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What Is Backflow?

The local water supply is a key part of modern plumbing that allows nearly any building to have running water, flushing toilets, and much more. What we often take for granted is that this water is suitably clean and useable for just about every application. But keeping it that way is an uphill battle. There are all sorts of ways in which your water supply could be jeopardized and contaminated by wastewater. One such way is through a problem known as “backflow.”

What Is Backflow?

Backflow is the term for an unwanted flow of water in the opposite direction. In plumbing terms, this is used to describe water flowing backward in your plumbing lines, back out to the local plumbing supply. There are two different reasons this can happen: back pressure and back siphonage. Back pressure is when the pressure in your plumbing system is stronger than that in your supply, causing water in your lines that could be contaminated to reach the system again. Back siphonage is when the supply’s pressure is lower than that of your system, such as when water supply is interrupted or temporarily goes down.

Why is backflow so dangerous? Because it may contain contamination. Water that enters your plumbing supply may be used for any number of different applications. Think of how many devices you have connected to the plumbing lines in your own home: you have faucets and fixtures like toilets and showers, appliances like your washing machine and ice maker, a sprinkler system in your yard, and much more. Commercial and industrial buildings have these and may have even more, including emergency sprinklers or possibly specialized machinery which need a constant supply of water to run properly.

When these lines suddenly start pushing backward, there’s a risk that water which has become contaminated could push back into the local water supply. Contamination can come in many different forms, and in some cases water is still perfectly fine. However, if the water that pushes back into the supply is something which contains things like pesticides or human waste, then the risk for serious disease contamination is immensely high.

Backflow Prevention

Because backflow presents such a massive possible health hazard to the public, all commercial or industrial buildings are required to have some form of a backflow prevention device installed. Some residential buildings, including multi-family residential buildings often have backflow prevention devices installed as well, both for each unit and for the building as a whole.

Check Valves

A check valve is a valve that essentially only allows water to flow in one direction. When the pressure slows down or stops, the valve shuts and cannot open the other direction. This stops water from flowing the opposite direction and protects the local supply.

Check valves are used in a wide variety of applications, but require regular inspection and service to ensure they’re in good working condition. In most instances, a single check valve is fine for low-hazard instances, such as potable water or when the water that may flow backward could have been heated. However, if the water is deemed to be a higher hazard level, you may be required to have a double check-valve system. A San Bernardino commercial plumber can help you determine if this is the right choice for you.

Air Gap

An air gap is exactly as it sounds: unobstructed vertical space between a water outlet and a fixture’s flood level. Think of your standard kitchen sink for just a moment: you have a tap and a basin where the water can fill up, plus a space in between where the water flows downward. This air gap prevents water from flowing back through the tap: in fact, water that passes out of the tap most likely will never be able to reach it again because the sink will overflow.

Air gaps are often the least expensive form of backflow prevention, and in some cases are the required method, including instances where the possibility of serious contamination exists, such as in lines that deal with hazardous substances or human waste.

Have your backflow device inspected by the San Bernardino commercial plumbing professionals from All Pro Plumbing, Heating, Air & Electrical today! Call us at (909) 253-0664 to schedule your service.

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