Net Positive Suction Head


Courtesy of Gorman-Rupp Co.

The topic of this bulletin is arguably one of the least understood issues of pump application and operation. Net Positive Suction Head (NPSH) is not difficult to calculate and is very important to successful pump and system design and operation. NPSH should be calculated during the design of all pumping systems or revisions to existing systems.

This bulletin will discuss definitions, what is NPSH, how to calculate NPSH, what affects occur to pumps and systems when there is insufficient NPSH, and what can be done when NPSH is a limiting factor.


Net Positive Suction Head (NPSH) – The measurement of liquid pressure at the pump end of the suction system, including the design of the pump.

Net Positive Suction Head Available (NPSHa) – The difference between standard atmospheric pressure and the combination of atmospheric pressure at elevation, total dynamic suction lift, vapor pressure, and safety factor. The result must be equal to or greater than NPSHr.

Net Positive Suction Head Required (NPSHr) – This is the amount of atmospheric pressure required to move liquid through the suction side of the pump. NPSHr is directly related to pump design.

Ambient Atmospheric Pressure – The weight of atmosphere at a given time and location.

Standard Atmospheric Pressure – The weight of atmosphere at sea level under normal atmospheric conditions (14.7 PSI, 33.9 Feet of Water, 10.3 Meters, and 29.9 Inches of Mercury)

Total Dynamic Suction Lift (TDSL) – This is the combination of the static lift or head and friction loss during operation within the suction pipe. On a suction lift, the total dynamic suction lift is calculated by adding the static suction lift plus the friction loss at flow rate. On a system with the water higher than the pump, the total dynamic suction lift is calculated by subtracting the friction loss from the positive inlet pressure or static head. In either case, the value of any total dynamic suction lift or total dynamic suction head of a system is the suction gauge reading, while the pump is operating.

Vapor Pressure (VP) – The pressure at which a liquid will vaporize. This pressure is relative to the liquid’s temperature.

Specific Gravity (SG) – The weight of any liquid relative to that of water.

Safety Factor – This value is used in the NPSH calculation to take in to account for fluctuations in atmospheric pressure.

What Is NPSH?

NPSH is the amount of atmospheric pressure at the pump end of the suction system, including the pump. This value can be calculated and is the subject of this bulletin. Once understood, an NPSH calculation is simple and could be time well spent calculating it.

We live at the bottom of a sea of atmosphere. It is the pressure that this sea exerts on us that forces liquid into a pump. The force of this pressure is equal to 14.7 PSI, 33.9 feet of water, 10.3 meters of water, and 29.9 inches of mercury. (At sea level.) Imagine a tube 35 feet long sealed at one end. Take this tube and fill it with water while sealing it after filling. Turn the tube upside down into a bucket and open the end of the tube in the bucket. When the end of the tube in the bucket is removed, the water will drop from the top of the tube until the height of the water equals that of the atmospheric pressure exerted on the water in the bucket. This is the same principle that causes a pressure reading and reflects change in atmospheric pressure in a barometer.

Now that we understand what external force helps push water up the suction pipe during priming and dynamic operation, let’s look at how we can calculate this force during dynamic operation to ensure that there is sufficient to adequately supply liquid to the pump. As we mentioned previously, standard atmospheric pressure at sea level, under normal atmospheric conditions equals 33.9 feet of water. Keep in mind that this value must be converted relative to the specific gravity of the liquid being pumped. From this pressure, five deductions must be made relative to the location, pump and system design, temperature, and product pumped. The deductions of elevation correction, vapor pressure of the liquid pumped, total dynamic suction lift, and safety factor determine the value of what is referred to as Net Positive Suction Head Available. From this, the fifth deduction, Net Positive Suction Head Required, is subtracted. This completes the calculation known as Net Positive Suction Head. This value must be greater than or equal to zero for the pump and system to function successfully. If this value is less than zero, the result will be suction cavitation within the pump. This does not mean that the pump will not prime, only that the pump will be subjected to cavitation once the pump achieves dynamic operation. When the reduction due to elevation results in a negative number, only then will the pump fail to prime. This means that the pump would have to be placed at an elevation high enough for atmospheric pressure not to support the static suction lift. In this case, the water would not be forced high enough in the suction pipe to reach the pump due to the fact that there wouldn’t be enough atmospheric pressure.

Conversely to a calculated negative number a positive number will function as expected. Keep in mind that a value of 5 doesn’t work any better than a value of 2 or a value of 10 doesn’t work any better than 1. It just simply states that there is enough atmospheric pressure available to push liquid into the pump and keep liquid in a liquid state during operation.

Net Positive Suction Head is often calculated during the design phases of a pump and system. Upon completion of the design, NPSH is usually forgotten. Don’t forget that NPSH changes when speed changes due to an increased flow requirement or suction piping changes are made. Therefore, the increase in speed will increase the velocity of the liquid in the suction pipe. This increase in velocity will increase the friction loss. In conjunction the total dynamic suction lift will increase as well. The additional flow rate will also increase the NPSHr deduction as well.

How to Calculate NPSH

As previously mentioned, we begin our calculation with Standard Atmospheric Pressure. This begins with 33.9 feet of water. Keep in mind that this value must be converted for liquids weighing different than water and water like liquids having a specific gravity of 1.0. Standard Atmospheric Pressure must be divided by the specific gravity of the pumped liquid to begin the calculation. Below is the conversion for correcting Standard Atmospheric Pressure of liquids lighter or heavier than that of water.

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