# Old plumber wisdom, is he right or not?

• Jonathan212
In summary, the old plumber believes that using a smaller diameter pipe will result in a higher pressure due to the increased speed of the flow at the exit. However, this is only true if there are no restrictions on the end of the pipe. In reality, the pressure drop will be higher in a smaller pipe, resulting in a lower pressure at the exit. The old plumber's belief may be due to a misunderstanding of fluid dynamics and pressure measurement methods.
Jonathan212
An old plumber who installed 20-30 meters of 1/2'' piping said this size would give a HIGHER pressure compared to the 3/4'' option. Why might he think so?

This is general for all houses in his opinion, please forget my electric heater in this thread.

That depends on where the pipes are and where you measure pressure. A smaller diameter will lead to a higher pressure drop in the pipe section for the same flow.

swampwiz, Asymptotic and russ_watters
So why might he say the opposite?

DEvens
He didn't say the opposite. Both are technically consistent. If I may speak on mfb's behalf I think he was merely noting that pressure and volume in a closed system are usually inversely related. You can experience this with a simple garden hose and an adjustable nozzle.

Asymptotic
I propose that while flow is a little less with the thin piping, speed is higher so for the same exit tap thinner piping increases speed at the exit and this the plumber PERCEIVES as a higher pressure.

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That depends on where the pipes are and where you measure pressure.

Can't think of an example where the pipes are located in such a common path that the thinner one produces a higher pressure. What were you thinking?

You didn't tell us where the pressure would be measured and where the pipe is, so I kept my answer quite general.

Exit speed and pressure are different things, and typically the outlet won't be directly the end of a longer pipe.

This is a bit of a shock to me. You are engineers, you are not supposed to take advise from an old plumber, yet no one will state it that the old plumber is wrong!

You are comparing two pipes that are exposed to the same input pressure, you only care about the exit pressure.

Jonathan212 said:
This is a bit of a shock to me. You are engineers, you are not supposed to take advise from an old plumber, yet no one will state it that the old plumber is wrong!

You are comparing two pipes that are exposed to the same input pressure, you only care about the exit pressure.
If what you care about is the exit pressure, there is no scenario I can think of where a smaller pipe will yield a higher pressure when water is flowing. As said, the pressure drop is higher if the velocity is higher.

Averagesupernova and Asymptotic
For another question, not the present one, I have an idea for measuring pressure without a manometer and would appreciate some feedback on it. A long hose going upwards to the height where flow stops (probably 30 or 40 meters), would effectively measure static pressure at the tap. Given this result, can dynamic pressure be calculated from flow measurements? Ie you measure flow without a hose, with the hose going to the same floor, with the hose going to the next floor up, with the hose going 2 floors up and so on. Will this work if the hose cannot go high enough to zero the flow?

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Maybe this is plausible. Thin pipe, higher exit pressure. Maybe when the input pressure does not have a flat enough characteristic.

Jonathan212 said:
An old plumber who installed 20-30 meters of 1/2'' piping said this size would give a HIGHER pressure compared to the 3/4'' option. Why might he think so?
For pipes of the same material and wall thickness, thin pipes will handle much greater pressures than larger diameter pipes.
How do we know you understood the old plumber and have not misquoted him ?
Did he say the pipe would "give" or could "handle" ?

Definitely give. Pressures high enough not be handled would be way off the chart.

Could simulate the partially open tap as a super thin pipe. Where can we find some data sheets for copper pipes? Ie pressure-flow graph?

Cameron Hydraulic Data has a whole chapter full of tables of pressure loss vs flow rate for copper tube down to 3/8" diameter up to steel pipe 192" diameter. Amazon has it: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=cameron+hydraulic+data&ref=nb_sb_noss_1&tag=pfamazon01-20

They have an excellent discussion of how to use the Moody diagram if you want to calculate a case that's not in the tables.

You do not need the latest edition. My 16th Edition has all the information you need, and so do earlier editions.

Jonathan212 said:
I propose that while flow is a little less with the thin piping, speed is higher so for the same exit tap thinner piping increases speed at the exit and this the plumber PERCEIVES as a higher pressure.
True, IF there is no restriction (valve, faucet, or nozzle) on the end of the pipe. In a smaller pipe, the flow velocity will be higher even though the flow rate will be lower. This may easily be perceived as higher pressure.

Asymptotic and JBA
Is it possible that the plumber was talking in terms "practical" pressure? i.e. from a house-owner's point of view?

If I turned on my tap and water shot into the sink and soaked my shirt, I would say that the "water pressure" is pretty spectacular - even if it isn't technically accurate. Nobody judges household water pressure by how quickly it can fill the sink.

That's essentially what those "water saver" widgets do in shower heads. They reduce the water volume while increasing the exit speed - making it seem like you've got plenty of pressure for a shower - even though you're using less water.

Git_OptoElectro, jrmichler and Asymptotic
Does anyone have a copy of that book to tell us the parameters for 1/2'' and 3/4'' copper pipe? Should be like this:

output pressure = input pressure - A * flow rate * length

Or does anyone know what to search for in google to get the A value?

1/2'' pipe:

Po(1/2'') = Pi - A * f(1/2'') * L

3/4'' pipe:

Po(3/4'') = Pi - B * f(3/4'') * L

partially closed tap at the end of 1/2'' pipe:

0 = Po(1/2'') - C * f(1/2'') * l

partially closed tap at the end of 3/4'' pipe:

0 = Po(3/4'') - C * f(3/4'') * l

4 unknowns: Po(1/2''), Po(3/4''), f(1/2''), f(3/4'').

For the plumber to be right, Po(1/2'') > Po(3/4'').

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=> f(3/4'') / f(1/2'') > A / B

Also

0 = Pi - A * f(1/2'') * L - C * f(1/2'') * l

( A * L + C * l ) * f(1/2'') = Pi

( B * L + C * l ) * f(3/4'') = Pi

f(3/4'') / f(1/2'') = ( A * L + C * l ) / ( B * L + C * l )

hence for the plumber to be right

( A * L + C * l ) / ( B * L + C * l ) > A / B

A * B * L + B * C * l > A * B * L + A * C * l

B * C * l > A * C * l

B > A

So the plumber is always wrong. UNLESS, Pi is not the same for both pipes.

mfb
enorbet said:
He didn't say the opposite. Both are technically consistent. If I may speak on mfb's behalf I think he was merely noting that pressure and volume in a closed system are usually inversely related. You can experience this with a simple garden hose and an adjustable nozzle.
That's different - the same pipe but with a constrained output. In this case the lower flow means less pressure drop along the pipe.

Jonathan 212, I have run into the same scenario before. I believe I can also show were the old timers get their perception.
Often old time plumbers did not run calcs. They operate from a series of "Rule of Thumb" basics. One of the things that used to be used (and still is in some circles) is a Residual Pressure. This is a simple test where a small hole is drilled at the distal end of the run. The system is pressurized and the height of the column is checked. This give a rudimentary indication of internal pressure. It is usually done with a low pressure for test purposes only.
Most of the time the "specification" for the test hole is 1/8". Some of the old timers have predrilled threaded caps in the box which are of different sizes for this test.
Interesting observation though. It is (if not combined with calculations to correct for other factors) more correctly a measurement of pressure drop across the orifice. This is also affected radically by pipe size. In Example 5 psi into the system should generate a squirt height of 11.55 ft (5 ft x 2.31 ft/psi) if you put a 1/8 orifice on the end of a 1/2 pipe this is actually what you will observe. If however you use a 1/4 inch orifice the squirt height will be observably reduced. We can reject the possibility that it is an erroneous or defective orifice. These old timers were mostly very careful to have clean, perfectly drilled, deburred, square shouldered test fittings. Check them if you want but they are probably good. But the low flow of an 1/8th orifice usually means clean laminar flow inside the pipe and your source can keep up easily. A 1/4 orifice can move enough water to change the flow pattern and in some pipe paths even start to induce turbulence it may even move enough water to overwhelm the source therefore a reduced squirt is common.
This same observation can be made with a short piece of small diameter tubing replacing the orifice. A short section of straight reduced diameter closely resembles an orifice.
So now let's think of the old timers. When tested smaller diameter gives greater squirt (larger measured height) therefore higher pressure( nobody is actually measuring) and here is the kicker. Old fashioned plumbing was usually pipe all the way to the water stop which was as close as reasonable to the fixture. Then a short piece of service tubing goes to the fixture ( clean wall, rigid tubing, artistically bent to proper alignment). Ta Daah, this is where we used to work and we "measured" it so it has to be right.
It only takes a little bit for the real old timers to "educate" a newer journeyman and in just a few years "This is right cause we always do it like this."

I think you will find that your old timer is either one of the originals or they are one of the field trained ones that have no formal schooling in fluid dynamics. It can be a real challenge dealing with either one. Especially when you introduce Old school syndrome. It is more of an academic exercise anyway. If it is only a toilet at the end of a 20' run of 1/2 inch how much water does it need? But if it is a bathroom with a toilet, and a sink, and a shower you will very much see an OMG in the shower when someone flushes the toilet. Just like we always have--- Just like could be corrected with new thought.

Klystron, anorlunda, James Demers and 3 others
Old plumber is wrong. Simple as that.
The mystery, which we can speculate for days about, is "What would make him think he's right?"

essenmein
Jonathan212 said:
you measure flow without a hose, with the hose going to the same floor, with the hose going to the next floor up, with the hose going 2 floors up and so on.
Problem is that the flow is not going to be constant: high at first, then slowing down as the hose fills and the pressure differential drops. Maybe you could do some fancy math on the flow-vs-time curve, but you could probably go the plumbing supply shop and buy a pressure gauge in less time.

Of course we would wait for any transients to settle down. The hose is already there but it would be silly if it's hopeless, resulting in 3-4 points on an output pressure-flow plot that are relative to each other and not absolute. But with an assumption for what the absolute curve is, might get somewhere.

Is it possible the zero pressure at the end of an open pipe is wrong?

I'm a science grad and also a qualified plumber (not all that rare!). I've also taught plumbers.
I'm afraid old plumbers are typically not well educated academically, even though their on-the-job learning is not something you'd ever find in a book. There's a reluctance to learn things which appear to go against years of experience, even though the experience leads to some woolly and imprecise assertions.
He knows that the same flow in a smaller pipe will mean a higher speed.
He knows that a smaller orifice (jet size) on the end of the pipe will give a higher pressure on your skin if you direct the flow at it. That's obvious, the skin dents further - if only over a very small area!
What's missing is the distinction between the static pressure in the pipe (where he was wrong of course) and what might be called dynamic pressure, due to water hitting his skin so much faster. The energy in that narrow jet of water, of course goes with v². It doesn't pay to try to be too "scientific" with calculations though - tables of measured pressure drops in pipes of given sizes and given flow rates, usually don't agree with each other very well. It's in practice, impossible to account for every possible variable, and not worth trying beyond the major ones.
There are many reliable "rules of thumb" in plumbing - for which do consult a wise, educated, experienced plumber!

Why don't you check the other assumption too, that the input pressure is constant. If not, and if it drops to 50% when water flows, might the thin pipe preserve the pressure better, just by not allowing a fast flow.

ping @AK_NC

You recently graduated from a college plumbing program. Are any of those oldplumber things still taught?

""Why don't you check the other assumption too, that the input pressure is constant. If not, and and if it drops to 50% when water flows, might the thin pipe preserve the pressure better, just by not allowing a fast flow. "

Because it wasn't part of the original question. Why ask now?

Normally people are concerned about what comes out of the pipe, not what's going on inside it. The flow is determined by the tap/faucet/jet/nozzle/hole on the end, nothing to do with the pipe size unless its resistance is significant compared with that of the orifice.
So what is meant by pressure? What do you mean by pressure - where? What did the old plumber think?

If you think pressure = how far a jet of water will come out of the end of a pipe with a certain sized hole in the end, it will never be further with a narrower pipe.

Many plumbers have trouble with the meanings of pressure and flow. To be an old plumber now, he may well have gone into plumbing because he wasn't getting good grades... and never understood quite a lot of things, very well.

People who use showers get very confused about pressure and flow. They usually demand pressure and don't think about flow.

We want a higher flow, that's all we want, we don't really care about pressure at any point along the way from the meter to the shower. An assumption of constant input pressure was not part of the question but was part of the answer in #17.

1/2'' pipe:

Po(1/2'') = Pi - A * f(1/2'') * L

3/4'' pipe:

Po(3/4'') = Pi - B * f(3/4'') * L

Without this assumption of the same Pi in both equations, the plumber may be right as we do care about input pressure because it affects output pressure Po and flow rate f. The plumber may be right when too many people water their gardens or have showers simultaneously, and the resulting high flow rate in the public pipe reduces the pressure where our meter connects. There is supposed to be a pressure regulator there but it cannot help if its input pressure is below the limit the regulator is set to. When this happens, it is as if there is no regulator. Then the A parameter of the public pipe comes into play. As you allow more and more water in your house, you make Pi fall in proportion to the flow. Possibly more than the pressure drop that is saved by your thicker pipe. So you end up with a lower output pressure at the balcony (Po above) and a lower flow. Thicker pipe, lower flow! The math allows for this, does anyone want to see it written down with the public pipe added? All that's missing is the parameters A, B, etc, and K for the public pipe. Anyone got those parameters?

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A thicker pipe will always lead to more flow along that pipe and less flow along other pipes if you have multiple users. If the difference is relevant depends on various system parameters.

Let us not forget the plumber's claim is about pressure, not flow rate. Pressure at the point where his piping ends and devices begin. We still care about flow so we might as well ignore him, even if when he is right.

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The problem here, as in so many, many cases, is not in the pursuit of the answer but the question.
The OP said, the old plumber said ‘this size [1/2”] would give a HIGHER pressure compared to the 3/4'' option’.

Of course, there is almost no information to work with here and moreover the old plumber’s statement is an
informal logical fallacy
(wrong but not absolutely, self evidently wrong).

However, it is pretty darn close to being a formal logical fallacy and it might help to explain this to your plumber

Then again...

Bee Tree said:
[. . .]
Many plumbers have trouble with the meanings of pressure and flow. To be an old plumber now, he may well have gone into plumbing because he wasn't getting good grades... and never understood quite a lot of things, very well.
[. . .]
I had to chuckle. My husband is a Union plumber and pipe fitter. He knows his stuff. He is now retired but still fixes every thing at our home and helps his friends too.

My husband is a Union plumber and pipe fitter.
How do you tell a plumber from a physicist?

hutchphd

## 1. Is old plumber wisdom based on scientific evidence?

It is difficult to say for sure as there is limited research on the topic. However, many old plumber wisdoms have been passed down through generations and have been proven effective through experience.

## 2. Can old plumber wisdom be trusted?

While some old plumber wisdoms may seem outdated, they are often based on practical knowledge and have been used successfully for many years. It is important to consider the source and context of the wisdom before deciding whether to trust it.

## 3. Are there any downsides to following old plumber wisdom?

As with any advice, there may be some downsides to following old plumber wisdom. It is important to evaluate the potential risks and benefits and make an informed decision based on your specific situation.

## 4. How do I know if old plumber wisdom is right for my plumbing issue?

Old plumber wisdom is often based on common plumbing problems and solutions that have been tried and tested over time. However, it is always best to consult a professional plumber for an accurate diagnosis and solution for your specific issue.

## 5. Can old plumber wisdom be used in modern plumbing practices?

Yes, many old plumber wisdoms are still relevant and can be used in modern plumbing practices. However, it is important to also consider new technologies and techniques that may provide more efficient and effective solutions.

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