is exactly
the same: find the equivalent lengths, convert them
to the same size pipe, add them up, find the pressure
drop per metre, look up the corresponding flow

Cold feed only: Think about the cold water first. The
22mm pipe from the tap is 3.5m long and includes two
tees. It has an apparent length of:
[22mm actual] = 3.5m + (1.1m + 1.0m) = 5.6m.

Similarly, the apparent length of the 28mm pipe is:

[28mm actual] = 6.0m + (2 x 0.9m) = 7.8m.

Since there is no 15mm pipe involved in the runs to

the bath, it seems silly to convert these lengths to

the bath, it seems silly to convert these lengths to

their equivalent 15mm lengths, then add them
together, then convert them back again to 22mm.
Instead, I'll simply convert the 28mm length to its
equivalent 22mm value, using the figures in Table 6:
[28mm actual --> 22mm equivalent] = 7.8m x
(0.035 / 0.13) = 2.1m.

Then the total equivalent length of 22mm is:

5.6m + 2.1m = 7.7m.

The head is 3m, which corresponds to a pressure of:

3 [m.of water] x 1,000 [kg/m3] x 9.8 [m/sec2] =
29,400 N/sq.m

So the average rate of pressure drop is:

29,400 / 7.7 = 3,800 N/sq.m per metre

... 0.9 litres/sec!

which according to the log-log graph means a (rather

noisy) flow rate of close to 0.9 litres/second for a
cold bath, rather than the 0.5 litres/second one might
have hoped for. Still, things will change when the hot
tap is running too.

Hot feed only: Now for the hot water. The hot pipe is
all 22mm, which makes it slightly easier. The pipe run
to the top of the cylinder is (let's say) 6m long, and
includes two tees and three elbows. So:
[Hot: 22mm actual] = 6m + (1.1m + 1.0m + [3 x
0.6m]) = 9.9m.

However, the hot water leaving the cylinder is

replaced by cold water flowing from the header tank.
The cylinder itself is only a kind of fitting, and it too
has resistance, just like an elbow. The resistance of
the whole circuit must be calculated.
The 22mm run is only 1m or so, plus a tee and an
elbow. The cylinder's resistance is equivalent to about
1.6m of 22mm pipe. Adding these up gives:
[Cold: 22mm actual] = 1m + (1.0m + 0.6m +
1.6m) = 4.2m.

Finally, there's the 28mm pipe from the header tank.

I've already calculated that this is 7.8m (actual) and
2.1m (22mm equivalent), so the total equivalent
length of 22mm pipe in this circuit is:
9.9m + 4.2m + 2.1m = 16.2m.

The head is still 3m, or 29,400 N/sq.m, so the average

The head is still 3m, or 29,400 N/sq.m, so the average

rate of pressure drop is
29,400 / 16.2 = 1,800 N/sq.m per metre

which the log-log graph says represents close to 0.6

litres/second for a hot bath - pretty much what it
should be. The flow rate from the hot tap is less than
from the cold tap because of the resistance of all the
extra pipe this water has to flow through.

Both hot and cold: Most people turn on both taps

when they are running a bath. What happens then?
It's a more difficult problem, because now the 28mm
pipe from the header tank is carrying cold water both
to the bath and to the bottom of the cylinder. A higher
flow rate means a greater resistance. How much
greater? That depends on the flow rate it's carrying,
and that in turn depends on its resistance!
Breaking this circle demands a little algebra, since
there are now two unknown (and inter-dependent)
quantities: the flow rates from each of the bath taps. I
don't know yet what they are, so I'll call the flow rate
out of the hot tap H litres/sec, and that from the cold
tap C litres/sec.
Now, the hot water circuit runs from the tee (with the
28mm pipe) up through the cylinder, down and along
to the hot tap. It has an equivalent length of (9.9m +
4.2m) = 14.1m. This pipe run is carrying H litres/sec.
Similarly, the effective length of the cold water
circuit, from the cold tap to the same junction, is 5.6m.
This pipe run is carrying C litres/sec.
And the 28mm pipe, with an effective length of 7.8m
(or 2.1m of 22mm equivalent), has to carry (H + C)
I know that H and C must be less than 0.6 and 0.9
litres/sec respectively, because those are the flow
rates with only one tap open. The flow rates with both
taps open must be smaller, because the hot and cold
flows share space in the 28mm pipe, and it will offer
greater resistance to the flow, so (for now) guess that
H = 0.5 litres/sec. From the graph, this implies a Rate of
Pressure Drop (RPD) of 1,400 N/sq.m per metre.
The effective length of the pipes carrying just hot

The effective length of the pipes carrying just hot

water is 14.1m. The total pressure drop along these
pipes would then be (14.1 x 1,400) = 19,700 N/sq.m.
The head is 29,400 N/sq.m, so the pressure difference
between the water surface in the header tank and the
junction of the hot and cold circuits - at the tee near
the bottom of the cylinder - would be (29,400 N/sq.m 19,700 N/sq.m) = 9,700 N/sq.m. I'll come back to this
figure in a moment.
But the same pressure of 19,700 N/sq.m that drives the
hot water flow is driving the cold water flow too. The
effective length of the pipes carrying just cold water is
5.6m, so the RPD for the cold-water pipes is (19,700 /
5.6) = 3,500 N/sq.m per metre, and the graph says that
this implies a flow rate of about C = 0.82 litres/sec.
My original guess was that H was 0.5 litres/sec, and
this guess resulted in a predicted value for C of 0.82
litres/sec. In other words, C is 1.64 times bigger than
H. But this ratio depends only on the pipe layout. It's
independent of the actual values of H and C.
Whatever the real figures are, this ratio will stay the
If my original guess that H was 0.5 litres/sec had been
correct, then the combined flow in the 28mm pipe
would have been (0.5 + 0.82) = 1.32 litres/sec. The graph
says that the RPD of 28mm pipe carrying 1.32
litres/sec is about 2,700 N/sq.m per metre, so the total
pressure drop along its effective length of 7.8m is
(2,700 x 7.8) = 21,000 N/sq.m.
But I have already calculated that if H really had been
0.5 litres/sec, the pressure drop along the 28mm pipe
would have been 9,700 N/sq.m - only half as much.
The original guess was plainly wrong! So how can the
problem be solved?

A Useful Approximation
The straight-line
log-log graph could
also be written as a
power law.
For 15mm pipe, it
would be:
35,000 x FR1.83

The relationship between the two quantities of

interest - flow rate and pressure drop - is extremely
complex, but fortunately it can be approximated by a
rather simple formula:
Rate of Pressure Drop (RPD) = A x (Flow Rate)2


35,000 x FR1.83
For 22mm pipe, it
would be:
5,000 x FR1.85

- where A and B are constants that depend only on

pipe size. I give values for A and B in the table below.
Table 7: Values of constants A and B in the Useful

10mm 15mm 22mm 28mm 35mm 42mm 54mm

400,000 44,000












The approximation is accurate when the pipe is carrying a

flow rate of between 30% and 100% of its maximum

Running the bath

Here is a simplified diagram showing only the pipe

runs to the hot and cold bathtaps. Water is flowing
from both taps.
The cold water feed pipe is 5.6 metres long and
carrying C litres/second. The hot water pipe is 14.1
metres long and carries H litres/sec. The common
feed, carrying cold water to the tap and also into the
bottom of the cylinder - that is, (C + H) litres/sec - is
7.8 metres long, from the header tank to the tee.
Now, from the Useful Approximation, the total
pressure difference between the ends of a pipe is
Pressure drop in pipe = Length x [A x (Flow
Rate)2 + B]

The hot and cold pipes are both fed from the common
pipe, and both end in open taps. The pressure
difference between the common point and each tap
must be the same. So by applying the formula, doing a
bit of algebra, and discarding terms that are too small
to matter, we get a relationship between the flow
rates that just depends on pipe lengths:

This is really just a more formal way of expressing the

idea that the hot and cold flow rates will always bear
the same ratio to each other. But we also know that,
for the whole system:
Head = (Pressure drop in common pipe) +
(Pressure drop in hot [or cold] pipe)

and this, with a bit of algebra, can be made to yield an

expression for the actual hot or cold flow rate in
terms of numbers we already know! To make the
equation as general as possible, I have used the
symbols Lc and Lh to stand for the lengths of the cold
and hot pipe runs respectively, and L28 to mean the

length of the common 28mm pipe. For the cold flow

rate, C, the equation is:

This equation looks forbiddingly complex, but finding

a value for C is simply a matter of substituting known
numbers for all the variables and calculating the
answer. The head is 29,400 N/sq.m., Lc is 5.6m., and Lh
is 14.1m. It's important that all the lengths be
expressed in the same units, so L28 is 2.1m (of 22mm

equivalent) rather than the actual figure of 7.8m.

Finally, from Table 7, the constants for 22mm pipe are
A = 5,300 and B = 40.
The answer I got was C2 = 0.49 litres/second, so C = 0.7
litres/second. And since (C / H)2 = (14.1 / 5.6), I
calculate that H = 0.44 litres/second.
The answer can be checked by working out the
individual pressure drops using the Useful
Approximation. In the hot and cold pipes:
Cold pipe: Pressure drop = 5.6m x [5,300 x (0.7)2
+ 40] = 14,800 N/sq.m

Hot pipe: Pressure drop = 14.1m x [5,300 x

(0.44)2 + 40] = 15,000 N/sq.m

which is near enough the same, as it should be, and in

the common pipe,
Common pipe: Pressure drop = 2.1m x [5,300 x
(0.7 + 0.44)2 + 40] = 14,500 N/sq.m

making a total of about 29,500 N/sq.m. The actual

head is 29,400 N/sq.m. I think the conclusion is that
the sums really do add up. The method works.
If you want another look at the theoretical
background to all this, you'll find it here in Part 1.
Copyright John Hearfield 2007, 2012