What is a Water Pressure Regulator and How Does it Work?

Pressure Valve

Nobody enjoys getting lathered up in the shower to have the water pressure either blast your face or drop so low that it’s hard to remove all of the soap. It’s a common occurrence, but it’s not normal. One of the potential causes is a faulty water pressure regulator or no regulation device at all in the home’s plumbing system. Unless you’re a plumber or a DIY enthusiast you’re probably wondering what is a water pressure regulator and how does it work? Here’s everything you need to know about the device, its benefits, and what to do if it goes bad.

What is a water pressure regulator?

A water pressure regulator is a dome-shaped valve that is equipped with a spring, a diaphragm, and an adjustment screw. Most are housed within a brass housing. It’s a plumbing fitting that is installed behind the shutoff valve where the main water source enters the home or business. Pressurized water from a city water main or a well-fed system enters the home plumbing system and encounters the pressure valve where the water pressure is regulated to a safe PSI. The incoming water pressure causes tension in the spring that activates the diaphragm to widen and narrow, to regulate the flow of water and the force with which it enters the plumbing system of the home. It helps to regulate the flow into a consistent and even pressure.

Does every home have a water pressure regulator?

Not every home has a water pressure valve/regulator installed. It’s more common to find older homes absent the valve, rather than new ones. Waypoint explains that most city codes require builders to install plumbing systems with a water pressure regulation valve if the PSI of the water source is 80 or above. It’s common for city water supplies to have highs-pressure lines to serve the needs of fire crews who use pressurized fire hydrants, and other municipal pressurized water needs. It often drives the PSI higher than recommended for home plumbing safety.

What is the ideal PSI?

House Digest confirms that water mains generate PSI of 160 to 200, which is far above the limit safe for plumbing pipes, fittings, valves, and other components. Although most building codes require a PSI of 80 or less, the ideal range is between 40 to 60 pounds of pressure per square inch. Most plumbing fixtures stipulate a PSI of 50. Homes without protection likely experience surges in pressure with highs and lows that can be frustrating and inconvenient, as well as detrimental to the plumbing system.

What happens if the water pressure is too high?

When the pressure of water entering the home is unregulated, frequent high pressure can cause pipes to leak or break. It also places undue pressure on existing joints, connections, valves, and plumbing fixtures such as faucets in the kitchen and bathroom. Constant force against any component will wear away its integrity over time. Leaks or breaks in plumbing pipes caused by damage can result in damage to the internal structure of the home.

Water leaks erode dirt basements, wear away the foundations of the home, and can cause mold and deterioration of the materials of the walls, floors, and even the supporting beams of the home if left unchecked. Moisture damage may also cause subfloors to warp and buckle, ruining the flooring atop the material and creating the potential for hazardous mold to develop. Repairing plumbing leaks and associated damage is expensive and can run into tens of thousands of dollars or more.

High water pressure can also affect connected appliances. The most common home appliances affected by high PSI are icemakers, clothes washers, and dishwashers. Most of these appliances are rated for PSI 50 or less. Some are equipped with internal regulators, but undue stress can cause excessive wear and premature failure of the internal components.

Does my home need a water pressure regulator?

Homes that receive water from pressurized sources may need to have a water regulator installed. If your PSI is below 80 you are probably within local code regulations, but the sweet spot is 50 for the ultimate safety. There are a few ways to find out if your home needs a regulator for water pressure. The Spruce experts recommend contacting your local water utility service provider if you are hooked to city water services. Another way to determine if it’s necessary is to check the PSI yourself. You could hire a plumbing service to complete the task, but it’s far cheaper and easier to do it yourself. You can buy a water pressure gauge at any home improvement or hardware retailer.

How to check your home water PSI

The water pressure gauge is a simple device that you screw onto the end of your garden hose. Most new gauges come with instructions. The face of the gauge gives you the water pressure reading in PSI (pounds per square inch). After attaching the gauge, turn on the spigot to the garden hose to full. It will provide you with an accurate reading of the water pressure in your pipes. Make sure you test a spigot that is from the same source as your home water supply vs an irrigation system. If the reading is within the safe parameters, you may not require a water pressure regulator. You should conduct the test annually or at any time when there are fluctuations from high to low in your water flow.

How much does it cost to install a pressure regulator?

Installing or replacing a water pressure regulator in the home is inexpensive if you do it yourself. Meet Flo by Moen explains that the average cost for the component is around $50. If you hire a plumber to do the job, the average cost is between $250 to $350, depending on your location and the local rates charged for the service. Installing a pressure regulator for water PSI is a little more involved than the replacement of a faulty unit, but it’s not that difficult if the location is easy to access.

How to know if the regulator is faulty?

If your home is equipped with a water pressure regulator, the flow of water from your shower and faucets should be smooth and consistent. Encountering high-pressure blasts of water, there may be a problem. If the water pressure goes too low, the valve may need adjustment or replacement. Before you replace the regulator, you should try to adjust it. Check the PSI by the method discussed above. If it’s high or low, adjust the set crew on your regulator, then recheck the PSI. You may need to make a few adjustments to get it just right. If turning the screw doesn’t change the PSI, the unit probably needs to be replaced.

Where to find a water pressure regulator in a house?

Appliance Analyst experts compare finding the water pressure regulator in a home to “a game of hide-and-seek.” If you don’t know where to look, it can take a while to find it, but the most common installation site is where the main water supply connects to the house, behind the water shutoff valve. It might not be the case for every residence, but you’ll know it’s somewhere near the main connection where the water source enters the home.

How to replace or install a water pressure regulator

Replacing a regulator is simpler and faster than installing the first one in a plumbing system. Here are the steps to take for the successful replacement of a worn-out unit.

Step 1: Shut off the water supply to the house

Turn the water to the house off at the shutoff valve near the main water connection source. If you’re fortunate, the water pressure regulator will be nearby. Turn the facets in the home on to allow the pipes to drain completely. Start with the back, furthest away from the water main, and work your way to the front. Leave the faucets open until all water is drained. It’s a good idea to turn them back to the off position so you don’t forget.

Step 2: Remove the old pressure valve with a pipe wrench

Step 3: Install the new valve

Before you install the new water pressure regulator valve, read the manufacturer’s instructions that come with the unit. Make sure that the arrow that points to the water flow points in the right direction before you install the valve. If you put it in the wrong orientation, it won’t function. Insert the regulator, then tighten it into each fitting, using pliers.

Step 4: Adjust the PSI

The final step is to adjust the new water pressure regulator to the desired PSI. You may want to test the PSI using the method described above and continue to make adjustments until you achieve the desired results.

How to install a new water pressure regulator

If there is no water pressure regulator in your plumbing system, the process of installing a new unit is a little more involved than replacing an old one, but it’s not that difficult. Here are the easy-to-follow steps if you prefer the DIY fix.

Step 1: Shut off the water

Find the water main where it comes into your house, and turn the shutoff valve.

Step 2: Drain the pipes

Turn all the faucets in the home on full blast, starting with the faucets furthest from the water main, working forward. After the water stops flowing and the pipes are drained, turn them all back to the off position.

Step 3: Read the manufacturer’s instructions

It’s always best to read the manufacturer’s instructions for the water pressure regulator your purchase. Follow the directions. If you don’t have them, the standard practice is to cut away 6-inches of pipe, down from the main shutoff valve. Solder fittings around the exposed ends of the pipe. Insert the regulator into the gap, then tighten the unit onto the fittings using pliers.

Step 4: Adjust the pressure

The next step after installing the regulator is an adjustment. adjust the water pressure with the turn screw to the desired PSI. Check your water pressure with the gauge. If it’s not in the sweet spot, continue making adjustments until it’s in the zone.

Is it worth it to install a water pressure regulator?

Installing a water pressure regular in your plumbing system is an upgrade to your home that adds to its overall value. It also protects your home from potential damage from an unsafe PSI rate that is too high for the system to handle. When you consider the benefits, even if you pay a plumber to install the valve, you stand to come out ahead in convenience and save money. It’s a small investment compared to the potential for loss. It only takes a few hours to install a water pressure regulator. For most people, it’s well worth the cost.

Final thoughts

Installing a water pressure valve can eliminate the hassle of blasts of water pressure that sting your skin or low pressure that makes it difficult to remove all the soap in the shower. You’re protecting the investment you’ve made in your home by ensuring that the plumbing system delivers a safe and even flow of water without pressure fluctuations that can wear out pipe fittings, valves, and pipes. High water pressure can also destroy home appliances such as ice makers, dishwashers, and clothes washers with time. The process for checking the PSI is easy and inexpensive. Buy a gauge to check your PSI to ensure it’s within safe levels. A faulty water pressure regulator is easy to replace if they wear out. It’s not difficult to install if there is not one in your current plumbing system. It’s an upgrade that is well worth the cost.

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