How Much Do You Know About Backflow Prevention?

Written by Tom Elliott. Posted in Rakeman Blog

Most homes in the Las Vegas valley have backflow prevention devices on the irrigation system, pool fills, hose bib’s (outdoor faucets) and possibly the water main serving the house. The backflow device is used to prevent contaminated water (pool water, landscape water, etc.) from entering into your potable water lines.

Keep reading to learn how your backflow prevention device works and how you can avoid water contamination via backflow.

Why Is Backflow a Problem?

No matter if you are connected to a private well or the city water system, backflow preventers are required. Both the city’s water system and your home’s water system are set up to ensure that clean water flows to your home and used water flows away from your home into the sewer system. The contaminated water should never cycle back to your home or to another home connected to the city’s water.

Cities have a variety of measures in place to make sure every citizen gets potable, or drinkable and clean, water. The Environmental Protection Agency sets certain standards that each municipality must live up to, and because of these regulated standards, cities with contaminated water like Flint, Michigan should be the exception and not the rule.

As per the Safe Drinking Water Act, cities should frequently test their water to ensure it doesn’t have any contaminants. Of course, it never hurts to test the water that reaches your home on your own. You can also install a filter that ensures your drinking water is free of nearly every possible contaminant.

Cross-contamination can occur in an emergency situation like a flood or earthquake. If your municipal water somehow becomes contaminated, the city will post a public notice that you should boil your water before using it.

There’s another, more common way your water gets contaminated: through backflow. Backflow happens when you accidentally cause a cross-connection, or a connection between purified water and contaminated water.

Usually, cross-connections happen because of a change in water pressure. Water pressure should cause clean water to flow through your taps and channel dirty water away, but if an unexpected drop in water pressure happens-for instance, when firefighters use a fire hydrant in your neighborhood or when a pipe breaks-the water pressure drops.

If you have backflow prevention devices, the water pressure change isn’t a big deal. But if your device is broken or too old, you might inadvertently send contaminated water back into your pipes.

Backflow is prevented on most plumbing fixtures with the use of an air gap, but the cross-connection happens most frequently when you hook your garden hose up to one of your faucets and then set the hose’s other end into a sink or wading pool, where the hose is submerged in water. If backflow happens, you’ll end up drinking the pool water rather than potable water from the tap.

The bad news is that you probably won’t even notice that the backflow happened. Unless your water looks dirty, smells odd, or tastes weird, you could keep drinking it and assuming that it’s clean. Drinking contaminated water may cause health issues.

How Can You Prevent Backflow?

Many modern plumbing fixtures prevent backflow simply because of the way they’re designed. For instance, your tub’s faucet is probably higher than the tub’s sides. If the tub backs up with sewage, the sewage will flow over the side before it reaches the faucet. You’ll have to deal with an unfortunate mess, but you won’t have to worry about contaminating your water supply through backflow.

The same air gap design principle is used in your toilet, laundry machine, fridge, and dishwasher. However, some systems need a backflow device to ensure backflow won’t happen. If you need to connect something directly to a water source-like you do when you connect a hose to a tap-you must depend on a backflow prevention device to keep your water clean.

Commercial and industrial buildings are required to have backflow prevention devices, but so are certain systems in every residence. In particular, your hand-held shower wand, lawn and fire sprinkler systems and hand-held sink sprayers.

If you have a shower and tub combination with a faucet lower than the tub’s walls, your faucet will also have a prevention device.

Since you usually will not know a backflow episode has happened, you should be proactive about ensuring your devices work and that you do your part to keep contaminated water out of the city’s systems. Take these steps to protect your potable water:

  • Schedule yearly testing of backflow prevention devices that can be tested, like your irrigation system.
  • Not all devices can be tested. As a rule of thumb, if you have a humidifier or hand-held shower head, replace the backflow prevention device every five years.
  • Try to avoid hooking hoses directly to taps and faucets. Install a vacuum breaker, which is one type of backflow prevention device, on the hose’s spigot or valve. When you fill a pool or sink with a hose, try to set the hose above the level of the water and keep it from being submerged.

Is it time to schedule your backflow prevention testing? Or do you want to know if it’s time to replace or repair your device? Call the professional plumbers with Rakeman Plumbing and Rakeman Air today.

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  • Rakeman Plumbing
  • 4075 Losee Rd
  • North Las Vegas, NV 89030
  • Phone: 702-642-8553
  • Fax: (702) 399-1410
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