We can all agree that an untimely drop in the water pressure can be a big nuisance. But before looking for a quick solution, you first need to find the cause, and for that you should measure the water pressure in the system.
For this task it’s best to use a water pressure gauge, but you probably don’t have one, right? If we all lived in a perfect world, we would have the ideal tools available to us for any chore at any time. But since we don’t, a little creativity and some quick math is the best possible option.
So I’ve created a guide you can follow to easily check your water pressure without a pressure gauge. Let’s dive into it.
What Are Water Pressure and Flow Rate?
To understand how your plumbing system works, you must first grasp two major concepts—water pressure and flow rate. Even though there is some correlation between them, they’re not the same thing.
Chances are that the low water speed in your kitchen faucet may be because of restricted flow rather than low pressure. Sound confusing? Let me clear things up a bit.
Water pressure is the force that liquid exerts over a specific area. This force also propels the fluid to move from point A to point B. Open a faucet and try to restrict the water using your palm. Water will try to force its way out of your hand. That is called static water pressure. It’s measured in pounds per square inch (PSI).
The flow rate, on the other hand, is the volume of liquid flowing from point A to point B per unit of time. It’s measured in gallons of water flowing per minute (GPM).
Here comes the tricky part. Your house may have standard water pressure, say 60 PSI, but it’s taking eons to fill a jug in the kitchen—probably due to clogging in your plumbing. So, we can’t blame everything on the water pressure because clogging restricts the flow rate, not the water pressure.
To put it simply, flow rates only give a good approximation of water pressure when there is no clogging or leakages in the system.
How to Check Water Pressure Without a Gauge: Two Easy Ways
Here are some easy ways to test water pressure without using pressure gauges. Keep in mind these methods are only good for approximations. They won’t tell you the actual values.
So, according to the Department of Energy, every household in the USA must have a flow rate of no greater than 2.2 GPM at 60 PSI available at every faucet in the house. Of course, there will be variations depending upon the stories of house, city water supply codes, and location. For example, some environmentally sensitive states have maximums set at even lower GPM. But overall, this standard remains consistent across every state.
Method 1: Use a typical jug
- First, gather the necessary supplies. You’ll need a measuring jug and a stopwatch. FYI, an ordinary jug contains one quart or 32 ounces (oz) of water.
- Go to your kitchen sink and fill the jug with water for 10 seconds. Note the amount filled by reading the marking on the jug. Make sure no other faucet is open.
- Multiply the number of ounces filled by six. That’ll give the flow rate in fluid ounces per minute.
- Now it’s time for some quick math. One US gallon equals 128 fluid ounces. Divide the amount you calculated by 128. That’ll give you the flow rate coming out of your faucet in gallons per minute.
- If the amount comes somewhere between 1–2.2 GPM, then you have ample pressure in the system. Anything lower means your plumbing system isn’t efficient.
Let’s say it takes 10 seconds to fill a whole jug, which is roughly 32 oz. So, in 60 seconds (one minute), the amount of water would be 192 oz. Now divide 192 by 128, and you’ll get 1.5 GPM, which is the flow rate coming out of the faucet.
Method 2: Fill a bucket
The following method is similar to the previous one, but it’s going to be a tad more accurate.
- Locate the faucet at the point of entry of the water supply. It’s usually the spigot near the main supply shut-off valve in the basement or a garden hose bib just outside your house. Turn off all the other faucets in the house.
- Take a standard bucket that has a capacity of one gallon. Place it under the faucet and note the time (seconds) it takes to fill the whole bucket.
- Divide the time in seconds by 60, and you’ll get the flow rate in gallons per minute.
The flow rate (and water pressure) should be higher at the outermost faucet. You’re using the outermost faucet because it gives a much clearer picture of the water pressure unaffected by the frictional losses due to the poor plumbing system.
Typically, the municipal main water supply maintains a flow rate between 2.5 and 6 GPM and water pressure between 65 and 85 PSI for the typical household. If you conduct one or both of these tests and get a number well below this spread, you don’t have normal water pressure.
What Does Normal Water Pressure Look Like?
In normal conditions, the municipal water department maintains a water pressure of 65–85 PSI. However, this pressure is too much for local house plumbing and can damage pipes, valves, and gaskets.
In severe cases, this can even lead to flooding in the house. Most modern homes in the USA are installed with a water pressure regulator to prevent damage.
It reduces higher pressure to uniform 50–60 PSI. The standards provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for adequate flow are in the table below. Make sure your house complies with these values. You can use the above methods to determine the flow rates.
|Flow Rate Recommendations at 60 PSI Standard Pressure|
|Kitchen faucets||2.5 GPM|
|Bathroom faucets||1.5 GPM|
|Toilets||1.6 GPF (per flush)|
|Washing machine||3 GPM|
How to Increase or Decrease Water Pressure
By running these DIY tests, you can easily find the approximate flow rates and measure water pressure in your plumbing system. But what if it’s lower or higher than the recommended values? Here are some ways you can adjust the water pressure of your house.
Municipal water supply
If you’re on the municipal water supply, you likely have a water pressure regulator installed somewhere around the point of entry of the water supply. These regulators have factory default settings of 65 PSI, but it’s adjustable.
Figure 1. Pressure regulator (pressure-reducing valve).
Steps to adjust the water pressure regulator:
- Turn off all the faucets, valves, and water heater inlets.
- You’ll find a bolt and nut at the top of the regulator. Loosen the safety nut by moving it counterclockwise using a wrench.
- Now turn the bolt above to adjust the pressure. A clockwise turn raises the pressure by 2–5 PSI, and the opposite turn reduces it. Tighten the security nut afterward.
- Ensure the adjusting bolt doesn’t touch the surface of the safety nut, as it can damage the pressure regulator.
- Once done, check the water in the faucets. Repeat the process until the desired pressure is achieved.
Private well system
A private well system regulates the water pressure by a pressure switch attached to the pressure tank. Here is a quick way to adjust the water pressure for a private well.
Steps to adjust the water pressure switch:
- Turn off all the faucets in your house.
- First, remove the cap of the pressure switch. There, you’ll find a nut attached to the spring.
- Next, use a wrench to rotate the nut. Tightening the nut raises water pressure while loosening it reduces the overall pressure. One complete turn changes the pressure in increments of 2–3 PSI.
- Typically, the pressure tank has default settings of 30–50 PSI. If you give the nut three and a half clockwise turns, it’ll increase the pressure settings to 40–60 PSI.
Factors Affecting Water Pressure
Once you find out that the water pressure in your house is not up to par, it’s time to find a solution. There are a couple of factors that can negatively affect water pressure.
Old and rusty pipes tend to leak a lot. Even tiny leakage can reduce the water pressure significantly. Sometimes the pipeline looks fine from the outside, but there is rust buildup inside the pipes. This buildup can restrict the flow rate throughout the house or in specific areas.
If water flow in the kitchen is fine, but you only get trickles in the shower, then it’s highly likely the pipes are clogged. The valves regulating the water flow in pipes can also get clogged or damaged, which can also pose a problem.
Due to declining water quality, many homeowners use reverse-osmosis plants or sediment filters to ensure clean water supply. If not flushed or replaced regularly, these filters can seriously block flow and affect the water pressure.
A 50% reduction in water pressure can reduce at least three times the flow rate in an average pipeline. That’s how serious the repercussions of clogged pipes and filters are.
This one is obvious. Any damage to the pressure regulator directly affects the water supply in your home. However, the damage may likely cause an increase in pressure as the main purpose of these regulators is to reduce the high pressure coming from city supply lines.
Sometimes excessive water usage may cause a sudden drop in water pressure. Municipal water management systems have designed the pressure and flow rate criteria based on the average household in the US. The keyword here is “average,” which means 2–4 people living in an area of 2,322 sq. ft. So, if the number of people living in your house has increased recently, then you might want to readjust the pressure regulator.
How to Check Water Pressure Without a Gauge: Final Thoughts
Making a habit of regularly checking the water pressure can help you avoid any untimely plumbing failures. The best way to do it is with a pressure gauge, which measures pressure precisely. It’s pretty cheap and readily available in any home improvement store.
But if you don’t have a pressure gauge, don’t worry. You can use the above methods to get an idea of the flow rates and water pressure at your home without a pressure gauge. Make sure to remain consistent with measuring units, and you’ll be fine.