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Measuring flow in a hydronic system

DCContrarian
DCContrarian Member Posts: 40
Hi --
Is there a gauge you can put on a hydronic system to measure water flow? If possible I'd like to measure individual zones to get an idea of heat output.

Comments

  • delcrossv
    delcrossv Member Posts: 742
    edited March 28
    Trying to squeeze the best out of a Weil-McLain JB-5 running a 1912 1 pipe system.
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,907
    Those Quicksetters are not very accurate. An ultrasonic is probably best, but out of the budget for most people. What kind of system are we talking here? Is it possible maybe to time the boiler cycle while measuring temp delta and doing it that way?
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    Actually the Quicksetters are + or - 1%. I have compared them to certified lab quality test meters.

    Inside the Quicksetter is a piston with a magnet attached. The magnet moves the indicator ball. If you have crappy water with ferrous particles or magnetite it can stick to the magnet and hamper movement. This only happens when the ring is pulled.
    It's good to have a magnetic separator on hydronic systems. It protects ECM circs and Quicksetters.

    Any accurate device, mix valves, balance valves, PIC valves, etc need to be protected by a separator or Y strainer.

    It's the ultrasonic flowmeters either Doppler or time transit type that can be finicky, they depend on the attachment to the pipe and condition of the inside of the pipe. Any rust or scale inside or outside the pipe affects them.
    Any air, even micro bubbles in the piping throw them for a loop also. Dirty fluids and thick glycol confuses them. If the fluid cannot pass ultrasonic energy, it cannot be measured.

    I've connected our portable ultrasonic to hydronic systems and have gotten no reading.

    The rotary type meters are what are used on BTU meters and residential water metering, I find them to be very accurate.

    With the Quicksetter you can both observe and adjust flow if you find you need to do some balancing to improve the systems performance.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    ScottSecor
  • ScottSecor
    ScottSecor Member Posts: 855
    We have used the Caleffi Quicksetter a few times and had excellent results. I strongly recommend them.
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,907
    hot_rod said:

    Actually the Quicksetters are + or - 1%. I have compared them to certified lab quality test meters.

    Perhaps the ~60 of them that I bought were defective. Compared to ultrasonic, the dozen or so that I tested were up to 40% off in both directions. Darn odd that a 300ft loop of 1/2" PEX can flow anywhere from .4 GPM to 1.2 GPM in the same system at 80* AWT under a 15-58 according to the Quicksetter when every manifold ever has dictated that the same loop is always .7-.8 GPM which coincides with the head loss and has been verified with countless ultrasonic meters.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    You seem to run in to a lot of unusual, un-explainable situations :)

    It's a chunk of brass with 3 holes in it, really not much to go out of tolerance.

    Other than the passage way being plugged or compromised. Which isn't the valves fault.

    If Ultrasonic work best for you, I'd stick with them.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,907
    I no longer have access to ultrasonic equipment nor do I do commercial work anymore, so in my case, the manifold flowmeters are close enough for my liking 99% of the time. That was one particular job about 4-5 years ago where we had a 52 unit condo with all radiant floors and the engineer spec'd redundant flowmeters/balancing valves. I had heard great things about the Quicksetter so that's what I installed. The balancing guy lost his mind and it took weeks to convince them that we didn't have to replace them all, and could just use the manifolds instead. Unusual, sure. Unexplainable, hardly. I'd be happy to show you how the one in my shop varies by 10+% with each pull of the ring sometimes only seconds apart. Not throwing any shade at the product, merely sharing that it's not very precise.

  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    If you have any that are off the 10- 40% you indicated we would sure like to get some back to test. That is way out of spec.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    GGross
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 2,245
    Tap to read pressure drop across device you have a system curve for?
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,907
    @hot_rod maybe I'm just really bad at math, but this sure seems to be a little over 1% worth of variation. It won't let me post the video but here are some screenshots of said video indicating the wild variations between 2 and 4 GPM while the manifold flowmeters remain constant at approximately 3. This is the 5 loop radiant slab in my shop.

    GGross
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    I know if you don't pull the ring/ valve out completely, you will get erratic readings like that.

    Pull the ring out the put a wrench on the square valve stem and turn to see if adjusting makes the reading change.

    Release and pull the pin as you make flow adjustments.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,907
    10 full pulls with 9 different readings- it's not a faulty pull (see the discolored finger, it's being pulled all the way). Yes the reading changes with the balancing function, but the fact remains that less than 10% of the pulls are alike without an actual change in flow. If we want to take an average of several dozen readings, sure it'll be pretty close. The average person who's going to give it 1 yank and call that correct because the MFG says so, may very well be disappointed. I will continue to buy these because I do like them (actually have a few on my shelf), I just wanted to illustrate that they are not as precise with any given pull of the ring as we're led to believe. A precaution, if you will.
  • DCContrarian
    DCContrarian Member Posts: 40
    OP here -- I don't need the balancing function, the gauge would just be for informational purposes. So is something like that available without the balancing valve? They're kind of pricey, that's all.
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 7,826
    edited April 3

    OP here -- I don't need the balancing function, the gauge would just be for informational purposes. So is something like that available without the balancing valve? They're kind of pricey, that's all.

    What will you do with that information?

    Are you experiencing a problem that needs diagnosing? Or are you just one of those folks that just needs to know stuff. @ethicalpaul is one of our Steam Boiler DIY guys that likes to know stuff. He put Glass Pipes on his steam boiler, just so he can see what is happening inside there. Not because it needs to be there. Not to solve a problem. Just so he knows what all those books are saying is true.
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
    ScottSecorGroundUpJHMartinWMno57
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,907

    OP here -- I don't need the balancing function, the gauge would just be for informational purposes. So is something like that available without the balancing valve? They're kind of pricey, that's all.

    There are other types of flowmeters that can be purchased without the balancing function, but anything hydronic specific is going to cost quite a bit more than the QuickSetter. As I had asked earlier- is it possible to calculate it based on run time and BTU output rather than actually trying to measure the flow rate?
  • DCContrarian
    DCContrarian Member Posts: 40

    OP here -- I don't need the balancing function, the gauge would just be for informational purposes. So is something like that available without the balancing valve? They're kind of pricey, that's all.

    What will you do with that information?

    Are you experiencing a problem that needs diagnosing? Or are you just one of those folks that just needs to know stuff.
    Definitely someone who just wants to know stuff. Somewhere between a tinkerer and a mad scientist.

    EdTheHeaterManWMno57
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,569
    The Calleffi valves work great unless they get plugged up. Magnetite is usually the culprit as it sticks to the internal magnet.
    I have only used the cheaper ultrasonic meter and they are not very accurate as compared to city water meters.
    Just measuring the difference in temperature (even with your hands) can give you some good information about the flow rate in a heating pipe. The bigger the difference, the lower the flow (unless there is no flow at all).
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    > Just so he knows what all those books are saying is true.

    Sometimes true
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    EdTheHeaterMan
  • DCContrarian
    DCContrarian Member Posts: 40

    > Just so he knows what all those books are saying is true.

    Sometimes true

    Exactly. Trying to figure out which parts are the true parts.

    ethicalpaulEdTheHeaterMan
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    If you want the best accuracy, and if you also want energy info, a certified BTU meter is the way to go. Find the Onicon on e-bay from time to time.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    EdTheHeaterMan
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 7,826
    edited April 6
    hot_rod said:

    If you want the best accuracy, and if you also want energy info, a certified BTU meter is the way to go. Find the Onicon on e-bay from time to time.

    Now this guy NEEDS to know what is happening inside those pipes. He works for a manufacturer of the Stuff we use... and he has some pretty cool toys to play with. If you want the real deal, to have the inside scoop, to be in the know... Bob has probably already tested it, and he helps to wright the book that tell us what in going on inside those pipes. Not a Hobby. It's his job to know.
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
  • JohnNY
    JohnNY Member Posts: 3,229
    edited April 6
    @hot_rod
    The mechanical drawings I get on projects routinely include balancing valves on all secondary circuits. Once installed, they are rarely looked at a second time. 
    Caleffi’s Quicksetter is my go-to balancing valve when I actually need to know my flow rates but I’ve learned not to automatically line-size them. Rather, I drop down a size or try to calculate my expected flow rate and size for the valve that indicates within range. 
    In other words, there’s a learning curve to using the Quicksetter. Just like everything else. Great product though. Clients love the optics of having them. 

    I also have this stupid thing but it feels archaic to me. 
    Contact John "JohnNY" Cataneo, NYC Master Plumber, Lic 1784
    Consulting & Troubleshooting
    Heating in NYC or NJ.
    Classes
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,842

    Hi --
    Is there a gauge you can put on a hydronic system to measure water flow? If possible I'd like to measure individual zones to get an idea of heat output.

    How accurate do you want to be?

    For a simple home system just measure the supply water temperature and return temperature. Get them all roughly the same. In my house I'm running 20°F Delta.
    JohnNY
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    The Quicksetter is and foremost  a balancing valve as @JohnNY mentioned. Intended to add additional functionality to the ever popular B&G  Circuit Setter. You set the flow to the engineered design or equipment spec. It eliminates the need to connect a meter every valve in a building to make the initial setting. In many cases it is a one time use valve.

    For ongoing visuals of flow, a flowmeter, a constantly  spinning type is a better choice, they more accurately read down to 1/10 of a gallon resolution. There is a standard for energy meters now that they test and  certify to. So it is accurate when it leaves the factory

    I would not put 100% confidence in the  flowmeters on the manifold either. I consider them flow indicators, not precise flow measuring devices. Notice how they bounce around if you don’t have a completely air free system. Dirty fluid renders them useless after time also.

    There is no 100% perfect way to measure hydronic flows  in my experience. The people that do this for a living, Badger Meter, Onicon, etc are clear on the pros and cons of each type of meter.

    Wait until you try to meter sewage water😯
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    Vortex shedding is another flow measuring method. You'll see these sensors used in some circulators, solar pump stations, etc. Inserted right into the pump body.
    This little paddle looking device can also sense temperature or pressure. It is what is giving information to the control to modulate pump speed, for example.

    I've found with high glycol % they can drift a bit.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    So many ways to measure flow... I get a bit of a chuckle out of the comment on sewage, though -- or storm water. My go-to device for those applications was and remains a Parshall flume, but they only work for open channel flow. Otherwise, venturi meters or the very similar in principle rising float meters (gravity return, not spring) are pretty bulletproof...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • rbeck53
    rbeck53 Member Posts: 8
    Can't he just use the hydronic formula for simplicity?
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    500 X flow X delta t
    So you would need to measure or know two numbers

    Delta tee is easy to measure, accurate flow needs to be used for the formula to be accurate

    with a pressure gauge you could measure across the pump, then use a pump curve to get a flow number
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • rbeck53
    rbeck53 Member Posts: 8
    Flow=BTU/(Delta-T*500)
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,907
    rbeck53 said:

    Flow=BTU/(Delta-T*500)

    I suggested this twice and was ignored both times. It doesn't appear that simplicity is an option here....
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    What BTU number would you use, input, IBR, DOE/CSA, steady state, cycle efficiency, altitude derate?
    Seems like the BTU would be the most inaccurate number to pin down.
    Unless you have a BTU meter, which is a rotary meter and delta T reading.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,907
    Whichever number fits the application. This isn't rocket science. Simple delta T and run time data will easily get within 5%. OP expressed their disinterest in spending QuickSetter money, so this simple formula is a free way to get very close.
    pecmsg
  • DCContrarian
    DCContrarian Member Posts: 40
    OP here. I know delta T. I'm trying to measure BTU output. The heat source is an air-to-water heat pump with a variable speed compressor so measuring input isn't a simple matter.
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,842
    Thats almost impossible. The compressor speed, ambient temperature are always changing trying to match the load. Bet you can do is go by the manufacture's performance data.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    Back to your original question, here is an assortment of flowmeters I have used. Anything with a window gets to be useless after a few years unless you keep the fluid very clean.

    If you want to do multiple zones inexpensively, maybe try some of these imports from Amazon. Hard to find much of any meter at that price. 56 bucks for 2!
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 394
    hot_rod said:

    Actually the Quicksetters are + or - 1%. I have compared them to certified lab quality test meters.

    Inside the Quicksetter is a piston with a magnet attached. The magnet moves the indicator ball. If you have crappy water with ferrous particles or magnetite it can stick to the magnet and hamper movement. This only happens when the ring is pulled.
    It's good to have a magnetic separator on hydronic systems. It protects ECM circs and Quicksetters.

    Any accurate device, mix valves, balance valves, PIC valves, etc need to be protected by a separator or Y strainer.

    It's the ultrasonic flowmeters either Doppler or time transit type that can be finicky, they depend on the attachment to the pipe and condition of the inside of the pipe. Any rust or scale inside or outside the pipe affects them.
    Any air, even micro bubbles in the piping throw them for a loop also. Dirty fluids and thick glycol confuses them. If the fluid cannot pass ultrasonic energy, it cannot be measured.

    I've connected our portable ultrasonic to hydronic systems and have gotten no reading.

    The rotary type meters are what are used on BTU meters and residential water metering, I find them to be very accurate.

    With the Quicksetter you can both observe and adjust flow if you find you need to do some balancing to improve the systems performance.

    I doubt most people could read the scale to 1% on those. 1% of the minimum reading of 2 GPM is 0.02 GPM. Trying to interpolate that on the scale provided is impossible. Even the 0.07 value for 1% of full scale would be a challenge with marks only every 1 GPM that are both close together and logarithmic. Even if the device is inherently that accurate and repeatable, I doubt the reading of the scale is. But it certainly is better than nothing and much less expensive than most other nonintrusive flow measurement devices.
    GroundUp