What is the Difference Between a Pressure Reducing Valve and a Pressure Relief Valve?

A pressure-reducing valve regulates and maintains a specific, reduced pressure downstream of the valve, making it suitable for applications where pressure control is critical, such as water supply systems. In contrast, a pressure-relief valve is designed to protect systems from overpressurisation by opening when the pressure exceeds a set point, making it crucial for safety in applications like boilers and storage tanks. The key difference is in their purpose and operation: one controls pressure, while the other prevents excessive pressure buildup.

Both valves are crucial components in various systems and understanding the differences between these two types of valves is fundamental for anyone involved in industries such as manufacturing, oil and gas, water management, and more.

In this article, we will delve into more detail about the differences between pressure reducing valves and pressure relief valves.

The Purpose of Pressure Valves

Pressure valves are essential components in various industrial and commercial applications. Their primary function is to control and manage the flow of fluids, such as gases or liquids, by regulating the pressure within a system. Understanding the fundamental purpose of pressure valves is crucial before we delve into the differences between reducing valves and relief valves.

Pressure valves serve multiple purposes:

Pressure Control: The most common purpose of pressure valves is to control and maintain a desired pressure level within a system. This is crucial in various processes, such as hydraulic systems, where precise pressure regulation is required for optimal operation.

Safety: Pressure valves play a vital role in safety by preventing over-pressurisation of equipment and systems. When the pressure exceeds safe limits, these valves release the excess pressure to protect against catastrophic failures.

Efficiency: In many industrial applications, maintaining consistent pressure is essential for efficient operations. Pressure valves help achieve this by compensating for fluctuations in inlet pressure and ensuring a stable outlet pressure.

Fluid Flow Management: Pressure valves can also be used to manage the flow of fluids. By regulating the pressure, they indirectly control the rate of fluid flow, making them invaluable in systems where precise flow control is necessary.

Environmental Control: In environmental engineering, pressure valves are used to manage the pressure of various gases and liquids in systems designed for pollution control, waste treatment, and emissions reduction.

Pressure Reducing Valves Explained

Pressure reducing valves (PRVs), often referred to as pressure regulators, are essential components in various industries and systems where maintaining a consistent and controlled downstream pressure is critical. 


Pressure reducing valves operate based on a simple yet effective mechanism. They consist of a diaphragm or a piston, a spring, and an adjustable setpoint. The valve is installed in a pipeline, typically on the downstream side, and is responsible for controlling the pressure of the fluid or gas that passes through it. When the pressure on the downstream side rises above the setpoint, the valve mechanism opens, allowing excess pressure to escape. Conversely, when the pressure falls below the setpoint, the valve restricts the flow, maintaining the desired pressure.


Pressure reducing valves find applications in a wide range of industries:

Water Supply: In water distribution systems, PRVs ensure that water flows at a constant and safe pressure, even when the source pressure fluctuates.

Industrial Processes: Manufacturing and industrial facilities use PRVs to regulate pressure in hydraulic systems, pneumatic systems, and other processes where consistent pressure is vital.

Oil and Gas: PRVs are integral in the oil and gas industry to manage pressure in pipelines, wellheads, and various equipment.

Heating and HVAC Systems: These valves are employed to maintain optimal pressure in heating and air conditioning systems, ensuring comfort and energy efficiency.

Steam Systems: In power plants and other applications involving steam, PRVs control steam pressure to prevent equipment damage and ensure safety.

Pressure reducing valves are designed to deliver reliable, consistent, and safe pressure regulation. They play a crucial role in optimising system performance and safeguarding equipment.

Pressure Relief Valves Explained

Pressure relief valves (PRVs), also known as safety valves, serve a distinct yet equally important role in ensuring the safety and integrity of various systems. 


Pressure relief valves operate on a fundamentally different principle compared to pressure reducing valves. While PRVs focus on maintaining and controlling downstream pressure, PRVs are primarily designed to protect against over-pressurisation. Their mechanism is straightforward: when the pressure within a system exceeds the predetermined setpoint, the PRV opens to release the excess pressure. This action prevents the equipment or system from experiencing catastrophic failure.

Primary Functions:

Pressure relief valves play a crucial role in ensuring safety and preventing damage in a wide range of applications:

Boilers and Pressure Vessels: In industrial settings, pressure relief valves are crucial for boiler and pressure vessel safety. They prevent the buildup of excessive pressure that could lead to explosions.

Steam Systems: Pressure relief valves are essential in steam systems, where they safeguard equipment and personnel from the potential hazards of high-pressure steam.

Oil and Gas Industry: PRVs are used in pipelines, storage tanks, and wellheads to protect against dangerous pressure spikes.

Chemical Processing: In chemical plants, pressure relief valves prevent over-pressurisation in vessels and pipelines, reducing the risk of chemical leaks or explosions.

Aerospace and Aviation: Pressure relief valves are critical for maintaining safe cabin pressure in aircraft.

Applications in Safety and Compliance:

The use of pressure relief valves is often mandated by safety regulations and industry standards. Their proper selection, installation, and maintenance are vital to ensuring compliance with safety requirements and the protection of equipment and human lives.

Understanding the operation and significance of pressure relief valves is essential, particularly for industries where safety is a top priority. These valves act as a last line of defence against potentially catastrophic pressure events, making them integral components in many critical systems.

Key Differences in Operation

Pressure reducing valves (PRVs) and pressure relief valves (PRVs) may share the common goal of pressure management, but they differ significantly in their operation. 

Operational Focus:

The key difference lies in their operational focus. PRVs prioritise maintaining a specific pressure level, while PRVs prioritise safety by preventing pressure from reaching dangerous levels. Pressure reducing valves are about stability and precision, ensuring that pressure remains within a desired range. Pressure relief valves, on the other hand, are all about safety, acting as a fail-safe mechanism to prevent catastrophic equipment failures or system ruptures.

Selecting the right valve for an application depends on the specific pressure control needs and safety considerations. Pressure reducing valves are suitable for applications where maintaining precise pressure levels is critical, while pressure relief valves are indispensable in systems where safety is paramount, and over-pressurisation could lead to severe consequences. The operational differences between these valves underscore the importance of choosing the appropriate one for your particular application.

Selecting the Right Valve for Your Needs

Choosing the right valve for a specific application is crucial for achieving optimal performance and safety. Pressure reducing valves (PRVs) and pressure relief valves (PRVs) are distinct in their functions, and making an informed choice is vital. In this section, we will discuss the factors that influence the selection of the appropriate valve type.

  1. System Requirements:

The first step in selecting the right valve is to evaluate the specific requirements of the system. Consider the desired pressure range, the potential for fluctuations in inlet pressure, and the consequences of over-pressurization. If the primary concern is maintaining a steady, controlled pressure within the system, a pressure reducing valve (PRV) is typically the better choice. On the other hand, if safety is the top priority, as in cases where over-pressurization poses significant risks, a pressure relief valve (PRV) is the more suitable option.

  1. Pressure Range:

Both PRVs and PRVs have their own setpoints, but these setpoints differ in terms of the pressure levels they are meant to control. PRVs are set to maintain a specific, lower downstream pressure, while PRVs are set to open at a predetermined pressure threshold, typically higher than the system’s operating pressure. Therefore, the desired pressure range within the system plays a pivotal role in determining the type of valve to be used.

  1. Application Safety:

The nature of the application plays a crucial role in the valve selection process. Applications involving potentially hazardous or high-risk materials, such as in the oil and gas industry or chemical processing, often prioritise safety above all else. In these scenarios, pressure relief valves are indispensable for their ability to prevent catastrophic failures.

  1. Regulatory Compliance:

Certain industries and applications are subject to safety regulations and industry standards that mandate the use of specific types of valves. Compliance with these regulations is essential, and it may dictate the choice between PRVs and PRVs.

  1. System Complexity:

Consider the complexity of the system itself. Some systems may require both PRVs and PRVs, with each serving its distinct purpose. Such hybrid systems are designed to ensure both pressure control and safety measures are in place.

The selection of the right valve should be a well-informed decision that takes into account the unique characteristics of each application. It’s essential to carefully assess the system requirements, potential safety hazards, and regulatory guidelines to determine whether a pressure reducing valve or a pressure relief valve is the most suitable choice. The proper selection ensures system efficiency, safety, and compliance with industry standards.


In the realm of pressure management, the differentiation between pressure-reducing valves (PRVs) and pressure-relief valves (PRVs) is vital. Both serve specific functions and are integral to a range of industries and applications. 

In conclusion, pressure-reducing valves and pressure-relief valves are not only vital for the smooth operation of various systems but also crucial for the safety of personnel and the protection of assets. By grasping their functions and nuances, industries can make informed decisions to maximise system efficiency while minimising potential risks and failures.