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What Is Backflow? (And Why Should You Care?)

backflow-prevention-assemblyMost of the plumbing appliances and fixtures in your home or on a commercial property are there for the convenience, health, and well-being of the people who actually use that property. That seems to go without stating, but there is one protective element of a plumbing system that’s not necessarily there for your own use.

A backflow preventer helps to protect your property along with the entire community—anyone else who uses the city’s water supply. Learn about backflow and why it shouldn’t be a concern for your property—provided you have the right backflow prevention measures in place—in today’s guide.

The Dangers of Backflow: Back-Pressure

Picture a pipe leading into a boiler’s feedwater, or any tank full of chemicals. The pipe is sealed tightly to the pipe and pressure levels within the tank are closely monitored—until they aren’t.

If something were to happen to change the pressure levels within the tank, water would need a place to escape, and all that pressure may force chemical water back up through the pipes. In theory, this contaminated water could move through the pipes back to the public water supply. In fact, there are many recorded cases of such instances. This is called backpressure, a type of backflow.

A Common Situation: Back-Siphonage

Now we’re going to look at back-siphonage, another type of backflow that may be more likely to occur. Imagine that you had a hose leading from the kitchen sink into a bucket of soapy water. In addition, picture a pool of water around a sprinkler head in the yard, muddy and polluted and potentially full of pesticides.

If something were to increase demand on the supply side—say a firefighter needed to use a hydrant near the home, the excess draw on the water supply could force water in your home to get sucked back through, like through a straw. Along with the water in your pipes, soapy water from a bucket or fertilizer around a sprinkler head could also get stuck back in the public supply.

Protection Against Backflow

As you can see, backflow can be a dangerous thing. But in the past decades, great strides have been made in plumbing installation, along with strengthened requirements for homes and businesses, that helps to prevent backflow from plaguing a community. In fact, many sinks, showerheads, and sprinkler systems have backflow prevention built in!

However, some of the most complex backflow systems require you to keep them well-maintained.

Backflow Testing and Maintenance

If you own a commercial property, you likely have a large backflow prevention device in the yard, and some homes with complex irrigation systems do as well. If so, you may have received notice from the city that it’s time for backflow testing.

It’s so important that you do this each and every year. A backflow preventer is a series of check valves that are designed to only allow water to flow in a single direction. Your backflow assembly can have a check valve that fails and needs repair or replacement, and only a certified backflow tester can determine this for you.

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