Of all the facets of modern living, few are as integral to our lives – or as frequently overlooked in importance – as clean water. It’s hard to imagine our lives without this basic necessity, and when problems arise with it your life can be filled with stress as well as confusion. One of the biggest problems that you can face is backflow, and understanding just what is backflow will be instrumental in making sure that your home is safe from this problem.
Exactly What Is Backflow?
So just what is backflow, then? Essentially, it’s a term that refers to a problem when water begins to flow in the opposite direction of its intended flow. Cross connections are a type of connection point where a main water source is split into different lines including some that may not be potable. For instance, when a public water system supplies a customer’s potable water as well as a nearby irrigation system, or when your residential home’s water supply has a connection point that feeds potable and non-potable water, it is a cross connection.
Those cross connections are the big risk factors when it comes to backflow. When water and other substances flow in reverse through a cross connection, it can lead to major contamination. That’s because the non-potable water can flow in reverse and find its way into the lines or water sources of your potable water.
So what is backflow? It’s a serious health risk that could impact the safety of your entire family. As such, taking the right steps to control and prevent it will be instrumental in giving you peace of mind and clean drinking water.
The Two Types Of Backflow
When you ask the question ‘what is backflow’, you also have to understand that there are actually two different types of backflow that can occur – backpressure backflow and backsiphonage. Each one is caused by a different issue, but both will lead to the same problem of potential contamination entering their clean water supply.
- Backpressure Backflow – Backpressure backflow is a type of backflow problem that is caused by pressure changes. When the pressure pushing water downstream is greater than the supply pressure moving water forwards through the lines, it can create a major backpressure problem. Water is forced backwards into supply sources or supply lines, which in turn means that the water going into your clean water lines may be contaminated. This issue can be caused by a number of issues including reduced water supply pressure, increased downstream pressure due to pumps, and more. One of the most common causes is when the amount of water that is being used exceeds the amount of water that is being supplied. Overuse, breaks in water mains, and other issues are common triggers for this.
- Backsiphonage – Backsiphonage occurs when negative pressure occurs in a public water system or in a private system in a home. It’s generally an issue when the water supply is stopped, triggering a sucking vacuum that pulls water backwards down the lines. This creates an effect much like drinking water through a straw. While it’s most commonly caused by excessive use of the water source such as when firefighters are combatting a fire and create a vacuum in the system, other problems within the home could cause the issue as well. Something as simple as a toilet installed improperly may be all it takes to create backsiphonage.
Again, no matter what the exact cause of your backflow problem, it’s important to identify it and start taking steps to control and manage it properly. This can be complicated, and contacting the pros is the best step you can take to protect yourself and your family.
What Is Backflow Prevention And What Options Are There?
The right backflow prevention techniques will be vital for protecting your clean water. There are a few main types of prevention techniques that may be used. Many modern fixtures like sink or shower faucets will already have backflow prevention designed into them. But, other steps may need to be taken as well. There are two main types of backflow prevention, though the mechanical type can also be broken down into several sub-types that each accomplish the job through different processes.
- Air Gap – The air gap is the most common initial step for preventing backflow. It’s nothing more than a physical, vertical separation that is twice the diameter of the water supply outlet. It’s situated at the end of the water supply outlet and the flood-level point on a vessel hat receives water. This air gap provides maximum protection since it maintains positive pressure. However, it’s not always as practical as it should be and as such, backflow problems can still exist.
- Backflow Prevention Device – In many instances, the use of a backflow preventer is needed. Also called a backflow prevention device, these are mechanical devices that are used to prevent backflow. While an air gap is generally used to create a natural solution, backflow prevention devices can also create a physical barrier that will prevent backflow as well.
The Main Types Of Backflow Prevention Devices
There are four main types of backflow prevention devices that a backflow prevention professional may need to use to control your issue. Depending on the cause of your problem and the water system in your property, one of the following options may be installed.
- Pressure Vacuum Breaker Assembly – This uses a spring loaded check valve and dual shutoff valves to prevent backsiphonage. It may not work for backpressure backflow and can be used for health or non-health hazards in the water line.
- Reduced pressure Backflow Prevention Assembly – This option uses two spring loaded check valves and a hydraulically operating relief valve. It works on both types of backflow and can be used for health hazards as well as non-health hazards.
- Spill Resistant Pressure Vacuum Breaker Assembly – This option uses internally loaded check valves and an air inlet valve that is independently operated on the discharge side of the check valve. It can be used for health hazard or non-health hazard issues, but is only effective for backsiphonage problems.
- Double Check Valve Assembly – This backflow preventer uses two spring loaded check valves and shutoffs at each end of the assembly. It’s a good option for both backpressure backflow as well as backsiphonage, but is only used for non-health hazards in your system.
Your backflow prevention expert will review your home and your problem and determine which of these is the right prevention device for your home. Additionally, underlying causes will have to be identified and addressed as well. For example, problems with plumbing lines or fixtures that are causing the backflow may need to be corrected if possible, along with the addition of a backflow prevention device.
As you can see, understanding the answer to the question ‘what is backflow’ is just the first step. You’ll need to get a solution to the problem as well, and your professional will make sure that you do so you can enjoy clean water again. They’ll examine the lines, test for backflow problems, identify underlying conditions, and then fix them. And, they can answer any additional questions that you may have about this problem.