Automatic balancing valve

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Automatic balancing systems[edit]


A cooling or heating water distribution system is in the balance when the flow in the whole system (through the component terminal lines, distributing lines and main distributing lines) corresponds to the flow rates that were specified for the design of the system. If the correct balancing of the system is not established, this will result in unequal distribution of the flow, so that there will be a surplus effect in some of the terminals, whereas the effect will be inadequate in others. As a consequence, the required heating/cooling will not be ensured in all parts of the installation. Practically, it is not possible to achieve a completely balanced system by manipulation of the piping or alteration of the pipe dimensions only. Only a correct set of balancing valves can ensure the correct distribution of the flow in the system.

An automatic balancing valve uses the latest flow technology to ensure that the design flow rate is achieved at all times irrespective of any pressure changes within the system.

Typical design flow rates[edit]

In a variable primary chilled-water system, the design flow rate is determined by the water flow velocity in the tube of the coils.

  • At typical conditions, 6–7 feet per second (1.8–2.1 m/s)
  • Maximum 12 ft/s (3.7 m/s)
  • Minimum 1.5 ft/s (0.46 m/s) (based on a Reynolds number of 7500)
  • Minimum flow is typically 50% or less of the design flow.[1]
  • Chiller manufacturers typically limit the tube velocities in the range from 5.0 to 10.0 feet per second (1.5 to 3.0 m/s).[2]

Constant flow[edit]

Until recently,[when?] constant-flow systems set the standard in HVAC system design. They allow standard designs to be applied to numerous different projects, typically incorporating fixed-speed pumps sized to match the maximal load of the system. These systems are balanced using a proportional method with manually set, fixed-orifice, double-regulating balancing valves installed to account for and reduce the impact of pressure changes in the system. In such constant-flow systems, the capital costs are, indeed, low. However, the energy usage is high, since these systems and the pumps driving them rarely operate at the full load they were designed for, calling into question the effectiveness of balancing this type of system in the first place. Further, the process of proportional balancing to commission the system is long, painstaking and expensive.[citation needed]

Variable flow[edit]

Variable-flow systems have risen in popularity primarily because they reduce a system’s energy consumption. They use variable-speed, inverter-driven pumps, the speed of which is changed to match the load. 2-port, motorized control valves are often used to control flows to the terminal fan-coil units, or thermostatic radiator valves are used to regulate flow to radiators in heating-only systems. Current solutions in variable-flow systems also include a combination of differential-pressure control valves (DPCVs), which can be used on branches and across air-handling units, with double regulating valves to proportionately balance and limit flows to all terminal valves.

DPCVs help to maintain a constant differential pressure across a sub-branch, thereby protecting downstream control valves from excessive pressures and nullifying the effects of pressure variations caused by the movement of control valves in other branches. In systems with 2-port control valves, DPCVs can perform the dual duties of maximum-volume control and differential-pressure control, thereby simplifying the commissioning process. Once a sub-circuit has been commissioned, the DPCV prevents the flow and the balance in the sub-circuit being affected by other sub-circuits. This approach is a semi-automatic method of balancing the system.

However, with both variable- and constant-flow systems, fully automatic balancing can enhance the performance of the HVAC system, eliminating any problems caused by high or excessive system pressures, including noise from the valves and, ultimately, poor control of room temperature. The way the system is balanced will also have a major impact on energy usage, by minimising pumping costs. In variable-flow systems, the use of combination valves, when fitted with a 0 to 10 V, 3 point or thermal motor, integrates the three functions of motorized control valve, differential pressure control valve and a double-regulating valve commissioning set into one product. Applications for this type of product include the control of fan-coil units, chilled beams and air-handling units in a variable-volume heating and cooling systems and the control of secondary flow on a plate heat exchangers. This integrated approach significantly reduces installation and commissioning costs, since the three control functions are specifically matched to ensure optimum system performance and only one valve has to be mounted in the system instead of three. The problem of high and varying pressure drops across traditional 2-port control valves is also effectively eliminated, ensuring a control-valve authority of 100%. It also saves on space, an important concern in, for example, air handling unit installations where the available plant room space for valve installation is often severely restricted.[citation needed] Applying automatic-balancing technology in constant-flow heating and cooling systems also brings advantages.

Primarily, the use of adjustable flow limiting valves is designed to optimize water flow and can prove invaluable. Such valves provide flow limiting, shut-off, and adjustment functions, automatically compensating for changes in system pressure to maximize energy efficiency. The time and cost of balancing are also significantly reduced. For example, in a typical installation of fan-coil units, manual balancing valves are required at all terminal units, branches, risers, and pumps.

Because of their added functionality, automatic balancing valves are only needed at terminal units, reducing the number of valves used, cutting costs and creating a more flexible HVAC system that can be easily adapted or expanded without having to make any new calculations or re-commission the whole system. Indeed, parts of the system can be commissioned and completed in phases, to allow for a partial occupation of the building, if required — which can be especially useful in, for example, hotels and hospitals. These adjustable flow-limiting valves are easy to size and set and provide effective flow limitation at terminal units, irrespective of changes in flow and pressure conditions in other parts of the system.

Pressure-independent balancing and control valve[edit]

Control valves in variable-flow chilled-water systems

Control valves sizing is all too often described as an art. The reason for this is that, as hydronic systems have changed, the valve sizing calculations we make have also changed.

Variable flow systems require new calculations, new terminology and, most importantly, new technology. The aim when sizing control valves is to find the perfect valve solution for your system.[citation needed] Finding that perfect valve involves understanding the Hydronics of the project and recognizing the importance of perfect control flow.

Control-valve selection

The effects a variable flow system had on the selection of control valves, was not initially realized. A control valve was selected by using the same Kv calculation, and the bypass on a 3-port valve blocked, giving a 2-port valve. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. This is because our Kv calculation

Kv = flow rate [m3/h] / ΔP [bar]

was based on a constant pressure and a constant Kv, delivering a constant flow. However, as areas of the variable-flow system closed down the differential pressure increased, stepping up the delivery flow and causing overflow in the open circuits.

Overflow in a circuit is costly. Unfortunately, traditional control valves make it inevitable. As we size a control valve, the Kv calculated almost certainly will not match the Kv of the nearest appropriate valve. For example, a Kv calculation of 4.5 m3/h would most likely lead to the selection of a valve with a Kv = 6.3 m3/h. This means the valve is capable of delivering 40% more flow than required. As pressure increases in our variable flow system, our valve will deliver this extra pressure flow.

This excess flow will cause the temperature to over-shoot the set-point. Once the room sensor has detected this overflow it will close the actuator, causing a sharp drop in flow. The process will repeat itself in a phenomenon described as "hunting".


Hunting causes the room temperature to constantly fluctuate, creating a major cost to clients with poor environmental quality and increased maintenance. Over three-quarters of complaints to managers are of a thermal sensation nature. These complaints are rarely due to inter-individual differences in preferred temperature but, instead, to increases as temperature deviation widens. The solution that more than two-thirds of building managers use to answer this type of complaint is to change the set-point. By lowering the set-point by an average of 1 °C in a cooling system we increase its energy usage by up to 10%. The solution to the problems of "hunting" and overflow in chilled water systems lies in the use of pressure independent control valves.

Pressure-independent control valves

Traditional control valve sizing for constant flow systems involves a Kv calculation, an actual pressure drop calculation and a check to ensure minimum valve authority is met. This method is complicated and inflexible, as the changes in the design flow, circuit pressure, and required pressure drops can change the required valve, and reduce control-ability. This method also relies on having the correct design information. Pressure independent control valves are used to limit the flow to the fan coil terminal and air handling unit. This flow is not affected by changes in inlet pressure. A diaphragm within the valve keeps the outlet pressure constant, and this delivers a constant flow to the terminal. The added advantage of pressure independent control valves is that, when fitted with an actuator, they replace the manual balancing valve and motorized control valve with a single valve, thus reducing installation cost.[citation needed]

Control-valve strategy

Pressure independent control valves can be used with any control system. The actuator options give a choice of thermal, 3-point control, or modulating control. This will work with building management systems and individual room controls, in the same way as traditional control valves. The actuators can also be used to set the valve by limiting flow. In 3-point control applications, this can be done using a runtime limitation. For example, for 70% design flow we give the actuator 70% of its total run time. With a modulating actuator, to achieve our 70% example we set the controller to control between 0 V and 7 V of the 0–10 V signal.


Overflow affects the ability of the control system to achieve the set temperature. It need not be inevitable. Some pressure independent control valves enable fan coils and air handling units to have the maximla flow set exactly at design flow. Switching a traditional control valve to a pressure independent type should not be seen as only benefiting the mechanical contractor, by reducing installation cost. It benefits the systems integrator and most importantly the client, ensuring both improved comfort levels with reduced energy consumption. Pressure independent control valves are an essential part of the hydronic control in chilled water applications. They are simple to select and easy to set. They enable a steady pressure, a steady flow and most importantly a steady room temperature.

Differential-pressure controller[edit]

As opposed to having a pressure regulating device on each terminal unit, one larger differential pressure controller can be used when the terminals are in parallel. The Dp controller maintains a constant pressure across the riser and therefore across each terminal unit. This reduces the cost of the system by only having one pressure independent unit and also keeps the advantages of having a manual balancing valve at each terminal (measurement, adjustment, positive shutoff).


  1. ^, Variable Flow Chiller Plant Design by Julian de Bullet, ASHRAE Distinguished Lecturer.
  2. ^ Chilled Water Plant Pumping Schemes by James J. Nonnenmann, PE (Page 11 of 17).