Coils and Counter-flow: 5 Common Questions

by Dan Jacobs, November 13, 2018

1)  Coils and counter-flow?

The first thing to remember about coils and counter-flow is that chilled water coils are always built to be piped in counter-flow. This means that the air flows in the opposite direction as the water. For example, with counter-flow, the air flows through rows 1-8, while the water runs through rows 8-1. Water always travels through the coil in the opposite direction of the air; hence the term “counter-flow.”  Direct Expansion Coils (Evaporator Coils) are also piped in the same manner.

With that said, what happens when you do not pipe cooling coils counter-flow? Almost all coil selection programs you will see or use will be based on counter-flow conditions. If you opt to not counter-flow a chilled water coil, you’ll have to reduce the coil’s overall performance by a certain percentage. That percentage reduction varies based on each coil’s unique dimensions, but a reliable estimate is a loss of 8-12%. Simply piping the coils in the correct manner from the beginning would seem to be the easiest and most cost-effective solution.

2)  Why do you feed from the bottom of the coil?

Coils and counter-flow

You always want to feed a water coil from the bottom connection so that the header fills from the bottom on up and feeds every tube connection evenly. All tubes must be fed evenly with the same amount of water. If you try to feed the header from the top, you greatly increase the risk of “short circuiting” the coil and having a higher water flow through the top tubes in the coil.

3)  What is a Water Hammer in a Steam Coil?

On a long Steam Coil, you will be hard pressed to get the steam through the length of the coil. Slowly but surely, that steam converts into condensate, which is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to any system. If not evacuated, the condensate just lays in the coil when the system is shut off. This problem comes into play when the steam is turned back on and meets the condensate laying inside the coil. In addition to the noise, the steam and condensate cause huge amounts of additional stress on the coil’s joints. As a result, over time, your coil will inevitably fail.

4)  What else happens if you do not evacuate condensate?

When you cannot or do not evacuate the condensate on long steam coils, the condensate ends up blocking the steam. A steam coil should never feel cool to the touch, but when condensate blocks steam, one part of the coil will be warm while the other will be cool. Again, that should not happen. Steam coils are interesting in that they are more dependent upon the system and installation than any other type of coil. A steam coil must be pitched to the return end of the coil. Obviously, steam is not water.Traps, vacuum breakers and other steam accessories must be installed and located properly for the system to function.

5)  Is it necessary to pipe steam and/or hot water coils in counter-flow?

Simply put – no! Circuiting a coil is only necessary to ensure the connections are on the side of the coil that you want. The rows and tubes in the coil dictate how and where you feed, but the steam supply always needs to be the high connection. This method ensures that the leaving condensate is on the bottom of the coil and below the lowest tube within the coil. Whatever else you do, know that the condensate must leave the coil!

If you have any questions or need assistance with ordering and/or installation, please contact a sales engineer at Capital Coil & Air. We will walk with you step-by-step through your entire project should you require any assistance. CALL OR E-MAIL US!  We look forward to the opportunity to work with you on your future projects.



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