They relieve excess pressure from equipment failure, process upset, or fire by opening an auxiliary passage to divert the fluid (liquid, gas, steam or air) away from the pressure vessel. Once the pressure in the vessel is released and the danger is over the relief valve closes itself.
Emergency situations are not the only times relief valves are active; once installed they continuously regulate the flow of substance. They can also be pre-set to open when the pressure or temperature gets to a certain point that may be dangerous. Generally valves are placed on or near the pump head of the hose, pipe or tube. A wide variety of relief valve designs exist, although most resemble ball-check valves, swing check valves or diaphragm valves.
This last is particularly useful when controlling a flow of fluids that contains suspended solids. Most relief valves are spring operated, as are the majority of check valves. One specialized type of relief valve is known as a vacuum relief valve. As opposed to a normal relief valve, which relieves high pressure, a vacuum relief valve is used to relieve dangerously low pressures, or vacuums, by inserting air or an inert gas.
Like every other type of check valve, relief valves may be constructed from a variety of materials, including PVC, brass, ductile iron, copper, polyethylene, polypropylene, aluminum, steel, stainless steel and rubber. Which raw substance is used to produce each relief valve depends on the environment said relief valve will be in. The wrong product could result in erosion or contamination of the process stream. However, as long as research is done, finding the appropriate type of relief valve is possible.
Every plumbing or fluid transfer application in the industrial, commercial and domestic arenas employ or will employ check valves. In fact, check valves of all kinds are an essential part of every day life. Because they need not be supervised to function and prevent product malfunction, check valves are not only desirable but often required by law to ensure the safety of water, gas and pressure applications.