Introduction to check valves

Check valves are generally installed in pipelines to prevent backflow. A check valve is basically a one-way valve, in which the flow can run freely one way, but if the flow turns the valve will close to protect the piping, other valves, pumps etc. If the flow turns and no check valve is installed, water hammer can occur. Water hammer often occur with an extreme force and will easily damage a pipeline or components.

Check valves are used in many different applications. For example they are often placed on the outlet side of a pump, to protect the pump from backflow. Centrifugal pumps, the most common type of water pumps, are not self-priming, and therefore check valves are essential for keeping water in the pipes. Also, check valves are very often used in HVAC-systems (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning-systems). HVAC-systems are e.g. used in large buildings, where a coolant is pumped many storeys up. The check valves are here installed to make sure that the coolant is not flushing back down.

When choosing a check valve it is important to make a cost-benefit analysis of the specific system. Often focus is to reduce cost and at the same time obtain the lowest possible pressure loss, but when it comes to check valves a higher safety equals a higher pressure loss. So in order to make sure the check valve protects the system properly, each system has to be assessed individually, and factors such as the risk of water hammer, acceptable pressure loss, and the financial consequence of installing a check valve with a too high safety margin against water hammer have to be considered. Please go to How to choose the right check valve for more details.

There are various types of check valves available for water and wastewater applications. They work in different ways but serve the same purpose. AVK offers a wide range of swing check valves, ball check valves, tilted disc check valves, slanted seat check valves, nozzle check valves and silent check valves. Please go to SWING CHECK VALVES and BALL CHECK VALVES for more information.

What is water hammer?

In a pumped system, the water is forced from a lower level to a higher level by means of a pump. The fluid flows in one direction only when the pump is in operation. When the pump stops, the flow of fluid will reduce until it also stops. Because the overall pipeline will be rising, when the fluid stops, it will then return back down the pipe. To prevent this flow reversal entering into the pump, well or intake, a check valve is installed.

In many cases, the rate of fluid reversal is not a cause for concern and standard check valves will perform well. However, in pumped systems where fast flow reversal can occur, the selection of the correct check valve is crucial.

If a pump stops and the forward flow reverses back down the line towards the pump before the check valve has fully closed, the flow will force the valve door to slam onto its seat. This scenario can almost instantaneously stop the reverse flow and it is this instantaneous stoppage which results in pipeline water hammer. This can produce loud hammer noises which is not the noise of the valve coming into its seated position but is the stretching of the pipe under these conditions.

The consequent pressure wave (surge) can cause considerable damage to the system including pipe cracks, bursts, cavitation and implosion due to vacuum pressures being formed. It is also important to note that these failures may not be due to one single, large surge pressure but by repeated surges which eventually cause fatigue failure of the system.

It is important to note that other factors are required to ensure a safe and trouble free system. The correct number, types and sizes of air valves, closing and opening times of isolation valves, flow control valves etc all require to be considered to protect the system from pressure surges.

To prevent the occurrence of check valve slam, the valve should close either very quickly to prevent the onset of reverse flow or very slowly once reverse flow has developed. For a check valve to close slowly, this requires additional ancillary equipment such as hydraulic dampers which act to cushion the valve door as it comes into its seated position. However, this slower closure does allow the fluid to pass through the check valve until it closes and consideration must be given to the upstream pump to ensure that it is suitable for reverse spin and flow.

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