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Fire Pump Testing Part II Hose Valve Manifold vs Flow Meter

This blog is the finale of our two-part series, where we continue discussing the testing
of fire pumps, and we now switch our focus to the use of a flow meter device. In our
second half of the series well dive into the advantages and disadvantages to using flow
meters instead of the hose manifold method, which was discussed in part one of our
series.
The use of flow metering devices in fire pump installations has been gaining popularity
over the years. Flow meters are devices installed in a water pipe that, if installed
properly and in accordance with the manufacturers instructions, will provide a visual
reading of water flowing at any given moment. By holding a set flow by use of a
downstream throttling valve, a large gauge will illustrate the specific flow. Many people
prefer to use flow meters in a return loop from the discharge of a fire pump back to the
suction of the fire pump. By doing so, they are recirculating all of the water and allow
for measurement of water flow all in one place the mechanical room. While it is
possible to use flow meters in any location desired, for the purpose of this article we
will address flow meter installations in the common recirculating return loop.
It should be pointed out that the discharge pressure of a fire pump is lost once the water
passes through a circulating flow meter loop. You will end up with equalized suction
pressure by the time the water is returned to the fire pump suction. Demonstrating this,
however, is outside the scope of this article.
The size of a flow meter is dictated by the fire pump rating in GPM, as referenced in
NFPA 20 (2013) Table 4.26 (a) and 4.26 (b). Depending on the manufacturer of the flow
meter, a minimum amount of straight pipe is required both before and after the device,
so as to minimize water turbulence, and maximize the accuracy of the flow meter.
Always follow manufacturer instructions regarding the proper use and location of a
flow meter.
By using a flow meter to test a fire pump you solve many of the problems encountered
with the use of a hose valve manifold. With a properly installed flow meter loop, you do
not need as many people to perform a test. Often times you only need one qualified
person to throttle the recirculating water by closing a valve on the downstream side of
the flow meter in order to control water flow. Determining water flow is then simply a
matter of reading the flow meter gauge. Once that flow is controlled and the water is
measured, other pump data is recorded while the pump is running such as the suction
and discharge pressure gauge readings, pump rpm, voltage and amp readings on the
controller. While all of this is happening, very little water is lost, since the water passing
through the pump is returned to the pump suction.
If your flow meter loop is located indoors, you can also avoid the problem of inclement
weather that can postpone or prevent a proper fire pump test, as the entire test can occur
within the confines of the mechanical room.

But before you decide to replace your external hose manifold with a flow meter, keep in
mind that many fire pump flow tests are performed with the intention of verifying not
only the fire pump performance, but also the water supply. Testing solely through use of

a recirculating flow meter, you are not learning anything about the water supply at all
you are just recirculating water around the pump. While that will measure the pumps
performance, it will tell you virtually nothing regarding the water supply itself. For
example, if you have any water obstruction upstream in the suction line, your test data
while using a flow meter loop will not detect any problems in the suction line upstream;
however, that same obstruction will be evident if flowing water through a test header
outside, as the suction pressure will drop off dramatically as water flows during the test.
An exception to this would be if your flow meter loop terminates to a water storage tank
as opposed to the suction line immediately upstream from a fire pump.
Another exception to this would be if the flow meter return line was connected directly
to the suction source like a water storage tank, for example. In this case, use of a
flow meter could test both the fire pump performance and water supply simultaneously.
Another challenge in many flow meter installations pertains to needle jump, a
condition where the visual gauge of the flow meter moves constantly jumping back
and forth due to the turbulence of the water passing through it. If you are after precise
water measurements, you are unlikely to obtain them with turbulent water. So it is wise
to size the flow meter return loop with as much straight piping as possible, and perhaps
with a line size large enough to slow the water velocity down.
We have found that the best installations allow for an external hose valve manifold to
allow for a full flow test, which tests both the fire pump and fire pump water supply. A
flow meter loop could then be used for interim tests, where discharging water outside is
neither feasible nor necessary. A flow meter certainly is more user-friendly and
convenient, but not as accurate or as useful as a full water flow test.
This entry was posted in Fire Pumps and tagged fire pump, fire pump testing, flow
meter, NFPA 20 on May 28, 2014 by admin.
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