Archive for March, 2012

Backflow Prevention 101: What You Need to Know to be in Full Compliance

Watch our video about Backflow Prevention

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Backflow preventers are causing all of us headaches and expense these days.  We need to install them in most residential buildings in New York City, and many commercial properties throughout the country are also subject to local, state and federal regulations requiring the installation of backflow prevention devices.

The Origins of the Backflow Prevention Law

     But why? Well, for an explanation, you need to go back to 1969, to Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass.  That year, the entire football team came down with Hepatitis A, and the school had to cancel all of the games.  After months of forensic testing, it was determined that a water fountain the players used had been contaminated with Hepatitis. How? The scenario went like this:  On August 29th , while the players were practicing, firefighters  battled a blaze nearby, which caused a drop in water pressure, which allowed ground water to seep into the practice field’s irrigation system—which also supplied the field with a drinking fountain.  That ground water had been contaminated by a group of children living near the practice facility, who were already infected with hepatitis. Once players drank from the contaminated faucet, they became infected.

And that is the genesis of all the rules and regulations concerning backflow prevention. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal agency that oversees the environment across the country, there are so many health issues relating to ground water, contaminated water and drinking water, that backflow preventers are required as a matter of course to protect the public’s health.

How Can Water Become Contaminated?

     The main areas of concern, according to the EPA, is a point called the cross-connection, where non-potable water can become mixed with potable water.  Backflow can occur when the pressure in the potable water distribution system becomes negative, or the pressure in the contaminated source exceeds the pressure in the distribution system.

The following are just a few of the ways this might occur:

• Water Main Breaks

• Flushing of a building’s water system due to repairs

• Emergency Firefighting water drawdown

• A garden hose submerged in a pesticide or soap mixture

• A pressure change in a cooling tower

To ensure the public’s health and safety, the EPS drafted regulations, which required the installation of backflow preventers, in certain circumstances, nationwide, and directed each state to draft laws to enforce those regulations.  New York State did just that in 1980, but the real estate lobby sued to prevent those laws from being enforced, citing the expense to property owners. The law has finally begun to be enforced in New York City, and that is where we find ourselves today.

Who Needs a Backflow Prevention Device?

     If your building is more than six stories high, or has a cooling tower, or a water pressure tank on the roof, or a laundry room with more than two machines, or a restaurant, or a medical office, or a dry cleaner, or a host of other scenarios, you most likely will need to install a backflow prevention device.

New York City’s DEP is in charge of this operation, and they are sending out notices to building owners telling them that they need to get their property in compliance with the law, and install a backflow device to protect their water distribution system.

There are a few different types of backflow devices, and an engineer must visit your site to determine which type to use. The engineer must then draw up plans, submit them to the NYC Cross-Connection Unit, get them approved, and then you must have the device installed by a NYS certified backflow installer. After installation, the engineer must verify that the correct type of device was properly installed, and submit that statement to the city. After all this is completed, your building will be in compliance.

And that is how we find ourselves at this juncture, with so many of us being forced to protect ourselves and our neighbors by having a backflow prevention device installed in our buildings. Varsity offers one-stop turnkey service to get your building into full compliance. We do everything from the engineering survey to installation to compliance filing. Please call me, Bobby Bellini, at 877-VARSITY or email me at rjbellini@varsityplumbing.com to set up an appointment for your free analysis and estimate.

Look for my next blog update: Which backflow device is right for you?


Bobby Bellini, President of Varsity Plumbing and Heating, Inc.

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