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Water use, sustainability, and efficiency by choosing quality systems and materials, and providing environmentally friendly solutions.
System layout and pipework
The water supply system must be designed to achieve appropriate water pressure and flow, and to avoid contamination to potable water.
On this page:
- Water pressure
- Water flow rate
- Flow rate and pipe size Acceptable Solutions
- System layout
- Connection to the mains supply
- Mains connection
- Pipe materials and specifications
As well as avoiding contamination and achieving the right pressure and flow, the system must be suitable for the temperature of water carried. A well-designed and installed system will also be durable, minimise noise from water flow and from problems such as water hammer, and support efficient use of water.
All water supply systems use a combination of pipes (of different dimensions and materials), valves and outlets to deliver water to building users. Some water supply systems also use storage tanks and pumps. Designing a water supply system involves getting all of these elements right so that clean water is delivered to the user at the appropriate rate and temperature.
If the aim is to provide for building users’ needs while also using water efficiently, the right water pressure is crucial. If water pressure is too low, this will be inconvenient for building users – for example, because showers have poor water flow, and baths take a long time to fill. If pressure is too high, this will lead to wastage of water, as well as high wear and tear on the system.
Typically, new buildings in areas with mains water supply will have mains pressure systems. Existing buildings, and buildings that are not connected to mains water, may have low pressure systems or unequal pressure systems (with different pressures for hot and cold water supply).
As an example of the difference in water usage, a low pressure hot water system shower flow may average about 7 litres per minute, while a mains pressure shower may average around 12–20 litres per minute.
Mains pressure systems require pressure limiting and pressure reducing valves to control water pressure and temperature. Typically, pressure limiting or pressure reducing valves will be used to control pressure in mains-supplied hot water systems or where high pressure may lead to problems such as burst pipes.
Low pressure systems require few valves or controls. In low or unequal pressure systems, pressure can be increased to adequate levels by storing water in a header tank (typically in the ceiling space) so that gravity can be used to create water pressure. If a tank is being used, see the BRANZ publications Water and Plumbing for details of installation requirements.
Pressure can also be raised to adequate levels using a pressurising pump, in which case it may be necessary to use pressure limiting and pressure reducing valves.
Water flow rate
The Building Code requires that sanitary fixtures and appliances have adequate water supply at an adequate flow rate.
As with water pressure, flow rates are crucial. A flow rate that is too high will result in water being wasted, whereas a flow rate that is too low will mean that sanitary fixtures and appliances don’t work properly.
Flow rate is affected by:
- Water pressure
- Pipe diameters – The smaller the internal diameter of the pipe, the lower the pressure and flow rate. (Note that pipes are generally referred to by their inside nominal diameter (DN), but it is actually the internal diameter that counts; a pipe rated as DN 15 may have an actual inside diameter ranging between 10–18 mm.)
- Pipe lengths – longer pipes will result in a lower flow rate
- Number of bends and fittings – the more bends in a length of pipework and the more fittings, the lower the flow rate
- Water temperature – higher temperatures will tend to raise pressure and flow rates (note: also see materials below).
A flow regulator can be used to maintain a constant flow, independent of water pressure. As an example, if someone is in the shower and the kitchen tap is turned on full, the temperature and flow are likely to remain more stable if a flow regulator is used.
Limiting the flow for a tap or appliance to a reasonable rate helps balance the available pressure throughout the system. Regulating flow allows a simpler design and minimum pipe sizes as peak flow rates can be specified accurately and can also reduce noise, splashing taps, and water hammer.
Manufacturers’ recommendations must be referred to for pressure and flow information when selecting tempering valves and outlets (taps, mixers and shower heads).
Flow rate can also be controlled by specifying low-flow outlets.
Flow rate and pipe size Acceptable Solutions
Building Code compliance document G12/AS1 sets out Acceptable Solution for flow rates and pipe sizes. Pipes must be sized to achieve flow rates set out in accordance with Table 3 (see table below), or the pipes must be sized in accordance with Table 4.
When calculating pipe size, the speed of the water (velocity) moving through the pipes must not exceed 3.0 m/s.
Acceptable flow rates for fixtures and appliances
Flow rate (l/s)
Flow rate (l/min)
WC cistern, basin and shower
Sink: standard tap
Sink: aerated tap
Dishwasher and washing machine
Adapted from G12/AS1 Table 3
In the design process, the layout of the plumbing system will largely follow room layout. Nonetheless, there are many things to consider which relate to Code compliance, building users’ comfort, and sustainability.
When planning a water supply layout, the following must be considered:
- Pipe runs and lengths – Keep pipe runs as short as possible. Pass pipes close to fixtures to minimise the number of branches and unnecessary elbows, tees and joints. Having longer pipe runs and more fixtures will reduce flow rate, increase heat losses, and increase use of materials
- Point of entry into the building – This should be into a utility space such as garage/laundry and include an accessible isolating valve, line strainer and pressure limiting valve (if required)
- Water heating system – Locate centrally to reduce the length of pipe runs to fixtures because longer pipe runs require more water to be drawn off before hot water is discharged. Install a separate point-of-use water heater for fixtures that are more than 10 m from the main water heater
- Noise prevention – Avoid running pipes over or near bedrooms and living areas.
Backflow is the unplanned reversal of flow of water (or water and contaminants) into the water supply system. The system must be designed and used to prevent contamination from backflow. See backflow prevention for more.
Where the water source is a mains supply, the network utility operator is responsible for the water supplied to the property boundary. The property owner is then responsible for providing the pipework to bring the water into the building.
An isolating valve must be fitted at the point of connection to allow for maintenance and repair of the building’s water supply system if required.
Pipe materials and specifications
The pipes used in a building must not contaminate potable water supply, and must be suitable for the water pressure, flow rate and temperature of water they will be carrying. This will be influenced by the materials used and also by other factors such as the wall thickness.
Other considerations are durability, ease of installation, cost, and sustainability. Common materials include copper, polybutylene (PB), unplasticised polyvinylchloride (uPVC or PVC-U), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP-3 or PP Type 3), and cross-linked polyethylene (PEX).
See pipe materials for more.
Updated: 14 April 2015