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Total Head for Pumps & Systems

Total Head for Pumps & Systems
Excerpt from the October 2021 Pumps & Systems Article by Pete Gaydon

This foundation is beneficial to understand while working with an entire system.

The term “total head” (H) is used to describe the energy in pumping systems and is how manufacturers represent the performance of their pumps as a function of flow rate. Total head is also commonly referred to as total dynamic head (TDH); however, the Hydraulic Institute (HI) uses the term total head and it will be used throughout this article.

It is important to understand the nuances of what makes up the total head of the system as a function of flow rate and varying system conditions so that if a user is designing or operating a pump system, the pump can be selected and operated properly. Additionally, if the goal is to measure the pump performance after installation, it is important to understand how to do that in the same way that the pump manufacturer will.

Total head (system) is made up of three components:

Elevation head, which is the difference in elevation that liquid will travel. For example, if a user was pumping from one tank to another and the level in the tanks were the same, there would be zero elevation head. But if pumping from a tank at ground level to the roof of a 100-foot building, there would be 100 feet of elevation head.

Pressure head is the difference in pressure between source and destination. For example, if taking liquid from a lake at atmospheric pressure and delivering it to a tank that had 10 pounds per square inch (psi) above atmospheric pressure, the pressure head would be 10 psi expressed as feet of the liquid being pumped. The conversion between pressure and head is described in the pump total head measurement section.

Friction head is the head loss in the system due to friction and is a function of the liquids velocity or flow rate squared. As mentioned, the friction loss will depend on the flow rate but also the size of the piping, fittings, valves and end use equipment in the system. If there are control valves in the system that are used to actively regulate the flow rate, the friction loss across the control valve is referred to as control head. It is important to understand control head because it is often a source of energy consumption that can be improved.

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