How water towers work and for what purpose they are built ?

 A water tower ( Water tower / Wasserturm ) also associated as a water tower is a building structure. It is designed to independently regulate the pressure and control the flow of water in a hydraulic system covering a small area where it is erected. A water tower is an object that bases its operation on the simple laws of physics. It has many of the functional features on which the foundations of the water infrastructure module planned for the industrial, urban and railroad sectors are based. Principle of water tower operation

How water towers work and for what purpose they are built ?
How water towers work and for what purpose they are built ? / photo by HarshLight from San Jose, CA, USA

A priority feature in the design of a water tower is the search for a suitable site for the future foundations of the structure. The structure, in order to be fully functional, must be built on the highest local elevation. Because the accumulating water in the water tower's tank must be located higher than the water systems located at the customers. The scheme of operation of the entire hydraulic system, based on the water tower, is that the pump sucks water from the deep reservoir, pumping the liquid upward, directly into the water tank, which is located at the top of the water tower. Then, under the influence of its gravity and thanks to the law of gravity, it displaces the water from the pipes until the pressure in the tower tank becomes equal to the pressure in the entire pipeline hydraulic system ( Pascal's Law ). So the whole process of functioning of the water tower operation is based on the phenomenon of hydrostatic equilibrium, working on the principle of fluid flow in " connected vessels ".

Purpose of the water tower

In addition to autonomously stabilizing the flow of water, the water tower has several other practical features. When steam pumps were displaced by electric pumps. The role of the water tower was designated to act as a water reserve for the hydraulic system. The water circulation begins at the pumping station and reaches consumers through filters. In between, the tower reservoir is replenished with water until the water level of the reservoir is reached at an appropriate standard. 

During the peak period of water intake by consumers, the hydraulic system operating in the area is overloaded and the pump station cannot cope with the water flow rate. A shut-off valve is opened in the reservoir and water from the tower additionally feeds the piping system. If the performance of the pump station improves, the valve again closes the flow of water from the reservoir, and the pumps return to their work. The above water circulation in the hydraulic system is cyclic.

Functionality of the water tower

In the old days, the erection of water towers was indeed a very important event. These hydraulic marvels of technology were able to relieve residents of basic household chores. Imagine carrying buckets of water to the fourth floor of a building !!! - something awful. The water tower was able to relieve people and delivered water to the upper floors by itself. But immediately what about hot water ? A lot of water towers were connected to the boiler house and chimney. The water was heated and delivered to the taps. It is wonderful to have hot water on tap and without leaving the house.

History of the water tower

The water tower is not an invention of our time. Since ancient Roman times, aqueducts have been built to supply cities with fresh water from mountain streams based on the principles of gravity. The mountains are a great analogy depicting the water tower scheme. The heyday of water tower construction came at the turn of the 20th century. During this period, water towers were used to store water in urban and industrial areas, and also played an important role in railroad infrastructure ; supplying locomotives and real estate with water.

Diagram of water tower construction

A water tower consists of several elements ; structural and mechanical.


The structure can be made of wood, red brick, reinforced concrete, riveted or welded steel plates. The water tower has a solid foundation, outlined in a circular, square or other geometric shapes. The tower's foundation usually consists of a massive plinth, which is made of hewn stone, ceramic bricks or reinforced concrete block.

The trunk ( support)

The next important element included in the water tower structure is the stem, also called the support, which is set vertically between the base and the head. In the center of the element are stairs leading to the tank and a network of pipes responsible for pumping and piping water. The elevation of the stem usually does not differ architecturally from the rest of the structure. It usually takes on a narrow cylindrical shape with a vertical arrangement and is thus easy to recognize. The stem of the water tower additionally has windows, allowing for proper illumination of the object's interior.


In this part of the tower is the water tank, which has its varieties, types, capacity and shape. There is a distinction between the basic types of water tanks:

Rectangular tank
Tank with a rounded base
Intze type tank
Intze type tank with internal cylinder
Intze type tank 2
Barkhausen-type tank
Klönne type tank
The tanks are made of riveted steel, reinforced concrete or plastic. Tank capacity can range from tens or thousands of cubic meters.

The heads of water towers take different shapes, depending on the architectural style, architect's fantasy or funkiness. Most often they take the shape of a sphere, a cuboid, a mushroom, etc. The facade of a water tower head is a field for highlighting the spirit of the era in which it was designed, a place for combining various details and architectural elements. It can also be used to advertise a local business, which shines at night in the form of a neon sign, etc.

An important part of the head is the vents, which maintain the required volume of air in the tank and prevent stagnation of water.


Water filtration and purification system

Pumping station 

A facility most often located in close proximity to the water tower. The pumping station is responsible for controlling, through valves, the fluid throughout the hydraulic system.


A system of pipes distributed throughout the hydraulic system; the beginning of the pipes is associated with the source ; the place from where the pump sucks water through a vertical system of pipes located in the shaft of the tower to the tank.

Architecture of the water tower

Neo-Gothic style

The most common in Poland and Europe are water towers made of red brick ; referring to the Neo-Gothic style or generally to the historicizing trend, very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in central Europe. These types of building structures imitate medieval castles or defensive towers. In addition to the aforementioned brick, fieldstone was used for construction, which was hewn down and used in the construction of the fundamental part of the water tower - the plinth. Neo-Gothic water towers have pointed, slender windows. Decorative friezes are made of red brick and arranged in various combinations and gradients - heads, carriages and bases. The most popular frieze is the arcade frieze; consisting of small pointed galleries. The detail usually accentuates the intermediate cornice between the head and shaft ; giving the object a defensive character in the form of machicolations.
Natural water tower

One can imagine that the largest water towers were not built by people, but by nature. I mean mountain peaks, through which streams of fresh water flow according to the laws of gravity towards valleys and lowlands. 

The ice caps on the tops of the mountains collect huge amounts of water most days of the year, so that on warm summer days they melt under the influence of the sun and feed the entire water cycle in nature. Nature is powerful, man learns its laws to later apply his knowledge in sublime and functional constructions. 

Does the water in the water tower reservoir freeze in winter ?

Of course it does. The water in the tank located inside the tower is subject to the same weather conditions that prevail outside the structure. In the colder regions of our globe, water towers are additionally equipped with heating systems, and the pipes are wrapped with insulation and an aluminum jacket with cotton wool. Water towers also have a heating system, where a heater introduces heated water or steam into the base of the riser. In both cases, heat rises into the tank to delay freezing. 

Ice forms on the surface of the water in the tank, in many cases several centimeters thick. Usually this layer of ice rises to the surface as the water level rises and falls. Many times the ice freezes on the roof or upper walls of the tank and remains there as the level changes underneath during daily use.

In more temperate climates, steel ladders are installed inside the tank, and probes hang from the roof to control the riser and water level. In colder climates, all internal fittings should be omitted, as the ice layer tends to tear them out.


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