Understanding How Pressure Gauges Actually Work in Practice


Everyone’s seen a pressure gauge dangerously red-lining seconds from disaster. For many of us, this only happens in the movies, but the fact is most of us have pressure gauges in our own homes. Our water tanks and plumbing systems are under a lot of pressure, making these gauges a necessity.

Our water systems are always pressurized, allowing our tanks to pump water through our homes. However, this requires lots of power, which can lead to safety concerns. This is where pressure gauges come in.

Thanks to these devices, we’ll know if our system is under too much stress or suffering a leak. If installed right, they help us avoid the kind of pipe-bursting explosions we see on TV. They’re also simpler than they appear both to install and understand.

Read our simple guide, and you’ll know the basics of how pressure gauges work in no time.

What Is a Pressure Gauge?

A pressure gauge is a device used to keep track of and measure built-up pressure. They’re important for all manner of applications, from checking car tires to plumbing. They vary in designs and uses, but all of them help improve safety and warn of potential failures.

A well-fitted pressure gauge doesn’t only let you know if the pressure load is too high. It can tell you if you’re losing pressure somewhere in your system. From there, you can troubleshoot where the leak is, all because you had an accurate pressure gauge.

Losing pressure could also result from a clog in the system, which could slow or stop water from flowing. A buildup could be dangerous, so using the best pressure gauges are essential. When it comes to pressures that are too high, they can cause pipes to burst or fittings and threads to shear.

At best, you will need to deal with a flood, but it could hurt or even kill someone at worst.

How Does It Work in Practice?

Pressure gauges are usually fitted to your existing system using a threaded mount. The most common type you see professional plumbers using has threads on the bottom. The dials on these stick up with the bottom screwed into a plumbing configuration.

Alternatively, a plumber could mount them onto existing housing. Often you’ll see them attached to water tanks to make sure the pump is working. They’re also used to check if your home’s pressure regulator is functioning.

There are a variety of styles, but most work by reading pressure mechanically or hydraulically. As pressure hits the gauge, if it’s well-installed and calibrated, it will measure the static pressure.

Static pressure is the force exerted if the liquid is still. It is then applied in all directions of your pipes or tank.

Dynamic pressure is the pressure exerted if the liquid is moving. Total pressure measures the force as the liquid transitions from dynamic to static. Most of the time, the pressure you monitor in your pipes at home is static.

To get accurate readings, you need to calibrate your gauges. Most pressure gauges show Psi – pounds per square inch. Some gauges range from 0-15psi; others go into the thousands.

Quality gauges for home use range from 150-300 psi. A typical water pressure you’d want should be in the 45-55 range, with 40 or 80 requiring action. Low or high pressure can lead to failures, which for high pressure can be especially dangerous.

Bourdon Tubes vs. Manometers

The most common ways that pressure gauges work is bourdon tubes and manometers. Bourdon tubes operate by having a flat piece of hollow metal, sealed at one end and usually curled into a “C” shape. As the pressure enters the tube, it ends up trying to straighten.

The tube then presses against mechanisms inside the device as its flexing. These mechanisms move the needle that displays the Psi. This is the one most often used in plumbing, together with a pipe test plug.

Manometers are less common than Bourdon tubes for plumbing and are also known as “U-tubes.” They use liquid inside of a U-shaped tube to measure pressure. As pressure goes inside the tube, it puts pressure on the liquid inside, causing it to rise on the other side.

Measuring this change in liquid level is as simple as checking the marked indicators. A manometer calibrated for your use will have the appropriate psi increments marked.

Digital vs. Analog

There are two main categories of pressure gauges. An analog pressure gauge is traditional and common. Examples of these are those using the u-tube or bourdon tube method. These tried and tested options work well, but a digital pressure gauge gives it a run for its money.

The main attraction of a digital pressure gauge is its higher accuracy. All gauges have some small inherent level of inaccuracy, but digital is the most precise. This can make all the difference, especially if consistency is necessary for safety.

Not only is it a lot easier to read, but digital versions can also store information over time. This means you can keep track of the pressure trends with ease – no need to rely on a physical log. It also lights up; as simple as this feature is, it comes in handy.

Digital gauges are also battery-operated, limiting problems stemming from power outages. Most of them are also waterproof, so you won’t have to worry about it getting damaged regardless of where it is.

Pressure Gauges Are Simpler Than You Think

When it comes to how pressure gauges work in practice, it can sometimes feel complex. In reality, pressure gauges obey basic laws of physics to read pressure by directing it towards a psi meter system. They come in a series of standard configurations which are easy to find, install, and monitor.

Professional plumbers know to use the right pressure gauges with the right calibrations. It’s a skill that homeowners can learn as well, especially with this guide as a practical primer. Our site is full of extra info and advice for you to go through so feel free to keep browsing.

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