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Plumbing 101: An Introduction To Backflow

Backflow is a common problem that keeps the phone of the modern plumber buzzing with service calls.

Backflow refers to a situation in which the water in a utility line or drainage pipe begins to flow in reverse. Backflow poses the risk of contamination to clean drinking water running in different utility lines, hence the need for urgent action whenever it occurs.

This article answers two questions that today's homeowner may have in relation to the mentioned plumbing problem.

How Does Backflow Occur?

The occurrence of backflow can be explained in two ways. The first of these explanations is a significant difference between the pressure of water running through residential sewer lines and that of water running through public utility lines. In the residential setting, backflow occurs when water pressure around the residential area is higher than the pressure of water running through public utility lines. An example of such a situation is when pumps are used to distribute water around various points within the residential area.

Backflow may also occur as a result of backsiphonage. This refers to a situation in which a "reverse siphon" occurs in a drainage pipe as a result of fluctuation in pressure. Backsiphonage is closely associated with "out of the ordinary" activities that consume large quantities of water (e.g. the operation of fire hydrants).

What Does Immediate Backflow Response Involve?

Understanding the occurrence of backflow wouldn't be useful to a homeowner if he or she is not familiar with the basic steps to take in the event of backflow before a plumbing specialist gets to the scene.

The first thing that an affected homeowner should do is to identify the source of backflow. He or she should seek to establish whether the problem is coming from residential drainage pipes or if it has its source in public utility lines. In a large number of cases, backflow occurs around backflow prevention devices (valve assemblies and reduced pressure zone assemblies) along the drainage system. Homeowners intent on identifying the source of backflow should check the mentioned areas for signs of backflow (e.g. discoloured, oily or soapy water and low levels of chlorine within the water distribution system).

Once identified, the homeowner should proceed to isolate the source of backflow in a bid to establish the extent of the problem. By doing this, he or she is able to determine whether the contamination of clean water has affected the entire residential area (for example) or whether it is a localized problem.

If the source of backflow lies in the residential drainage system, a homeowner should call in a licensed plumber to salvage the situation. If this source lies along public water utility lines, homeowners should inform the general public of the problem and before they notify the concerned authorities for corrective measures to be taken. You can click here for info about contacting a plumber for assistance.