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Backflow Prevention And Mitigation

Everything You Need To Know About Backflow And How To Minimize Its Damage

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At Robins Plumbing, we’ve seen it all. From the smallest spigot leak to the biggest pipe burst, we’ve had years of experience dealing with all kinds of plumbing issues that affect our wonderful customers in Phoenix and the surrounding area. One of the more serious issues we occasionally come across is backflow, a complex plumbing quandary that, at its worst, can cause massive damage to property, personal health, and drain your finances quicker than almost any other kind of plumbing problem.

What Is Backflow?

In layman's terms, a backflow is when water suddenly reverses its flow and starts to move into areas where it doesn’t belong — back through the clean water system, up through your property's pipes, and into your toilet, sink, and bathtub.

To get more specific, backflow happens when low pressure causes water from a sewage system to makes its way into zones where it is not normally found. Modern municipal water systems are generally designed to keep the plumbing that provides clean drinking water to your property separated from the plumbing that transports sewage water to your town’s sanitation storage. When the checks and balances of this system are thrown out of whack, the result is dirty water making its way back through your pipes and into your home or business.

Because of its origins, backflow water is considered to be a public health hazard. Sewage and “used” water contain all kinds of pathogens and bacteria that are dangerous to human health, therefore it is imperative that you immediately seek help from a professional plumbing service when your residence or business is affected by a backflow problem.

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"It is imperative that you immediately seek help from a professional plumbing service when your residence or business is affected by a backflow problem."

What Causes Backflow?

Anywhere sewer pipes and freshwater pipes cross-connect means there is a chance that a backflow incident can have an effect. Normally, these cross-connections are fitted with mechanisms that stop sewage water from contaminating your drinking water, but if a cross-connection is installed incorrectly or at the wrong location in a plumbing system, a backflow incident can overwhelm the mechanisms and allow dirty water to make its way into your home.

In a municipal water supply system, backflow can be caused by a number of issues:

  • Flooding
  • Broken sewer piping
  • Breakdown of devices that regulate water pressure
  • Blockages in local irrigation plumbing
  • Broken water mains
  • Open fire hydrants

In residential plumbing systems, any fluctuation in water pressure can cause dirty water from washing machines, sinks, dishwashers, and pools to contaminate potable water. If your home’s fixtures and plumbing lines aren’t fitted with devices such as hose bibs and air gaps, chances are good that eventually you’ll be the victim of an otherwise easily-preventable localized backflow incident.

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How Can Backflow Be Prevented?

To prevent localized backflow accidents, there are several options homeowners and business owners can take:

Install air gaps in all of your sinks, bathtubs, and any other fixture designed to capture water and hold it in one place. An air gap is installed below the water outlet level, essentially preventing water from overflowing the outlet and drawing back into the water supply.

If air gaps won’t work for your particular situation (you live in a flood-prone area, for example), consider using reduced pressure zone devices (RPZDs) for your fixtures. RPZDs implement a double-check valve system that is far more effective than the standard air gap.

Make sure your water outlets are all equipped with hose bib backflow preventers. Hose bibs protect plumbing lines with a spring device that closes the line when it detects water flowing in the wrong direction.

If your home has a sprinkler system, consider a pressure type vacuum breaker installed in the pipe that provides water to your lawn. It works by constantly monitoring water pressure and uses a valve to close the pipe off when it detects backflow.

A barometric loop is a simple series of pipes that are formed into a U-shaped loop. When placed upstream from a cross-connected pipe, it can prevent backflow from making it past a certain point in the plumbing system.

If you spot any of these signs, contact a plumbing repair service immediately. They’ll investigate any potential problem and implement a proper backflow prevention and mitigation plan if the situation calls for it. Keep in mind that any of the above symptoms could be caused by a plumbing issue unrelated to backflow, but it pays to have an expert check them out anyway — although a clogged pipe won’t cause nearly as much damage as a backflow, you’re better off dealing with any issues now rather than later.

In Case Of A Backflow Problem, What Steps Do You Need To Take?

Taking proper action in the event of a backflow problem is key to minimizing any effects it might have on your property and your health. In the case of a more serious backflow incident caused by acts of nature such as fires, floods, or earthquakes, your local government will most likely have a warning system in place to advise residents on the situation and what steps they should follow. If you suspect your backflow problem is being caused by a municipal outage, stay tuned to a radio or television in order to receive any emergency notifications.

Regardless of the source of the backflow, follow these additional steps:

  • Contact a local plumber immediately to get help
  • Contact your water utility company to make sure they are aware of the situation
  • Avoid bathing or washing with contaminated water
  • Avoid drinking any contaminated water.
  • If you need to use tap water for any reason, make sure you boil it thoroughly beforehand
  • Keep yourself, your family members, and your pets out of areas affected by backflow

A backflow issue is a serious health issue — sewage water is pretty nasty at the best of times, and once it gets out into the open, it can present significant biological hazards to humans, animals, and even property. Not only can potentially deadly diseases be transmitted from backflow water, but toxic chemicals like fertilizers, antifreeze, and copper runoff from poorly-manufactured pipes can be included in contaminated water.

"Taking proper action in the event of a backflow problem is key to minimizing any effects it might have on your property and your health."

In Case Of A Backflow Problem, What Steps Do You Need To Take?

Servicing the Phoenix area since 2004, Robins Plumbing has some serious experience in backflow prevention and dealing with the effects of backflow accidents in homes, businesses, and other locations. Our knowledgeable technicians will offer you the best advice on how to stop backflow from happening on your property, in addition to installing the latest anti-backflow devices for your water fixtures, pipes, and sprinkler systems.

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