Plumbing systems are complex arrangements of pipes, valves, and pumps that safely move water in and out of the house. When the system is working well, it keeps clean water and wastewater away from each other.
However, there are some cases when the risk of contamination increases, and plumbers will recommend installing a backflow preventer in the system.
This post will explore what a backflow preventer is and the vital job it performs in your home’s plumbing.
What Is Backflow?
Plumbing systems are carefully designed to keep clean water and wastewater separate. Clean water comes in, and wastewater goes out. But sometimes changes to the pressure or damage to the plumbing can result in water flowing in the opposite direction. This can also happen if a fire hydrant is opened for use in your area.
When backflow occurs, there is a significant risk of the drinking water becoming contaminated with:
- human waste
- cleaning supplies (soap, washing detergent)
- gardening chemicals (fertilizers/pesticides)
- chlorine from swimming pools
This risk of contamination is why both commercial and residential plumbing systems usually have a backflow preventer in place.
What Is a Backflow Preventer?
A backflow preventer acts as a one-way gate in a water pipe system. Its job is to keep water moving in one direction, which helps prevent contaminants from flowing back into the main water supply. When there are any changes in water pressure, the backflow preventer will snap into action to make sure everything keeps flowing in the direction it is meant to be flowing.
Each state has regulations regarding the installation of backflow preventers. Many household appliances will have some form of backflow prevention system installed as standard. For example, loft tanks and toilet cisterns all have air gap systems in place.
However, if you have a swimming pool, sprinkler system, or run water from a well, you may be required to install a backflow preventer. Most commercial businesses are legally required to install a backflow prevention device, especially if they use chemicals of any kind.
Different Types of Backflow Preventers
There are several different types of backflow preventers on the market that vary in both cost and function. We have given some brief descriptions below, but if you are unsure what device would work best for you, then check with your local plumbing company.
Double Check Valves
Double-check valves are commonly used in underground and in-line installations. This backflow preventer has two check valves that will close in the event of a drastic change in water pressure. If one of the valves gets stuck in the open position, the other valve will act as a failsafe keeping any wastewater out.
Double-check valve backflow preventers are ideal for appliances that use hot water, cleaning products, or chemicals.
Pressure Vacuum Breakers
Pressure vacuum breakers are an inexpensive but effective option. They are easy to install, maintain and repair. Typically, these backflow preventers will be installed to prevent wastewater from sprinkling systems from entering the drinking water supply. PBV can be installed next to an outdoor wall or in the basement or utility room.
Reduced Pressure Zones
Reduced pressure zones are a more complex and expensive backflow preventer, often used in urban areas. The device has two check valves and an extra relief valve that opens to release contaminated water. If there are any changes in water pressure, the value will remove wastewater from the system to prevent any backflows into the potable water supply.
Backflow Preventer Upkeep
Having a top-quality backflow preventer in place will protect commercial and residential properties from contaminated water. Backflow preventers are built to last, but maintenance is key to their longevity.
Backflow preventers need to be tested every year. If you notice any noises or leaking from the backflow preventer, it is essential to get it checked out quickly. The same is true if you notice discolored water or unpleasant smells coming from the taps.
If you suspect that you might have some issues with the water supply, then contact a plumber immediately to get the system tested. The last thing you want to do is drink contaminated water, which can lead to several unpleasant symptoms such as gastrointestinal issues and dehydration.
Let R.J. Tilley Help With Backflow Preventers and More!
R.J. Tilley is here to answer your backflow preventer questions and tackle any other plumbing issue.
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