10 Flags in Valve Chambers that Should Make You Question What Else is Wrong

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Courtesy of Singer Valve Inc.

I have reached the conclusion, as a lot of you may relate too, that I may be considered one of those “cranky old men”. It shows itself in the little things. Sentences starting with the phrase “when I was your age” or “back in the day” or “before computers we had to do this”. Putting the phrases aside, there is valuable information that has good reason to be passed on, but is often glossed over today with the fast moving pace of technology and innovation. While short cuts or quick ways to get by can reflect well on short-term budgets, they show the lack of experience and overall understanding of what makes a system viable for the long haul.

As I travel around in my job, I frequently get to visit sites and valve stations that always intrigue me. They can either really impress me with their engineering brilliance, (I have visited some valve chambers that were so “decked out” the only thing missing was satellite TV), or bring out the “cranky old man” in me as I shake my head and wonder how they were ever approved, let alone built. This is a list of my ten most annoying failings that should make you question what else has been short-circuited that will lead to more maintenance and costly repairs.

1. Bolts that are too long.

We were always taught that there should only be one or two threads protruding past the nut once the joint is tight. I assumed that this was because all the exposed thread had a better chance of getting damaged, or rusting or finding that spot on your shin as you walk past, but it also makes economic sense. Why buy a bolt longer than you need? I think it comes down to the fact that somebody either did not have the time to calculate what the bolt needed to be, or just didn’t care what the end result would look like. Bottom-line, it’s lazy engineering.

2. Valve chambers where the control valve has no way of being isolated.

I appreciate that valve chambers take up real estate and that isolating valves take up extra space, but how on earth is someone expected to work on this valve when maintenance is required? If gate valves are considered too long at least put in butterfly valves that take up hardly any space at all. Always bare in mind the operators who have to work on these stations, the easier it is to work on, the greater the chance that maintenance tasks will be done effectively.

3. Installations with no pressure gauges or provision to temporarily install one.

I realize that some utilities like to have calibrated test gauges that they move from site to site and those folks are very good at providing connections for their site personnel to access, but what about those installations where they don’t even have fittings? It always amazes me that somebody is expected to set a valve with no provision to be able to see the actual pressures right at the valve. Sure, you may have SCADA and telemetry but somebody at some point will stand next to a valve and need to see what the pressure is.

4. Improper gaskets.

This is a minor issue, but again speaks to either poor planning, lack of knowledge or really not caring. Is this going to affect the operation of the valve – no, but it just looks wrong. Raised flanges use ring gaskets, flat face use full face gaskets. Back in the day when we used to mate cast iron to steel flanges, you had to be really careful about mating a raised face to a flat face because you could easily break the cast iron flange, so people were more aware of which gasket should be used. I think with the advent of ductile iron being more prevalent, this has become a non-issue, but never the less use the right gasket.

5. Valve chambers with no piping allowance to remove anything.

Most of the time installers are smart enough to realize that you cannot bolt everything together in a concrete chamber without having some type of coupling to allow for component removal at some point in the future. Whether this be a grooved type coupling or flange adapter or a pipe coupling, they are necessary. It’s still shocking to see so many installations without any allowance at all.

6. Concentric reducers on horizontal lines.

At this point some of you may be thinking that this guy is just nit picking, and I would agree, but this issue does have some logic. Eccentric reducers keep the top of the pipeline at the same level which means that air pockets are less likely to form. Concentric reducers are for vertical lines. There may be some applications where an eccentric is just not available or even necessary, but I think this usually comes down cost. Concentric are less expensive and so if a contractor can get away with them, he will.

7. Valve chambers that have no allowance for drainage.

All chambers get wet, even if it is during valve start up when air is being bled out of bonnets, there will be an occasion when water will be on the floor. Anyone who has been in our industry for any length of time has seen a flooded valve pit and there is really no excuse for it. (Unless of course the entire area is flooded in which case you have bigger issues). If a daylight drain cannot be installed then use a simple sump pump, assuming there is power and in cases where there is not, a float valve with ejector will efficiently keep a chamber dry.

8. No allowances to get rid of air.

Pressure reducing valves are great at producing air. As pressure is dropped, air comes out of suspension and is transferred into your pipelines to cause issues downstream of the valve. A simple air release valve will certainly get rid of any air that may be present and will save problems downstream. I also like to see an air release valve upstream of a control valve as air in pilot lines can be a big cause of instability and problems, so why not get rid of the air before it ever reaches the valve?

9. No spare tapping on the line.

This is also a minor thing but it is really helpful to have a spare tapping in the chamber upstream and downstream of the control valves. This gives you options for the future, whether it is connecting a hose, adding remote sensing for the control valve or adding a pressure transmitter for SCADA. For the small cost of adding a fitting during the design stage, it really raises the usability level of a chamber in the future.

10. Painting over everything in a valve station

Painting over everything in a valve station—valve handles, nameplates, pilot tubing, pilots—makes maintenance tasks much more difficult when you cannot read a nameplate or make an adjustment because everything is covered in paint. Most reputable valve companies will use fusion-bond epoxy on their valves, so nothing you could paint them with will make them better.

So remember there’s a lot of sound proof to doing things the right way while a culmination of shortcuts usually leads to more headaches. Whilst a lot of these above points may be trivial, just follow what a wise old mentor once said to me, “chew the meat and spit out the bones”. You don’t have to agree with me at all, because after all, I am just a grumpy old man!

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