Charlotte Water Distance Learning: At-Home Pipe System

Prep Time: 20 – 30 minutes
Learning Time: 50+ minutes
Age Range: Upper Elementary and Middle School
Materials: Paper, pencil, toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, rolled paper tubes, straws, cardboard, tape, glue, straws, hair dryer (with adult help)

Have you ever wondered how the water from your faucet gets to your house? It is quite the journey, starting as water in Lake Norman or Mountain Island Lake, from which it is pumped to shore, cleaned at a treatment center, and then moved through some of over 4,000 miles of pipes to your home! It is the job of the engineers and technologists at Charlotte Water to be working every day to build and maintain this system to make sure everyone in our county has access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s no small feat, considering 4,353 miles of pipe is about the same distance as a road trip from here to Alaska!

Water comes into your home from one pipe, which branches out into many separate pipes that lead to all the sinks, bathtubs, hoses, and other appliances that use water. Your task is to create and test a model of the last part of that system – the pipes leading to the faucets in your house! Using common materials, you will be making a small part of that system, with one entry point and two or more exits, and testing it using air instead of water. Air behaves similarly to liquid water (they are both fluids) and won’t make as big of a mess!

Directions:

  • Draw/design a simple path or diagram of pipes and faucets including a starting point, two or more places that branch out along the way, and end points at the end of those branches.  Here is an example to get you started, but feel free to create your own and try different paths:
  • You need an air source – whether it is a hair dryer (that will blow into materials), your breath into straws, or something else. Keep your path short so your air supply is strong enough to reach the end.
  • Use the materials you have gathered to start building your system. Make sure that your materials can fit your air source in the beginning of your system. If using a hair dryer, use it on high fan setting (most air coming out) but only use the cool setting.
  • Experiment with your tape. Different kinds of tape work better with different materials.
  • Look at the pipes under your sinks (if possible) for inspiration in making your pipe system.
  • As you are joining pieces together try to keep the joints sealed as well as possible, so leaks are minimal. When making turns or a new branch, cutting a hole and making flaps in the joining tube (sometimes called a flange) is one way to add another tube heading in a different direction.
  • As you add a new section, test that the air goes through it and fix any leaks where pieces meet.
  • When getting to the end of a branch test to see if you can feel air making it to that opening.
  • If you cannot feel the air locate where the air is escaping or blocked and fix that trouble spot before moving on.
  • After finishing your build, you will need to test how much air comes through. In water pipes, there needs to be enough water pressure to move the water to where it’s needed, so your pipe system should have enough air pressure. You could:
    • make an anemometer (a device used to measure air speed – see directions below)
    • cut and attach strips cut from a plastic bag of different lengths at the end of each branch
    • make a Flat Stanley cut out with folds at his feet that would bend over in the wind
    • or design your own method of measuring the air flow.
  • If your exits are not getting enough air flow, something might be wrong with your pipe system. This happens in water pipes here in Charlotte, too, and it’s up to engineers to find the problem and fix it.
    • Are there any leaks or cracks where air might be escaping? Have you tried using different kinds of tape to seal it?
    • If you have more than one exit, is there a way to increase airflow through only one of them? What might happen if you block all the exits but one?

Anemometer Instructions:

  • Materials:
    • 5 small Dixie cups
    • 2 straws
    • Hole puncher
    • Stapler or tape
    • Unsharpened pencil
    • Sharpened pencil
    • Marker
    • Straight pins
  • Instructions
    • Use the sharpened pencil to make a hole in the bottom of one of the Dixie cups (make the hole a little larger than the pencil to reduce friction)
    • Use the hole puncher to make two holes below the rim of the cup (make the holes across the cup from each other)
    • Move the hole puncher a little lower on the cup and make two more holes across from each other (this allows the straws to pass through the cup without touching each other)
  • From the video in the link at the bottom of these instructions
    • Place the straws through the holes like in the picture above
    • Use the hole puncher to make one hole in the side of each cup
    • Make sure to make each of the holes at roughly the same height on each cup
    • Pull the straw through the cup to the other side, bend it up, and tape or staple it to the inside of the cup
  • From the video in the link at the bottom of these instructions
    • Repeat this step with each of the cups and make sure the cups are all facing the same direction
    • Push the straight pin through the top of both intersecting straws to hold them in place
    • Put the unsharpened pencil, eraser first, through the hole at the bottom of the cup.
    • Stick the straight pin holding the straws into the top of the eraser to secure it.

Extension:

Using 1 floor of your house/ apartment, find and count all the cold-water faucets. Draw or diagram where the water pipes might be using your front door as the starting point. Your diagram should branch out and each end should be a faucet. Think of a tree branching out. Use this as your pipe diagram.

The Charlotte Water Distance Learning activities are provided in partnership with Discovery Place, Inc.

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