Do I Need A Backflow Preventer On My Irrigation System?

The plumbing system for your home is complex, requiring numerous components to ensure everything functions properly. If you have an irrigation system, the plumbing network in and around your home becomes slightly more complicated, as you must have a backflow preventer.

Key Points:

  • Backflow occurs when water flows from the sewage system into the water supply, potentially contaminating it.
  • Backflow preventers are devices installed in plumbing systems to restrict backflow and protect water supplies.
  • Most residential, commercial, and irrigation systems require backflow preventers per regulations set by local building authorities.

This article discusses the ins and outs of backflow preventers and whether you need one for your irrigation system, so continue reading to learn more!

What Is Backflow?

As the name implies, backflow happens when water moves through your plumbing system the wrong way. Instead of flowing away from your water supply towards the sewage system, it flows toward your water supply. In an irrigation system, this can escort pesticides and chemicals into your water supply, which can contaminate your home’s drinking water.

What Leads To Backflow Occurrences?

In a functioning water system, water should move down the line, away from the water supply. This happens because the water naturally meanders away from high-pressure areas to areas with lower pressure. When the pressure shifts, the water might travel the wrong way, leading to contaminated water.

This can happen for a few reasons, like a broken water line while excessive water is used (such as to fight a fire). Or, if your lawn’s sprinkler system was incorrectly installed, you might encounter issues with backflow due to high amounts of back pressure emanating from the pump.

What Are Backflow Preventers?

A backflow preventer is a water backflow prevention device that does exactly what the name implies. It allows water to travel in one direction, effectively halting backflow situations. The device is installed on your home’s water pipes to catch the problem before it contaminates your water supply.

How Do Backflow Preventers Work?

Backflow preventers sound relatively self-explanatory, as the mechanism is simple. These systems function using a “one-way gate,” which functions by allowing water to pass, but once it passes, it can’t return through the gate.

Some devices are more straightforward than others, featuring a simple check valve that snaps shut when the backflow begins to occur. However, these simpler designs are often somewhat flimsy in that they can easily be overwhelmed. So, with enough backflow pressure, the preventer might cave, allowing water to flow in the wrong direction.

On the other hand, some backflow preventers are more complicated, although the general idea remains the same. These devices often contain multiple components, including check valves, water release valves, air vents, and testing systems. These systems are usually more durable than their simpler counterparts, so they shouldn’t collapse under higher backflow pressures.

Where Are Backflow Preventers Necessary?

Generally speaking, almost every build is required to have a backflow preventer on its water system. This includes customers in most multi-family buildings, residential homes, commercial properties, and industrial facilities.

That said, requirements vary from one state and region to the next, so be sure to check the requirements in your area. If you hire someone to install an irrigation system, they should know the requirements in your area. Alternatively, if you’re DIYing your irrigation system and are unsure of requirements, check with your local building authority. They should have the information you need to stay within the law.

Do You Need A Backflow Preventer On A Sprinkler System?

Aside from residential, commercial, and industrial buildings, most irrigation systems need backflow preventers, too. For example, let’s say you have a sprinkler system that pulls straight from your water supply via a direct connection.

In this case, you’ll need to have a backflow preventer system on it. The backflow device doesn’t need to be attached to the main water line, but you have to install it on your irrigation system’s control valves.

The Uniform Plumbing Code outlines these requirements, stating lawn sprinklers and irrigation systems must have protection from backflow via one of four devices: atmospheric vacuum breakers, pressure vacuum breakers, spill-resistant pressure vacuum breakers, or reduced pressure vacuum breakers.

What Happens If You Don’t Have A Backflow Preventer?

Without a backflow preventer device, you may begin to notice adverse side effects. The requirements for these devices stem from the potential health risk that can arise from backflow. The concerns are twofold, as the issues can manifest into problems with the irrigation system or health risks (or both).

With sudden pressure changes in the water lines, the water may backflow toward the supply line, raising issues with the functionality of the system. If the water isn’t flowing in the correct direction, you’ll be hard-pressed to utilize your irrigation system as you usually would.

On top of that, the health risks are undeniable. With an irrigation system, water can easily become contaminated by pesticides and chemicals from the ground, not to mention the insects, organisms, and bacteria that can cause problems.

For example, let’s say you have a septic system and pull runoff water from the surrounding area to water your lawn. While this is convenient for watering your property (without purchasing extra water), as it adds extra nutrients and various fertilizing agents for your lawn and plants, it cannot mix with water from the main supply line.

If the water flows into the main water supply, it could easily contaminate your main water line and potentially your entire water supply with whatever was in the runoff.

Or, let’s say you don’t use reclaimed water, as it might not be a feasible option for you. Even then, backflow can still present health risks. The water in irrigation lines often encounters various insects, bacteria, and other organisms in the soil around the lines, leading to contamination. If this water flows back into your main water supply, you could encounter all sorts of problems.

So, backflow preventers are essential in an irrigation system, regardless of whether you use reclaimed water or not.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where Is The Backflow Preventer?

If your home has an irrigation system, there should be a backflow prevention system in place. Generally, you can find these devices near your main control valves. They usually protrude from the ground, resting on a pedestal near the foundation.

This makes them easy to find if a problem arises, as the water pouring out of the device is hard to miss.

Leave a Comment