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The Health and Safety Executive employs a wide range of qualified and experienced Specialist Inspectors who, in the course of their work, acquire a substantial amount of information and expertise about workplace hazards. Much of this is used in the preparation of official HSE Guidance Motes and formal advice. However, other material which might be less developed could contain useful ideas and be helpful to people involved in health and safety. Such material could also stimulate discussions about problems and their solutions and encourage others to come forward with ideas and practical improvements. Specialist Inspector Reports are designed to publish this material.

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First printed March 1988 Reprinted April 1989


In any steam system, whether it is lagged or not, heat will be lost resulting in some of the steam condensing into water (condensate). The accumulation of condensate gives rise to conditions which may lead to water hammer. Despite its potential for water hammer often damage receives little consideration in the design of a steam system.

Lo 40 metres per second depending on the size of the pipe, the steam pressure and the steam demand. The steam flow may cause waves to form on the condensate which may build up until a 'slug" of water is picked up and fills the pipe, see figure 1. The "slug" of water is then driven along the main at the steam velocity until it meets an obstruction or a sudden change in direction, such as a sharp bend, tee or a valve, which it strikes with a "hammer blow". an A or aligned poorly inadequately supported main aggravates this situation because dips or low points in the pipe form collecting points for the condensate. of condensate As the amount increases, the area for steam flow is reduced. The steam velocity at these points will therefore increase and the probability of a "slug" being picked up is increased.
5. (b)

accidents 2. Several involving water hammer are reported to the Health and Safety Executive each Some of these result in year. serious or fatal injury. Many more incidents, where there is no personal injury, probably go unreported. This paper, which was prompted by a fatal accident in which the crown valve of a steam boiler burst, explains how water hammer describes the damage which can result and provides guidance on avoiding its occurrence and effects.

Condensate Moving into Vacuum


Water hammer occurs when water a in is moving pipe, rapidly Serious water suddenly stopped. hammer may occur as a oneoff incident associated with a particular operation or sequence of operations on the plant, for example, when a valve is opened to admit steam to a main or pipeline which is cold or has been allowed to cool. The most common circumstances which cause water hamxner are:
(a) (b)

6. When steam is admitted into a cold or cooler space or if it is in contact with cooler water, it may condense rapidly. If the steam becomes trapped in a pocket a vacuum will be formed as it condenses. Condensate may then be drawn into the vacuum at a speed high enough to deliver a hammer blow. (c) 7.

Flash Steam in Mains

condensate driven by steam condensate moving rapidly to fill a vacuum created by the sudden condensation of steam. flash steam occurring in mains. Condensate Driven by Steam

(c) (a)

Flash steam occurs when water under pressure is released to a lower pressure at a temperature above the boiling point for the lower pressure. When flash steam arises in a flooded main which is under pressure, the steam expands driving the water out of the way. The flash steam then condenses, creating a vacuum in the pipe and conditions for water hammer to occur as in (b).



4. In a long horizontal main, condensate collects in the bottom of the pipe. The steam flowing over the condensate may have a velocity of up

When a moving mass of water is suddenly brought to a halt, its kinetic energy must be dissipated in some way. A small part of the

kinetic energy may be absorbed by the water itself but most is transmitted to the pipe and fittings and to the obstruction which stopped it, in the form of a shock load. This causes high stresses in the components and accounts for the hammering noise, which is usually associated with water hammer occurrence. The magnitude of the forces involved depend steam upon the pressure, velocity and mass of water, and pipe size. Unless the stressed components can withstand the shock load which in some may circumstances occur repeatedly damage will result. Damage may not always occur at the source of the hammer, for example, hammer at a bend or tee may cause damage to a valve several feet away.
9. 10.

British Standard 806 (1986) for and "Specification Design Construction of Ferrous Piping Installations for and in Connection with Land Boilers", gives advice on a Where drainage. practicable, suitable fall should be provided in pipwork in the direction of the steam flow to ensure that condensate flows towards drainage points. A fall also enables pipes which are shut off to drain the condensate which arises as they cool.


Often damage caused by water hammer is of a relatively minor nature such as the buckling of a float in a steam trap or leakage from a and may thus go pipe joint unrecognised as to cause. However, at the other end of the scale, accidents have occurred in which a major component has burst, see Figure 2. Such failures have caused severe scalding injuries and loss of life. The consequences of water hammer become most serious in pipes over 50 mm diameter. AVOIDING WATER HAMIIER The best method of avoiding water hammer is to remove the cause. Draining

should be Drainage points provided to collect the condensate at intervals of about 30 to 60 metres depending on pipe size and site conditions. The drain point should be provided with an adequately sized pocket into which the condensate will fall. As a guide for small diameter mains up to 4 or 5" diameter it will be convenient to sake the pocket equal in diameter to the pipe as shown in Fiqure 3 but on larger mains smaller be used. pockets may However, the pocket diameter should not be less than 50% of the pipe diameter for mains up to 450 mm diameter. On mains than larger 450 mm diameter the pocket diameter may be further reduced but should not be lPss than 25% of the pipe diameter. Adequate draining will not be obtained by simply inserting a small bore pipe into the bottom of a
14. main. 15. If it is necessary to install a horizontal main because of site conditions or because the steam flow is reversible, then more frequent drain points may be necessary. 16. Drainage should also be provided at all low points in the pipeline



and Fittings

A steam system usually consists of a boiler, header, distribution mains and branch pipes but may also include items of plant such as drying cylinders or heating coils which may also be prone to water hammer. Each section of any system should be carefully considered to ensure it is adequately drained under all conditions of operation, bearing in mind that closed valves are not always steam tight.

where condensate may collect.

17. Fittings used in the pipeline can often be the means by which condensate may accumulate. Careful consideration should be given to the of if position fittings and, necessary, drainage provided. For example, a globe valve, when fitted in a horizontal pipe with its spindle vertical, forms a weir owing to its

shape for the valve seat. Water may collect behind the weir to a depth of more than half the pipe diameter even though the valve may be open, Figure 4. This may be avoided by ftting the valve on its side with its Similarly, a spindle horizontal. strainer in a horizontal pipe fitted with its body vertically downward will very quickly become full of water. This not only becomes a source of water but also reduces the effective area of the strainer screen as shown in Figure 5. The strainer should be fitted on its side to avoid this problem. A concentric reducer used to change one pipe diameter to another forms a dam in a horizontal pipe as shown in Figure 6. An eccentric reducer should be used.
18. Care must be taken to ensure that when a section of a system is shut down it is not isolated from its drainage or its drainage becomes ineffective. Steam leakage past a valve may result in an accumulation of water. Extra drain points may be required to cater for this situation. 19. Condensate is best removed from the drain pocket automatically by means of a suitable steam trap. There may however be situations where a manual drain can be usefully employed in addition to a steam trap.

in mind and the manufacturer should always be consulted. Inspection and Maintenance If a steam trap is continuously to function correctly it must be regularly inspected and properly maintained. There are a number of methods and devices available to check if a trap is passing live steam. It is more difficult to check if the trap is passing condensate and more important, the correct amount of condensate.

A trap with an intermittent action and on which the outlet can be seen, can be checked by observing the discharge. If the trap discharges into a condensate return main, a sight glass may be used to observe the discharge.

Traps with continuous discharge cannot be easily checked. Clearly it is possible to see if the trap is discharging condensate but it is not practicable to check if it is the correct quantity to keep the main clear of condensate.

The job of a steam trap is to condensate while not discharge permitting the discharge of live steam. Steam traps may be required to operate at pressures from a fraction of a bar to the maximum of the steam system. They may have to operate with superheated or saturated steam and may discharge condensate at the steam temperature as soon as it arises, or they may be required to hold it back until it has given up some of its sensible heat. The quantity of condensate will also vary. To cope with the variety of conditions, many different sizes and designs of trap have been produced, each and having advantages disadvantages. In choosing a steam trap, its limitations must be borne

The temperature of a steam trap will also give some indication as to whether it is functioning. A cold or cool trap should be immediately investigated.

Isolating valves in a condensate drain line should be avoided if practicable. However they may be needed for maintenance of traps where a system or part of a system cannot be shut down.

It is recommended that a schedule of all traps in a system be made for inspection and maintenance at regular intervals.

Other Factors





the main way of avoiding of water

hammer, there are other factors which should be considered.


In the design of a system, pipe runs should be as short and as straight as practicable. Adequate lagging will reduce the rate at which condensate is formed. on outdoor Lagging lines should be waterproofed. Where a system is modified or operational requirements change, or lines redundant branches should be removed or effectively isolated as near to the supply as practicable. Operation of valves in a steam system should be carried out slowly and gradually, not only to allow warmup of the pipe to avoid thermal shock, but also to allow condensate more time to drain. This will also allow have condensate which may accumulated on the upstream side of a valve to disperse at a controlled rate. Particular care will be required to achieve this when a valve is chain Gradual operated. operation will not be generally practicable where a valve Is and power operated special consideration should be given to the positioning of these valves and drainage of the pipe.


diretly or indirectly as a result of

water hammer. CONCLUSION Water hammer can cause severe even damage and personal injury, death.








JO. a. b.


ways to avoid it


good design adequate draining of pipework under all and fittings conditions of operation propnr inspection ar) maintenance of the choice of appropriate materials careful operation of valves.



d. e.

31. Potentially the most hazardous situation is the steam main or major branch which has been shut down, and large quantities of condensate may have accumulated. Care must be taken before start up to make certain that a system is effectively drained and the start up procedure rninimises the rate at which condensate forms.





Grey cast iron is widely used for the manufacture of valves and other components for pressures up to about 25 bar. Indeed the majority of valves are iron. It is cheaper than steel and produces Sound castings more easily,, particularly castings of intricate shapes. However grey cast iron is weak in tension and has poor resistance to shock loading. In the majority of cases where a valve failure has been attributed to water hammer, the valve was made of cast iron. A more ductile material such as steel or SG iron would be more suitable where water hammer is likely, and would reduce the risk of failures but would not eliminate it. is not unknown for steel and







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