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How do you

calculate GPM?

By George Carey

gcarey@fainc.com

There are many formulas and equations that make

up the underpinnings of a properly operating hydron-

ic system. There is one in particular that once under-

stood, allows you to “see” what’s going on in any

hydronic system.

Flow in a hot water heating system is used to carry

heat from the boiler room out to the system. An ac-

curate load calculation is the basis for any system de-

sign. The following formula is used to calculate the

required flow in any hydronic system:

GPM = HEAT LOAD/500 T

Where:

GPM is the volume flow rate, gallons per minute

Heat load is in BTU/Hr or BTUH

T = Temperature difference between the supply and

return °F

500 is the constant for standard water properties at

60°F Density: 8.33 lbs. per gal.

Specific heat: 1BTU/lb °F

The complete calculation is then:

You will notice in the formula being used that the

specific heat and density are referenced to 60°F wa-

ter. But since 60°F water is too cool for a typical heat-

ing system and too warm for a typical cooling system,

you would think that the flow should be calculated

by taking into account the following changes:

• Specific heat and density changes caused by wa-

ter temperature changes.

• Volume flow changes between the supply and re-

turn pipes due to temperature differences between

them.

The effect of these changes can be evaluated in

physical properties on heat conveyance of water by

determining the net change in heat conveyance as sys-

tem temperature rises.

8.33lb./gal x 1 BTU/lb°F x 60 min/hr x T°F

GPM =

BTU/hr

Where 8.33 x 60 x 1 = 500

The formula we use to de-

termine system flow rate as-

sumes a mass flow rate of

500lbs. per hour for each

gpm, which means at a 20°T, 1 gpm will convey

10,000 BTUH (500 x 20) referenced to 60°F water.

What happens to the heat conveyance of 1 gpm @

20°F T when the circulated water has an average

temperature of 200°F? Water at 200°F has a density

of 8.04 lb/gallon instead of 8.33 as at 60°F; however,

its specific heat goes up to 1.003 from 1.0 as at 60°F.

The heat conveyance for 1 gpm at 20°T will then

be:

8.04 x 60 x 1.003 x 20 =9677 BTUH

The net effect is not significant in itself, but there

is another factor that needs to be considered for a

complete evaluation. As water temperature rises, it

becomes less viscous, and therefore its pressure drop

is reduced. When water is circulated at 200°F, the

corresponding pressure drop or “head loss” is about

80% of water at 60°F for typical small hydronic sys-

tems. When calculated using a system curve, the flow

increases by about 10.5% .

Now you can multiply the new heat conveyance just

calculated by the percentage of flow increase: 1.105 x

9,677=10,693 BTUH. As you can see, with regards

to heat conveyance, the simple “round number” ap-

proach will result in design flows very close to the

“temperature corrected” flows, providing the results

from the “round number” approach isn’t corrected from

the original 60°F base for both the heat conveyance

and piping pressure drop. The plus and minus fac-

tors very closely offset one another.

So you see that GPM can play a major role in en-

suring that your heating system performs as expect-

ed. You need the right size circulator to be able to

move the heat from the boiler and deliver it out to

the terminal units where this heat is needed. In se-

lecting the proper circulator, not only do you need to

know the correct GPM, you also need to know the

required pressure drop in Feet of HEAD to pump the

necessary GPM.

As water flows through the piping network and ra-

diation, it “rubs” against the pipe wall, causing fric-

20 ICM/August 2012

tional resistance. This resistance can impact the

performance of the heating system by reducing

the necessary GPM from circulating through-

out the piping network. By knowing what this

resistance will be, you can select a circula-

tor that has the right feet of HEAD to over-

come this system’s pressure drop. Typically

in today’s systems, we use feet of head to

describe the amount of energy needed to

have so that the required GPM is delivered

out to the system. There are pipe sizing charts

that have calculated the pressure drop in foot

head of energy loss for any flow rate through any

size pipe. Of course, there are standard piping prac-

tices that limit the amount of GPM for a given pipe

size.

There are two reasons:

1. Velocity concerns—the speed at which the water

is moving inside the pipe can create noise problems

and, in extreme conditions, erosion problems.

2. The required head loss can become so excessive

that the required circulator’s HEAD capacity makes

for a very “unfriendly” system selection, which can

lead to control valve and velocity noise problems. The

industry standard is to select a pipe which offers the

frictional resistance between 1'–4' for every 100' of

piping.

Bell & Gossett has provided a tool for the hydronics

industry for over 50 years called The System Syzer.

This tool is very useful in calculating GPM, what

size pipe to use, as well as the corresponding pres-

sure drop (Head loss) for any application. It comes in

a couple of formats—the original is a plastic wheel

which is available form your local B&G Representa-

tive—but they also have a version available online

for Windows PC and laptops: www.xyleminc.com/ESP.

Just click on the System Syzer when you get to the

link and you can download it.

[Editor’s note: Xylem says the newest iteration, System Syzer Ver-

sion 4, is now available. System Syzer Psychrometry, available for

cooling coil applications, is also available from the same website.]

If you have any questions or comments please call

me at 1-800-423-7187 or email me at

gcarey@fiainc.com.

System Syzer: Download from:

www.xyleminc.com/ESP

21 ICM/August 2012

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