The Importance of Backflow Testing and Compliance for Your Fire Sprinkler System

Posted on: July 15, 2017

Image credit: Wikipedia

How this important technology keeps public water systems safe – and why you need to have yours inspected

A typical building derives its water supply from the city water main adjacent to it, which feeds all of its water needs, including the sprinkler system installed to fight fires. The owner or manager of the building usually contracts a company, such as LifeSafety Management, to tap into the main and run piping underground to feed the system.

All of this sprinkler water comes from the same city source that provides water for the structure’s other needs, including toilets, sinks, and water fountains.

What is backflow?

Backflow occurs when water flows from a structure’s plumbing system in the opposite direction from which it is intended. It is dangerous because water that becomes stagnant can lead to contamination in plumbing systems and pollute the city water main.

According to the American Water Works Association, backflow problems occur in five percent of all homes with backflow sensing systems and are even more likely to occur in commercial structures. In addition, these issues can be a seriously expensive hassle; according to a report published by the EPA, backflow incidents cost an average of $14,800 each and took nearly 500 hours to fix.

Why is backflow in sprinkler systems especially dangerous?

Backflow in sprinkler systems can be a serious problem because a large volume of water never moves when it sits in a building’s sprinkler system, unless it’s flowing during a sprinkler test, a fire activates it, or a sprinkler line breaks. Therefore, the water can become stagnant, and public safety officials do not want it flowing back into the water main.

For example, without a mechanism in place to prevent it, gravity would easily push stagnant water that’s been sitting in the sprinkler system of a 10 story-building back into the water supply, potentially causing serious issues.

This is why it’s essential to have a backflow preventer in homes, offices, and other buildings with sprinkler systems.

What is a backflow preventer and why do I need it?

A backflow preventer is device that keeps the water inside the sprinkler system, making sure that it travels only in one direction: from the water main into the sprinkler system.

It is similar to a hose bib on your garden hose; in fact, there is a mini-backflow preventer on the nozzle that makes water squirt out the sides rather than shoot back up into the source. The backflow preventer in commercial buildings is a tool for utility departments to ensure that their water stays safe and pure.

What is the required inspection and maintenance on backflow systems?

Florida statutes require annual inspections and testing of backflow preventers by a licensed fire sprinkler inspector who is certified for testing backflow prevention.

Once a licensed inspector certifies your backflow prevention system, it must be approved by your local water utility or public works department. There are multiple agencies that are licensed to complete certification for backflow prevention for fire sprinkler inspectors; in the State of Florida, the University of Florida’s Training, Research and Education for Environmental Occupations (TREEO) center is one of the primary institutions that trains and certifies these professionals.

Why is getting my backflow prevention system inspected (and repaired, if necessary) absolutely essential?

1. It’s mandated yearly by the state of Florida. Failing to get your backflow prevention system inspected, certified, and repaired isn’t just against the law; it’s also putting you and your neighbors at serious risk for water contamination.

2. Depending on your specific municipality, the utility department can and will shut off the entire water supply to your building, or just the domestic water supply (everything but the sprinkler systems), if the backflow is malfunctioning or if you have failed to obtain annual inspection and maintenance. This means that toilets, sinks, and showers won’t work – although the sprinklers will still be operational to protect you in case of fire.

If you have questions about backflow, need to get your annual inspection, or believe there may be a problem with your backflow preventer or other aspects of your building’s sprinkler system, call the experts at LifeSafety Management at (800) 330-1158, or reach us through our online contact form.