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Reducing Flow vs. Reducing Pressure - Which is it? about:reader?url=

5-6 minutes

There is often a need in any system involving flow of a liquid to

control the flow and/or pressure of that liquid. Since the two
are different and yet inter-dependant, it can be confusing when
trying to determine if flow control or pressure control is the
intended goal and how it will be best be accomplished.
Unfortunately, a wrong choice can easily lead to unexpected,
inconsistent, or even “disastrous” results.

Under the right conditions, both pressure and flow control can be
achieved using a restriction in the plumbing line. Partially open
manual valves and fixed orifices of varying descriptions are
commonly used to introduce a restriction in a plumbing line. This
is, in fact, how most kitchen and bathroom faucets work. Yep, it is
an orifice built into the shower head that accounts for
a disappointing “trickle” compared to an invigorating shower! The
sound of “running water” in a pipe is usually due to a restriction in
a valve or an orifice.

If the pressure of the supply remains constant the following

illustrations apply.

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Reducing Flow vs. Reducing Pressure - Which is it? about:reader?url=

If three nozzles with different orifices are supplied from a liquid source
with regulated pressure, this illustration applies. Intuition based on our
common experience with nozzles would lead us to believe that the
smaller nozzle would spray a greater distance. In fact, in most of our
everyday experiences, the smaller nozzle will spray a greater distance,
but, this is because of a restriction upstream which limits flow and
pressure to the larger nozzle.

A reduction in orifice size results in decreased flow as only so

much liquid can pass through the orifice. In all of the above
cases, the inlet pressure is constant and the outlet pressure is,
effectively, zero (atmospheric) as there is nothing to restrict flow
on the exit side of the orifice. How much liquid passes through
the orifice depends on the pressure of the liquid as it approaches
the orifice, the size and length of the orifice and the pressure on
the exit side of the orifice.

Note – To be technically correct, the viscosity of the liquid must

also be considered, but since we are usually dealing with water or
something with a viscosity near that of water we’ll overlook that
for now.

Since the flow of liquid is limited by the orifice, it follows that the
pressure on the exit side of the orifice is less than that on the inlet
side. BUT, this is dependent on and ONLY true if there is liquid
flow. If there is no flow, or if there is a secondary restriction on
the exit side of the orifice (a spray nozzle for example), the
pressure differential across the orfice will behave as shown
below. Using an orifice with the intent of reducing pressure is,
therefore, risky unless all of the variables mentioned in the
paragraph above are held constant.

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Reducing Flow vs. Reducing Pressure - Which is it? about:reader?url=

In this example, all three nozzles are the same. They spray
different distances because of variations in the restriction in the supply
feeding them which is limited by the upstream orifices. A smaller
upstream orifice prevents sufficient liquid flow to achieve higher
pressure. In these cases, except for the one at the top, a reduction in
the size of the nozzle would result in the nozzle spraying a greater
distance as the upstream restriction would provide reduced pressure
drop because of the reduced flow. This agrees with our everyday

Consider the following example – – A flow control is installed in

the plumbing line feeding a spray manifold. The incoming
pressure (perhaps supplied by a connection to the water main or
a pump with known characteristics) remains relatively constant.
The valve is adjusted to the desired flow and all things are good
UNTIL something changes. Let’s say that one or more of the
spray nozzles becomes clogged. The result is an increase of the
back pressure on the orifice. If more nozzle(s) become clogged,
the pressure on the exit side of the orifice will increase
accordingly with the only limit being the supply pressure to the

In the case of the above example involving spray nozzles, the

consequences of the change in pressure may not be severe. In
another example, however, the results could be disastrous. Let’s
say a restricting orifice is incorrectly used to reduce pressure to a
pressure sensitive component like a cooling jacket around a
cleaning tank. If, by accident, the outlet of the cooling jacket is
inadvertently restricted by someone closing a valve, the pressure
in the jacket will increase to the point that it could be deformed or,

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Reducing Flow vs. Reducing Pressure - Which is it? about:reader?url=

still worse, rupture.

In summary, orifices are, at best, flow limiters but unless all other
parameters are carefully controlled should not be relied on to
reduce or control pressure. Reliable pressure control requires a
device specifically designed for the purpose which will be
described in the next blog.

– FJF –

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