Temperature/pressure-relief or TPR valves are safety devices installed on water heating appliances, such as boilers and domestic water supply heaters. TPRs are designed to automatically release water in the event that pressure or temperature in the water tank exceeds safe levels.
If temperature sensors and safety devices such as TPRs malfunction, water in the system may become superheated (exceed the boiling point). Once the tank ruptures and water is exposed to the atmosphere, it will expand into steam almost instantly and occupy approximately 1,600 times its original volume. This process can propel a heating tank like a rocket through multiple floors, causing personal injury and extensive property damage.
Water-heating appliance explosions are rare due to the fact that they require a simultaneous combination of unusual conditions and failure of redundant safety components. These conditions only result from extreme negligence and the use of outdated or malfunctioning equipment.
The TPR valve will activate if either water temperature (measured in degrees Fahrenheit) or pressure (measured in pounds per square inch [PSI]) exceed safe levels. The valve should be connected to a discharge pipe (also called a drain line) that runs down the length of the water heater tank. This pipe is responsible for routing hot water released from the TPR to a proper discharge location.
It is critical that discharge pipes meet the following requirements:
A properly functioning TPR valve will eject a powerful jet of hot water from the discharge pipe when fully activated, not a gentle leak. A leaky TPR valve is an indication that it needs to be replaced. In the rare case that the TPR valve does activate, the homeowner should immediately shut off the water and contact a qualified plumber for assistance and repair.
Although a TPR valve might never become activated, it is an essential safety component on boilers and domestic water heaters. Guidelines concerning these valves and their discharge pipes reflect real hazards that every homeowner should take seriously.
This article originally appeared on nachi.org and is authored by Nick Gromicko and Kenton Shepard. It is used with permission.