Backflow: What Causes It and How to Prevent It?

Backflow prevention devices may have significantly reduced the incidences of backflow disasters, but this plumbing problem still poses a real danger. A simple plumbing mishap like a broken water main line is all it takes …

what is backflow

Backflow prevention devices may have significantly reduced the incidences of backflow disasters, but this plumbing problem still poses a real danger. A simple plumbing mishap like a broken water main line is all it takes for the water in your system to start flowing in the reverse direction. Backflow prevention devices are installed anywhere a clean water line crosses with a non-potable line or source. 

Your clean water can become contaminated without these backflow prevention devices or when they are defective. This contamination might expose you and your family to water-borne diseases, some of which may be fatal. So, it’s a wise idea to learn about backflow prevention devices and the compliance regulations surrounding these safety gadgets for a plumbing system. This article will define a backflow, identify its leading causes, and discuss how the different types of prevention devices can protect your water supply systems.

What is Backflow?

Backflow refers to the flow of water in the reverse direction. This plumbing problem can cause foreign liquids and non-potable water (not quality water for drinking) to flow into your potable water (quality water for drinking) sources. This contamination can occur in a public water system or your home.  

What Causes Backflow? 

Increased Pressure:

Increased or back pressure is the leading cause of this plumbing issue. Increased pressure from a boiler, cooler, heater, or waste disposal equipment causes the non-potable water to mix with drinking water. 

Back Siphonage:

Back siphonage is another well-known cause of backflows, especially in commercial buildings. Here, the water reverses its direction in the distribution system. That is due to reduced pressure in the water distribution network. It happens when you have pipe breakages, burst water pumps, or when you get disconnected from the source.

How Backflow Prevention Devices Safeguard Your Plumbing Water Supply

Backflow prevention devices are designed to regulate the direction of flowing water. In other words, they prevent the water from going in reverse into the pipe. Vacuum breakers, air gaps, and check electric valves are the three most sought-after backflow preventers in the market today. 

The functioning of the backflow prevention device depends on where it has been applied. The baseline, however, is that the check valves, vacuum breakers, and air gaps prevent foreign liquids, debris, and non-potable water from contaminating the clean water source or the distribution system. Here’s how these popular backflow preventers keep your drinking water clean and healthy.  

Vacuum Breakers 

Also known as AVBs or Atmospheric vacuum breakers, these devices help mitigate the risk of your spigots, hoses, or faucets experiencing a backflow event. A vacuum breaker has a plug that regulates the pressure levels. It opens with low pressure and vice-versa. 

Opening the AVB plug seals off the main’s feed. Low pressure often culminates into back siphonage, and this causes the water to reverse its flow. The breakers are not as effective contamination preventers as the air gaps. 

Air Gaps 

These safety products prevent foreign substances from polluting the water. An air gap operates with two hoses—one for running the drain and the other for running wastewater. It separates these hoses, making it hard for the pipes to contaminate the water supply. That’s how the air gap ensures that water only flows in one direction. 

Air gaps are an affordable yet efficient way to prevent dishwasher flooding. Be sure to check with your local emergency plumber to familiarize yourself with your jurisdiction’s air gap installation regulations.  

Check Valves

These backflow prevention valves use pressure sensors to ensure water flows one way, not backward. They usually close if the water flow turns in the opposite direction. This safety feature goes a long way in protecting your piping, pumps, and other valves. These devices are typically installed at the water line’s service entrance by a plumbing professional. They do, however, fit at any of the water outlets. They are suitable for systems with continuous pressure. 

Testing Backflow Preventer Devices

You have a legal duty as a property owner to comply with mandatory testing and inspections of your backflow preventers. Only a licensed and accredited plumber should perform the testing and inspections. The findings should then be documented and reported to the relevant authorities. These records contain valuable information for future maintenance teams working on the preventer device. 

Faulty Preventer devices 

The best redress for a faulty prevention device depends on the nature and severity of the problem. It can be either a repair or a replacement. Hiring a qualified and experienced plumber makes the repair or replacement a time-conscious and stress-free process. It only takes a couple of hours for a plumber to fix a damaged backflow prevention gadget. 

Regulations on Backflow Preventers 

You need to register all backflow prevention devices in some jurisdictions. Additionally, you must comply with the mandatory testing requirements to keep the backflow preventer functioning well at all times to avoid problems in the future. 

Institutions like hospitals, hospices, learning institutions, commercial buildings, and manufacturing complexes are required to purchase and install these devices on their water supply lines. Many states require installation of a backflow preventer alongside your water meter if you are sourcing water from a well.

Final Thoughts 

As you’ve seen, a backflow can seriously disrupt comfort and functionality in your home. This plumbing mishap also has severe health implications. Fortunately, a plumbing gadget fits inside your system to prevent backflows. This life-saving backflow preventer ensures you don’t compromise your potable water. 

Some red flags that your water might be contaminated include sulfur-smelling water, foul-tasting water, or even discoloration. Sometimes, the water may not show these signs, but it is still contaminated with dangerous things harmful to your health. That’s why it’s important to schedule regular inspections with your certified tester to be safe

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