Understanding Flow Rate and Water Pressure

Washing Vegetables in Sink

At some point in your life, you’ve likely struggled with a faucet or showerhead that suddenly wasn’t living up to its full potential; a once steady stream of water is now reduced to a pathetic, lukewarm trickle, barely enough to wet your morning toothbrush.

In most of these instances, in other rooms throughout the house, toilets were being flushed, another bath was being drawn, and someone decided to get an early jump on laundry by firing up the washer, all happening simultaneously and all leading toward your low flow woes. Maybe someone shouted something about “water pressure” through the walls, but you couldn’t make out what they were saying over the sound of your un-brushed teeth.

When you inevitably decide to do some research into what’s causing the faucet to eke out that quiet dribble instead of its normal flow, you’ll likely run into a few different terms describing the phenomenon, and even more potential problems that could be causing it. A good starting point is understanding water pressure and water flow rate. While they may sound interchangeable, understanding how these two terms are different will be an important step in helping you diagnose what’s causing your slow flow and how to fix it.


What is Water Flow Rate?Flow Rate Chart

Flow rate is a pretty simple concept. Broken down to its most basic terms, flow rate is the amount of water being used or coming out of a fixture in a certain period of time. Flow rates are typically measured in Gallons Per Minute (GPM).

If you have a faucet that’s acting up or if you just want to experiment and determine the GPM of your kitchen tap, there’s an easy way to determine flow rate. Place a measuring cup beneath your faucet and fully open the tap for ten seconds. Make sure to time this accurately! Once ten seconds are up, close the tap. Provided that you’re measuring in cups, multiply the measured amount of water by six and convert the multiplied number from cups to gallons. 

As an example:

If you filled 8 cups of water in 10 seconds, you would multiply the 8 cups by 6, resulting in 48 cups. Since 1 cup = .0625 gallons, after conversion, you would have 3 gallons. This is your flow rate, 3GPM.


What is Water Pressure?

Where water flow is how much water comes out of your faucet in a period of time, water pressure can be described as how much force is pushing the water through the faucet. Water pressure in municipalities is generated by pressure tanks or water towers that use their height combined with the weight of the water to generate pressure throughout the entire delivery system. Pressure is managed throughout the distribution system to ensure that it does not become excessive in certain areas.

Once the distribution system reaches the home, a pressure regulator delivers the correct amount of pressure to the home system. The amount of water pressure found in the home ranges from 45 to 80 psi (pounds per square inch), and can be altered depending on several factors (house size, psi requirements from some fixtures or appliances, etc).

For those on well water, your water pressure is generated and regulated by a well pump. These pumps work in conjunction with a pressure tank or additional booster pumps to generate and maintain satisfactory water pressure throughout the home. 

What’s causing my low flow rate?

Back to that low-flowing faucet…

There are several factors that could be influencing those frustratingly low flow-rates:

1. Low Water Pressure – As mentioned earlier, water pressure problems will affect flow rate. If most of the fixtures in your home are experiencing low flow-rates, there could be issues with a failing water pressure regulator or a partially closed house shutoff valve or meter.

2. Excessive, Simultaneous Water Usage – Again, having several intensive, water-using fixtures on simultaneously will cause a pressure drop in your home system, resulting in lower flow-rates across the board.

3. Clogged Pipes or Fixtures – If only one or a few fixtures in the house are experiencing problems, there may be a plumbing-related issue: clogged pipes. Mineral buildup in pipes, showerheads, or inside your taps can restrict water flow, resulting in lower flow rates.

Defending against low-flow rates

Regarding the issue of clogged pipes, one of the best low-flow rate safeguards is investing in the proper water treatment equipment. A WaterCare water softener, like those found in the CareSoft Elite lineup, can reduce the harmful hardness elements that cause significant mineral buildup in your pipes and water fixtures.

If your home has problems with iron in its water, a point of entry water filtration unit, like the WaterCare Ion Pro air filtration system, can precipitate and remove iron, reducing the threat of iron deposits wreaking havoc on the interior of your plumbing system.

Much like the plaque that can accumulate inside of our arteries that doctors warn us about, the buildup inside of your plumbing will restrict how much water can travel through it. And the smaller the opening, the faster it will get clogged. This is why so many people with hard water issues need to soak their shower head in vinegar to release the build-up and let water flow freely once again.

Whatever the root cause of your slow water situation, it’s often beneficial to consult a professional plumber to help diagnose your home’s low flow-rate issues. This may result in new equipment needing to be installed to regulate or boost pressure or replace segments of plumbing that has become blocked.

A WaterCare water treatment expert can assist in diagnosing the causes of your low flow rate issues and prescribe the perfect water treatment system without sacrificing your home’s water pressure. Give us a call today to discuss your options!

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