Backflow preventers can be the difference between a clean water supply and a contaminated one. If you have a private well, the responsibility of testing and monitoring falls to you, so installing a backflow prevention device isn’t a bad idea.
But do you actually need a backflow preventer on a well system? While the answer varies based on your location and local codes, the answer is usually yes. This article explains backflow preventers, what they do, and when they’re necessary, so continue reading to learn more.
What Is Backflow In A Water System?
Backflow is a common concern with water systems, as it can allow dangerous contaminants and chemicals to enter the water system. It occurs when the flow of water through pipes, hoses, or plumbing moves in the opposite direction than it is supposed to flow.
Backflow can occur as a result of multiple things, although the most common culprits are water pressure changes and drops. These situations can occur due to various issues, like breaks in electrical power, excessive water use from one fixture on the same system, and pipe failure. If the water pressure changes or drops considerably, the water could flow back the way it came, potentially allowing contaminated water into the water supply.
What Is A Backflow Preventer?
Many systems feature backflow prevention devices to prevent cross-contamination in a water system. There are a few variations of these devices, although there are two common types: the Reduced Pressure Zone Assembly (RP) and the Double Check Valve Assembly (DC).
While the exact design varies from one device to the next, the general purpose is the same. Most feature a one-way gate design that prevents water from traveling backward in the pipe, effectively eliminating backflow concerns. The check valves within the assembly halt backflowing water before it can contaminate your water source, which keeps you safe from a contaminated water supply (as a result of backflow).
Water can flow easily in the correct direction, but the device prevents the water from traveling back the way it came.
Do I Need A Backflow Preventer If I Have A Well?
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have a backflow preventer if you have a well. Although the local code varies from one area to the next, many building authorities require homeowners to install backflow preventers on well systems.
For example, residents of Austin, Texas, with well systems, are required to install backflow prevention and cross-connection controls to avoid contamination of potable water. The city considers wells to be auxiliary water sources, meaning they must meet these requirements.
If you’re unsure whether you need a backflow preventer for your well system, consult your local building authority for more information. Generally, you can also find this information on the city’s website, although this varies from one area to the next.
What Is The Purpose Of A Backflow On A Well?
Like any other water system, a well is susceptible to backflow. If contaminated water flows backward into your well system, it could become a significant issue, just like it would be with a municipal water supply.
So, the purpose of a backflow preventer on a well is no different than on a home on the municipal water supply: prevent backflow and contaminated water. Contaminated water can present a significant health risk, so it’s essential to treat backflow and contaminants seriously.
What Could Happen If I Don’t Have A Backflow Preventer?
If you don’t have a backflow preventer on your well system, your system is susceptible to backflow issues. For example, let’s say heavy metals from the plumbing in your home leaches into the water. When a backflow situation occurs, these metals seep backward into the well system, creating an issue.
In this particular scenario, there could be various adverse health effects. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), individuals who consume high levels of heavy metals are at a higher risk for acute and chronic toxicity, kidney, liver, and intestinal damage, anemia, and cancer.
The potential ripple effects of a contaminated well system vary based on the contaminant in question. All in all, it can be hazardous for your health and well-being, so it’s essential to understand the risks associated with backflow and contamination.
Can Contaminated Well Water Make You Sick?
As mentioned, drinking contaminated water from your well system can have various adverse side effects. Although most of the conditions and illnesses associated with consuming contaminated water are short-term, some contaminants may lead to chronic or long-term illnesses.
The exact side effects vary based on the type of contaminants in the water. For example, bacteria and nitrates in well water can cause various short-term illnesses, including stomach problems, nausea, and diarrhea.
How Do I Know If My Water Is Contaminated?
There are a few ways to determine whether tap water is contaminated. Sometimes, your water will take on a different smell, taste, or color. For instance, if your home has copper plumbing and it’s beginning to corrode, you might notice that your water has an orangish tinge. In addition, it might taste metallic.
In other cases, you might be unable to see, smell, or taste the contamination. Since the city doesn’t professionally manage private wells, it’s up to the homeowner to stay on top of monitoring for contaminants. You can send in water samples to various labs for testing, or you can hire a water professional to test the system for you.
They’ll test for various contaminants, including bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and more. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should test your well water at least once per year, ideally every spring.
Can I Install My Own Backflow Preventer?
Installing your own backflow preventer on a well system is entirely doable with a bit of know-how. If you’re an avid DIYer with plumbing experience, you can probably install your own backflow preventer without an issue.
However, if you’re unfamiliar with DIYs and plumbing-related projects, it’s best to leave this project to a licensed professional. In some cases, the project can become surprisingly complex due to the system’s layout, so it might be best to outsource the project regardless.
Before you decide to install the backflow preventer yourself, be sure to check local plumbing laws. In some areas, plumbing laws state that licensed plumbers must be the ones to install the backflow preventer. So, ensure you’re legally allowed to complete the task before starting your project.
How Much Does It Cost To Install A Backflow Preventer?
If you DIY your backflow preventer installation, you might spend as little as $35. Of course, you’ll need the necessary tools associated with the job, but the device itself can be reasonably inexpensive. Basic models with a simple design are usually cheaper, but if you decide on a more sophisticated model, you can expect to pay more for the device.
On the other hand, if you decide to hire a professional to handle the project, you can expect to pay more. On average, installing a backflow preventer costs between $300 and $400. For more complex installations with high-level backflow preventers, you can expect to pay between $800 and $1,000. On the low end for low-level backflow preventers, you might pay as little as $130.
It all depends on factors specific to your scenarios, like local labor costs, the contractor you hire, and the complexity of the installation. You can always contact local professionals for a quote personalized to your situation. This way, you can shop around for the best price.