Title:
Automatic water line flushing apparatus
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An apparatus for flushing a water line includes a pipe, a valve in the pipe, and a controller that automatically opens the valve to allow water to flow through the pipe at preselected intervals and for preselected times. The controller derives power for its operation and the operation of the valve from a solar panel, which stores energy in a battery. The pipe's outflow orifice has a diffuser to slow the flow of water from the apparatus. An erosion mat cushions the impact of the water from the orifice and helps to prevent erosion of the surrounding soil. An alarm notifies passersby that the apparatus is about to flush the lines.



Inventors:
Goff, William T. (Conway, SC, US)
Application Number:
09/845916
Publication Date:
10/31/2002
Filing Date:
04/30/2001
Assignee:
GOFF WILLIAM T.
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
137/624.13
International Classes:
E03B7/09; (IPC1-7): E03C1/10
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
LEE, KEVIN L
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MICHAEL A MANN (COLUMBIA, SC, US)
Claims:

What is claimed is:



1. An apparatus for use in flushing a water line, comprising: a pipe, said pipe having an outflow orifice; a valve in said pipe; and controller means in operational connection with said valve for opening and closing said valve at a preselected interval of time without the need for periodic maintenance, wherein, when said controller means opens said valve, fluid can flow through said pipe and out of said outflow orifice for said preselected interval.

2. The apparatus as recited in claim 1, further comprising means in operational connection with said pipe for measuring flow through said pipe.

3. The apparatus as recited in claim 1, further comprising a housing surrounding said pipe.

4. The apparatus as recited in claim 1, further comprising an insulated housing surrounding said pipe.

5. The apparatus as recited in claim 1, wherein said controller means includes a solar power source.

6. The apparatus as recited in claim 1, wherein said controller means includes a solar panel and a battery, said solar panel being adapted to charge said battery.

7. An apparatus for use in flushing a water line, comprising: a pipe, said pipe having an outflow orifice; a housing surrounding said pipe; a valve in said pipe; controller means in operational connection with said valve for opening and closing said valve at a preselected interval of time, wherein, when said controller means opens said valve, fluid can flow through said pipe and out of said outflow orifice for said preselected interval; and a solar power source in operational connection with said controller.

8. The apparatus as recited in claim 7, wherein said pipe includes a diffuser at said outflow orifice.

9. The apparatus as recited in claim 7, further comprising an erosion mat in spaced relation to said outflow orifice, said erosion mat positioned to receive fluid flowing from said outflow orifice.

10. The apparatus as recited in claim 7, further comprising a water meter located downstream of said valve.

11. The apparatus as recited in claim 7, wherein said pipe has a score line between said valve and said outflow orifice so that said pipe breaks preferentially at said score line.

12. The apparatus as recited in claim 7, further comprising a swing valve carried by said pipe between said outflow orifice and said valve.

13. The apparatus as recited in claim 7, further comprising means for notifying bystanders that said valve is to be opened.

14. An apparatus for use in flushing a water line onto a surrounding surface, comprising: a pipe, said pipe having an outflow orifice; a valve in said pipe; controller means in operational connection with said valve for opening and closing said valve at preselected intervals without the need for periodic maintenance, wherein, when said controller means opens said valve, fluid can flow through said pipe and out said outflow orifice for said preselected interval; and means for limiting impact of fluid flowing out of said outflow orifice on the surrounding surface.

15. The apparatus as recited in claim 14, wherein said controller means further comprises: a solar panel; and a battery, said solar panel charging said battery.

16. The apparatus as recited in claim 14, further comprising a water meter carried by said pipe.

17. The apparatus as recited in claim 14, further comprising an insulated housing surrounding said pipe.

18. The apparatus as recited in claim 14, wherein said limiting means further comprises: a diffuser carried by said pipe; and an erosion mat in spaced relation to said diffuser.

19. The device as recited in claim 14, further comprising a speaker in electrical connection with said controller.

20. The device as recited in claim 14, wherein said pipe includes a score line so that said pipe breaks, if at all at said score line.

Description:

1. FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] The present invention relates generally to water line maintenance, and, in particular, to apparatus for flushing potable water lines.

2. BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] Potable water is delivered to homes, businesses, and various other, outlets such as drinking fountains through extensive piping networks. It is good practice—indeed, it is a requirement in most areas—to flush these lines periodically to reduce the build up of bacteria and remove sediment. The frequency of flushing depends on the nature of the line. Presently, the task of flushing water lines is done manually; that is, a worker opens a valve connected to a line to allow the water to drain. After an interval of time, the valve is closed. While the water drains, the worker waits. Even municipalities of modest size have a large number of lines that require periodic draining. Thus flushing lines requires a full time staff and is very labor intensive.

[0003] A solution to this problem is a device that flushes lines without the need for a worker to open a valve. An automatic water line flushing apparatus is available from Environmental Enhancement & Technologies USA, Inc., and sold under the trademark HYDROGUARD. This programmable line flusher includes an electric solenoid valve to open the line for flushing and operates on a one year battery.

[0004] However, there is inevitably the need to send a worker to each line on a periodic basis to perform maintenance or servicing of one sort or another, even if only to change the battery. Thus there remains a need for a way to flush potable water lines automatically and without the need for periodic service and maintenance.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0005] Briefly recited and according to its major aspects, the present invention is an automatic water line flushing apparatus. The present apparatus is designed to operate automatically, without requiring periodic maintenance and service. It uses a solar panel to charge a battery from which it derives electric power for operation; it is fully programmable so that, once programmed, it can operate indefinitely on the same programmed schedule; it is designed to withstand freezing temperatures and to minimize the impact of the flushing water on the surrounding surface; and to provide the assurance needed by municipal water authorities that they are in compliance with requirements for periodic water line flushing.

[0006] The present apparatus includes a pipe with a valve for regulating flow through the pipe, a controller to open and close the valve, a power system that derives power for the controller and the valve from a solar panel, and a water meter to measure water flow through the pipe. In addition, the apparatus limits the impact of the flushing water on the surrounding surface by the inclusion of an erosion mat to prevent erosion of the adjacent soil and a diffuser to slow the flow out of the pipe. An alarm operated by the controller alerts bystanders that the apparatus is about to flush the line. Finally, the present apparatus may optionally be equipped with a cellular modem for transmitting the water flushing information to a central station.

[0007] The use of solar power, which is preferably the type that converts light directly to electricity but also potentially, a solar heat collector, to provide the power for the controller and the valve is an important feature of the present invention. This feature eliminates the need for periodically replacing batteries or reprogramming the controller in the event of battery failure or a power outage when electricity is supplied from municipal power sources.

[0008] The use of a solar panel in combination with a battery and an inverter is also a feature of the present invention. The solar panel charges the battery which delivers direct current to an inverter that produces alternating current to the controller. The use of these components simplifies the construction of the present automatic flushing apparatus.

[0009] Another important feature of the present invention is the combination of a diffuser and an erosion mat. The diffuser and the mat act to limit the impact of the water on the surrounding surface when the apparatus is in operation. In time, water can do significant damage; limiting its impact extends that time considerably.

[0010] Still another feature of the present invention is the use of a water meter to measure the flow of water during flushing. Water meters are designed to measure water usage, but, in the present application, the water meter provides a useful way of measuring water flow for flushing lines rather than using just the duration of the flushing.

[0011] The use of insulation around the pipe, another feature of the present invention, helps to avoid another potential problem with an automatic water flushing device, namely, the need for repairing or replacing pipes cracked by freezing water.

[0012] The alarm operated by the controller is another feature of the present invention. It alerts passersby the device is about to flush the lines. This feature is an important courtesy and may prevent passersby from being exposed to the flushing water, which can be a nuisance for them and also potentially dangerous if it occurs in winter in cold climates.

[0013] Finally, in addition to a valve to control the flow of water through the pipe, the present invention includes a swing valve to prevent backflow or ingress by small animals into the pipe.

[0014] Many other features and their advantages will be apparent to those skilled in the art of municipal water line maintenance from a careful reading of the Detailed Description of Preferred Embodiments, accompanied by the following drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0015] In the drawings,

[0016] FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a water flushing apparatus in place with the soil shown partially cut away, according to a preferred embodiment of the present invention; and

[0017] FIG. 2 is a side cross-sectional view of the apparatus illustrated in FIG. 1.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

[0018] The present invention, described below, is a water line flushing apparatus that is designed to eliminate the need for manual flushing of lines, and, also important, to be relatively maintenance free. The present flushing is intended to be connected to the municipal, potable water supply lines. Neither the water lines nor the water are not part of the present invention.

[0019] Referring now to the figures, there is illustrated a line flushing apparatus, generally indicated by the reference number 10. Apparatus 10 is connected to a water line 12 buried in the ground. Thus, a portion 16 of apparatus 10 is also below the ground and a remaining portion 18 is above ground.

[0020] Apparatus 10 includes a pipe 20 with an outflow orifice 22. Pipe 20 is preferably schedule 40 PVC pipe, two inches in inside diameter; approximately 80 inches would be sufficient for the present apparatus, with a cap. Outflow orifice 22 is elevated above the ground using a bend in pipe 20. The elevation can be a relatively short distance, such as 10 to 40 inches. A housing 24 encases pipe 20, particularly remaining portion 18 and is preferably insulated with a suitable insulator 28 such a plastic foam such as styro-foam. Housing is preferably 6 inch schedule 40 PVC piping so that it is large enough for pipe 20 and insulation 28 in the annular region. The choice of insulator 28 and the decision as to whether insulator 28 should include an active source of heat would depend on the environment where apparatus 10 is installed and its potential for low temperatures. The purpose of insulator is to prevent water in pipe 20 from cracking pipe 20 as a result of freezing.

[0021] Near water line 12 is a valve 32, preferably an electrical solenoid valve, most preferably a 2″ 24 VAC, direct burial solenoid valve with manual actuator, that will control the flow of water from water line 12 through pipe 20. When valve 32 opens, water flows through pipe 20 to outflow orifice 22; when valve 32 closes, water does not flow.

[0022] Downstream of valve 32 is a water meter 34 that measures the amount of water flowing through pipe. Meter 34 is optional in that the volume of water may be estimated from the size of pipe 20 and the duration of water flow. However, meter 34 can record the total volume of water more accurately and may, if there is a discrepancy between the total amount of water recorded and estimated total volume from the total time of flushing suggest that water is being blocked upstream of valve 32. If the estimated value exceeds the actual value, the water is not flowing freely in pipe 20. Meter 34 can be read by lifting a lid 36 on meter housing 38 to read a digital or analog display 40 carried by meter 34, or may be a “touch-read” or “radio-read” type of meter.

[0023] Inside of meter 34 is a swing valve 42 that opens when water is flowing through pipe 20 from valve 32 to outflow orifice 22 but closes to prevent back flow of water or ingress of small animals. If meter 34 is not used with the present invention, a separate swing check valve 42 is supplied in line in pipe 20, preferably a 2 inch swing check valve.

[0024] Optionally, a score line 44 can be made between valve 32 and swing valve 42 to allow pipe 20 to break, if it must break, at a particular location. By using score line 44 to pre-determine the break point, the repair of pipe 20 can be simplified.

[0025] At the end of pipe 20 is a diffuser 46 to absorb some of the energy of water flowing through outflow orifice 22. Diffuser 46 is preferably stainless steel mesh. As the water will descend onto the surrounding surface from a height and under pressure, it can result in erosion. Optionally, an erosion mat 48 can be used in combination with diffuser 46 or independently of diffuser 46 to absorb the impact of the exiting water to lessen its erosive effect.

[0026] To open and close valve 32, a controller system 50 is used. Controller system 50 includes a controller 52 and a power supply system. Controller 52, preferably a 120 VAC input/24 VAC output type, includes a programmable computer, a memory that records the program and a timer. Controller can be programmed to open valve 32 on schedule at intervals and to close it a preselected interval later. The duration of the intervals of time between successive openings of valve 32 can be selected as well as the duration of the interval between opening and closing valve 32. Controller 50 may also have a dial-up cellular modem that connects to a central station computer to record operational data.

[0027] Controller 52 and valve 32 both require electrical energy to operate. The energy is obtained by the power supply system, which includes a solar panel 54 that charges a battery 56. The output of battery 56 is direct current (DC). For controller 52 to operate off battery 56, the direct current must be converted to alternating current through use of an inverter 58 and then conducted to controller 50 and to valve 32 via wires 60 and 62, respectively. Wires 64 conduct current from solar panel 54 to battery 56. Inverter 58 preferably produces a 120 VAC output, at 150-175 watts continuously.

[0028] Solar panel 54 is preferably of the type that converts light to electricity and, in particular, a 12 VDC, minimum 7.5 watt panel with internal overcharge protection and covered with a polycarbonate material such as LEXAN for protection. However, the term “solar panel” in addition to meaning voltaic solar panels also includes solar heat collectors that collect heat which can in turn be used in a variety of ways to generate electricity or perhaps to operate other devices by means other than electricity. Fluidics and mechanical devices are known that can operate valves and perform computer-like functions. Importantly, light is used to provide the energy upon which the device depends for its operation. Battery 56 is preferably a 12 volt, rechargeable sealed battery.

[0029] Just prior to opening valve 32, controller 50 emits an alarm, preferably an audible alarm through speaker 66. Alternatively or in addition, a visual alarm may be made. Alarms notify those near apparatus 10 that it will soon be discharging water to the surrounding surface.

[0030] In use, apparatus 10 is connected to a water line 12 and programmed for the desired flushing intervals. Solar panel 54 begins to charge battery 56, which supplies power through inverter 58 to controller 50. Apparatus 10 can then be tested. When the time for opening valve 32 approaches, speaker 64 audibly announces that fact. Then, controller 50 opens valve 32 and water from water line 12 flows through pipe 20 to outflow orifice 22 through diffuser 46 and onto erosion mat 48 and from there onto the surrounding surface.

[0031] After a pre-selected interval of time, controller 50 closes valve 32, thus stopping the flow of water. Water meter 34 will have recorded the incremental volume of water flowing through pipe 20.

[0032] Optionally, information from meter 34 and controller 52 can be transmitted in a number of different ways to a central station. The information can be transmitted by a small radio transmitter or be cellular modem incorporated into controller 52 to a telephone number leading to a computer where the information can be received and logged. The information can be transmitted to a local telephone number and relayed via an internet to a central station.

[0033] Importantly, apparatus 10 will not require periodic maintenance. The term “periodic maintenance” means that it will not require a worker to service or maintain it at specified, regular intervals of time. From time to time, it may require an inspection or cleaning or testing, but the time for doing these is arbitrary and may be postponed knowing that the unit will continue to function unless component parts fail or there is a break in the line. Moreover, because of the way it is constructed and its features, apparatus 10 is not likely to fail because of cold weather or batteries going dead. The only moving parts are below ground, inside pipe 20. Furthermore, it is less likely to cause soil erosion to the extent that the surrounding grounds would require repair. It is not likely to require reprogramming because of a power outage.

[0034] It will be apparent to those skilled in the art to which the invention pertains that many modifications and substitutions can be made in the foregoing description of preferred embodiments without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention, defined by the appended claims.





 
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