Water hammer in steam systems


Are you familiar with the rattling, ticking sound when starting and /or operating your steam system? You may consider these sounds to be normal, but it is actually a warning for a potentially very dangerous situation: water hammer. Regular maintenance and inspection of your steam system and its components is therefore essential!

Water hammer in your steam system causes dangerous situations

A major cause of water hammer is poor drainage of condensate of steam system. The condensate that is accumulated in the steam system is carried along with the steam and collides at very high speeds against bends, valves and other accessories. That causes water hammer (figure 1)

The high speeds at which the condensate can travel through the pipes greatly increase the risk. As an example liquid in a liquid system travels at approximately 2m/s through the pipes, while condensate in a steam system could reach a speed of approximately 25m/s. That is 12.5 times faster, which equates to approximately 150 times more kinetic energy! Such an extreme increase in kinetic energy could create life-threatening situations, such as pipes that are completely torn off the wall or exploding valves (figure 2).

figure 1: Cause of water hammer

         figure 2: Exploded valve

Water hammer shortens the lifespan of your steam system

In addition to the danger aspect, condensate also has a negative effect on the lifespan of your steam system. The lifespan of a properly installed pressure reducer, which is normally a few years, can be reduced by steam condensate in your system to less than 1 year.

   figure 3: Properly draining condensate

How to prevent water hammer

To counter the accumulation of condensate and thereby combating water hammer in your steam system, it is necessary to:

  • properly lay out all steam and condensate lines
  • ensure that the steam is dry
  • steam traps must not be blocked to allow the condensate to drain (figure 3)

Econosto has an extensive amount of steam system inventories available to keep your steam system in optimal condition and to prevent water hammer. One of our steam specialists can prepare an overview of your complete steam system and thoroughly check the steam system - including all steam traps. You will receive a thorough report with situation photographs and thermographic images to identify leaks and/or blockages and to make recommendations. 

You can also opt for a - more limited - steam trap survey,  which can quickly show you whether the steam traps in your steam system are functioning properly and whether there are any leaks or blockages. You will also receive an extensive report with the findings and recommendations of the steam traps survey.


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