What Is a Water Pressure Regulator and How Does It Work?

Posted by
John Woodard on March 13, 2024

Homeowners often notice low water pressure when it affects their household fixtures like weak showerheads and faucets, but high water pressure can often be overlooked. Not only is high water pressure less noticeable to the eye than low water pressure, but it is far more costly if it persists over time. A water pressure regulator is a device that prevents high water pressure from wreaking havoc on your home’s plumbing. With a working pressure regulator in place, you can have peace of mind knowing that your pipes and appliances are protected. In this article, you can find information on what pressure regulators are, how they work, how to install one, how much they cost, and which regulator is best for your home.

What is a water pressure regulator?

water pressure regulator, also known as a pressure-reducing valve (PRV), is a valve that reduces water pressure as it passes into a home. When water enters a home through the main water line, its pressure is typically too high for the home’s plumbing to handle. Pipes and water-reliant appliances that experience high water pressure can deteriorate over time. A PRV protects a home’s water systems from damage caused by constant high water pressure.

How does a water pressure regulator work?

Water pressure regulators contain an internal diaphragm and spring that water must travel through before entering a home’s plumbing. The higher the water pressure that enters the regulator, the greater the pressure put on the spring. This causes less water to pass through the regulator, effectively reducing the water pressure as it enters the home’s pipes. The water pressure allowed into the home can be changed by adjusting the tension of a screw on the exterior of the regulator.

Without a PRV, a home’s pipes are subject to constant strain that deteriorate them over time. This can cause cracks to form in the pipes, eventually leading to water damage in the home. In homes with high water pressure, regulators are essential to keeping pipes and appliances running smoothly. Installing new plumbing or repiping your home costs thousands of dollars. It is also a very disruptive inconvenience, so addressing elevated water pressure before it damages your plumbing will ultimately save you money and hassle.

Do I need a water pressure regulator?

Building code requires homes that receive water with pressure greater than 80 PSI have a water pressure regulator. A home’s water pressure should stay in the range of 40 to 60 PSI. You can test your home water pressure easily with a pressure gauge with a garden hose adapter. If your home receives water from a city water system, your water pressure fluctuates throughout the day. Instances where there is sudden high demand for water, such as firefighting, cause water pressure to dip and rise in a water line. The use of a PRV can help steady these fluctuations.

Where are water pressure regulators installed?

If your home has a water pressure regulator, it should be located near the main shut-off valve. The PRV should be located directly next to the valve. If you are unable to locate your valve, check your basement, garage, or downstream from your water meter if your home has one. If you live in a region with a cold climate, your valve will be located in a warm area to prevent freezing. Odd construction may cause the valve to be installed in an unusual place. If you cannot find the shut-off valve in any of these locations, your home inspection report will list its location. If your home receives water from the city lines, you most likely have a pressure regulator already installed.

shut off valve

How long do water pressure regulators last?

Water pressure regulators must be replaced about once every 4 to 12 years. While some PRVs may last longer than others, manufacturers recommend swapping out your regulator at least once every 5 years to prevent damage. Your home will show signs when your regulator may be failing. If you notice any of the symptoms listed below, you will want to inspect your pressure regulator and monitor it closely.

How to adjust a water pressure regulator

If your water pressure is too high or low and you already have a PRV in place, you may simply need to adjust it to the correct pressure. To adjust your water pressure regulator, follow the steps below.

  1. Locate the PRV. Your pressure regulator should be installed right beside your main shut-off valve. If you cannot find your PRV, your home inspection report will list its location.
  2. Adjust the screw. To lower the calibrated water pressure, loosen the screw, and tighten the screw to raise the pressure. Do this in small increments to avoid adjusting the pressure too much.
  3. Check the water pressure. Once the pressure has been adjusted, test the water pressure on a faucet in your home. If you do not notice any changes when you adjust the screw multiple times, your PRV may be faulty.
  4. Check for leaks. Once you are satisfied with your water pressure, ensure that there are no leaks in or around the PRV.

Common water pressure regulator problems

A bad water pressure regulator can cause water to wreak havoc on your plumbing, so knowing the early signs of a bad regulator and taking preventative action before damage can be done are important in maintaining the health of your home. If you see any of the below symptoms in your home, your regulator may need to be replaced.

1. Fluctuating water pressure

City water fluctuates in pressure depending on demand for water elsewhere. As a result, your home’s water pressure will be unstable if the regulator is not working. If you are unable to use multiple water outlets at the same time because of low water pressure, your PRV may be the culprit.

2. High water pressure

When a pressure regulator breaks, it is unable to lower water pressure as it enters the home. As a result, you may notice water pressure that is much stronger than normal. Before giving up on your current regulator, you can try to lower its pressure by adjusting its external screw. If this adjustment does not solve the problem, your PRV likely needs a replacement.

3. Low water pressure

If you have little to no water pressure in your home, your water pressure regulator may be the cause. If you have pressure with cold water and not with hot, then your water heater is most likely the cause, not the regulator. However, if both hot and cold yield the same low water pressure, you will need to replace your PRV.

Learn more: 5 common water heater problems and how to fix them

4. Leaky pipes

Leaky pipes are caused by high water pressure, but you may notice a leaky pipe before you see high water pressure coming from a fixture. High water pressure wears down pipes over time, eventually causing them to crack in some places. A leaky pipe can be a sign that your pressure regulator has failed to lower the pressure of incoming water. The first leak will likely form at the regulator itself, so checking for pooling water under your regulator can help you identify a problem early. If you notice a bad PRV too late, your home can experience costly water damage.

water damage in ceiling

5. Noisy pipes

If you hear thumping or vibrating coming from your walls, your pipes may be experiencing high water pressure. Catching this before the pipes begin leaking is crucial in preventing water from damaging the interior of your home. However, loud pipes are not a clear-cut sign of a bad pressure regulator. Many factors, such as new appliances, solenoid valves, and a bad expansion tank, can contribute to noisy pipes. If your home’s pipes are making noise, listen for the noise next to your regulator. If the noise is noticeably louder, your PRV is most likely at fault.

How to replace a water pressure regulator

Replacing a water pressure regulator is a simple task. Regulators from the same manufacturer do not typically change in size over time, so purchasing the same brand as the old regulator should ensure a proper fit. You can replace your regulator with these simple steps:

  1. Shut off the water to your home.
  2. Loosen the fittings on both sides of the old regulator.
  3. Place the new regulator in its place.
  4. Secure the fittings on the new regulator.
  5. Turn the water on and check for leaks.

How to install a water pressure regulator

If you are installing a regulator in a home that does not already have one, the steps for installation are more complicated. Unless you are experienced with plumbing, you will want to hire a professional. Installation often involves relocating the shut-off valve of the home to create space for the regulator. If you are comfortable enough to install the regulator yourself, follow these steps:

  1. Find a locationfor your regulator. It should be installed directly after your main shut-off valve. Installing it here ensures that the regulator protects all of your pipes from high water pressure.
  2. Take a pressure measurementof your incoming water before installing the regulator. This will give you a baseline to tell if your regulator is working after installation.
  3. Turn off water to your home.Once the water is shut off, run the faucets farthest from your valve to keep water away from your work area. Run the water until the flow stops.
  4. Check the flow directionof the valve. Your valve should show an arrow indicating the flow of water. If you install the regulator backwards, it will not function properly.
  5. Follow the installation instructionsof your specific regulator. This will involve cutting away a section of pipe to make room for the regulator.
  6. Secure the regulator into place.Place the regulator into the created space and secure the fittings on both sides.
  7. Adjust the pressureof the regulator by tightening or loosening the external screw.
  8. Check for leaks and test the pressure.Since you took the pressure of the incoming water before installation, you should know what the pressure will be if your regulator is installed correctly. If your device leaks, ensure the fittings are properly secured.

How much do water pressure regulators cost?

General water pressure regulators start at around $60, while more expensive options can cost multiple hundreds of dollars. If you wish for a plumber to install your regulator for you, the installation will cost around $350. While this may seem expensive, the lack of a pressure regulator can cost you thousands of dollars in water damage if your home’s water pressure is too high.

What is the best home water pressure regulator?

The Watts lead-free pressure regulators are excellent regulators for any home. They effectively protect your home’s plumbing from high incoming water pressure. They are constructed with a lead-free brass body and feature a reinforced diaphragm for protection against high temperatures. They come in both ¾” and 1”, giving you sizing options that will fit your home’s existing plumbing.


If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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