Everything You Need to Know About Pressure Reducing Valves
How many times have you said to yourself, “I wish my water pressure wasn’t so high?” Probably never. Nobody wants to take a low-pressure shower. Taking steps to reduce water pressure is probably the last thing on your mind as a homeowner.
But sometimes the water coming into our homes is under so much pressure it puts our plumbing systems at tremendous risk. Leaks, floods, and busted appliances can all result from excess water pressure.
High water pressure also shortens the lifespan of your home’s entire water system – from pipes and water heaters to dishwashers and showerheads. The bottom line is that having too much pressure will inevitably cost you money.
But you can prevent costly repairs and damages by controlling the pressure in your home using a PRV (pressure reducing valve).
In this guide, you’ll learn how pressure reducing valves work and why they’re such an important part of your plumbing system.
What is a Pressure Reducing Valve?
Pressure reducing valves are devices that work directly to slow down the pressure of water flowing into your home. They are installed on the main water line next to the shut-off valve. Water from the water main goes into the valve on one side. As the water moves through the valve, it must pass through a spring and diaphragm which cause resistance and lowers the pressure to the desired level as the water leaves the valve through the other side.
The genius of pressure reducing valves is that they’re set to regulate your water flow to a specific pressure. That means if there’s a sudden spike in your area’s municipal water pressure, the spring and diaphragm in the valve will tighten and you’ll still have a consistent amount of pressure in your home.
Some municipal water mains pump water at extremely high pressures — sometimes well over 100 psi. Local water companies will often crank up the pressure to deliver water to hard-to-reach places like high-rise building or high-elevation neighborhoods.
But water pressure above 80 psi can cause significant wear and tear to your pipes, fixtures and appliances over time.
Homes built after the 1980’s usually have a pressure reducing valve installed already. They don’t last forever, though. If you have a pressure reducing valve that is over ten years old, you might want to look into replacing it.
How Much Does a Pressure Reducing Valve Cost?
Pressure reducing valves start at around $50. Having a new pressure reducing valve installed by a professional plumber will probably set you back around $350. If you’re more of hands-on, DIY-type homeowner, you can purchase one and install it yourself. It’s quite an involved project though, and often requires cutting out a section of your main water line and soldering on the valve.
How to Check Your Home’s Water Pressure
If you think you might have a pressure problem at home, you can use a pressure gauge to get an exact reading on your water pressure. Using a pressure gauge is easy — it screws on to one of your outdoor spigots. Opening the spigot gives you an instant look at your home’s water pressure. Gauges can be picked up at most hardware and home improvement stores.
Smart home water monitoring systems like the Flo by Moen use sensors to monitor your home’s water pressure in real-time, detecting even the smallest fluctuations in pressure. The Flo by Moen can also detect leaks as small as a drop per minute, giving you the chance to address problems you’d otherwise not even be aware of.
Why Pressure Matters
Every fixture, appliance and pipe in your home was built to withstand a certain level of water pressure, typically between 60-80 psi. Shower heads, toilets, faucets, appliances, water heaters and pipe joints can all start to wear down and eventually malfunction if they’re constantly subjected to high pressures.
The bottom line? High pressure is expensive. Not only do you have to worry about replacing fixtures and appliances more often, you run the risk of small leaks forming in hard-to-detect places. Those small leaks can lead to structural water damage and black mold.
On the other hand, you could end up with a sudden, massive leak if a pipe bursts or your washing machine hose rips open. Imagine something like that happening shortly after you leave for work or while you’re away for the weekend.
Putting aside catastrophic events, having high water pressure is just generally expensive. Consistently high water pressure means more water is being used for every day-to-day, water-related function in your home. Every shower you take and every toilet flush is using more water than necessary, inflating your water bill and damaging the environment.
Take a look at how having high water pressure affects different areas in your home:
When water heats up, it expands. A water heater operating under normal conditions is equipped to deal with this expansion. Most water heaters even have an expansion tank, which takes on the burden of the expanding water during heating.
But if your water pressure is too high, there might be too much water in the tank. Once that water starts heating up and expanding and there’s nowhere left for it to go — I’m sure you can guess what happens next.
You can end up with a leak, or even worse, a burst water tank. A burst water tank in your basement could mean thousands of dollars in water damage repairs, not to mention the cost of replacing the busted tank.
Washing Machines and Other Appliances
The most vulnerable area in these appliances are the inlet hoses. Too much pressure can cause these hoses to crack are suddenly become separated from the appliance, leading to leaks and floods.
High water pressure also puts extra wear and tear on your washing machine and dishwasher. Even if you’re lucky enough not to have a hose rupture, your appliances aren’t going to last as long if they’re under constant stress. Most water-using home appliances are built to withstand water pressures no higher than 80 psi.
Toilets and Fixtures
Just like your appliances, your toilets and other plumbing fixtures are all designed to handle pressures of around 80 psi.
Fixtures like faucets and showerheads can start leaking when under a certain amount of pressure. That’s because the cartridges inside these fixtures weren’t built to handle high levels of water pressure. Leaking, spitting and banging noises (water hammer) when you turn off the fixtures are all symptoms of high water pressure.
Pipe Leaks and Bursts
Pipes are great about letting us know if our water pressure is too high. Ever hear a loud banging noise in your pipes when you shut off the tap? That noise is called water hammer, and it’s the sound of fast-moving water coming to a sudden stop in your plumbing system. Under a more reasonable pressure water hammer is non-existent.
The constant stress of high pressure running through your pipes is especially hard on your pipe joints. You might end up with a tiny leak in your pipe that goes undetected for a long time. Those small, invisible leaks are actually quite dangerous, compromising the structural integrity of your home and encouraging the growth of toxic black mold.
Just like having a healthy blood pressure is vital to your health, having a normal water pressure is key to maintaining healthy plumbing in your home. Left unchecked, high water pressure will wear out just about everything that comes into contact with your plumbing system.
Monitoring your home’s water pressure and having a working pressure reducing valve will help you save money over time. Spending a few hundred dollars today can save you thousands in the future.