Backflow testing is a necessity for any home, apartment building, or place of business. It might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to home maintenance (in fact, you might not even know what backflow testing is), but skipping out on these tests is a great way to end up with some fines from the city or, even worse, sewage water flowing from your kitchen sink. If you’d rather avoid a case of giardiasis from contaminated water, backflow testing is something you should be aware of. That’s why we put together this guide to walk you through the testing process, explain why it’s so important, and let you know where to get the best backflow services in Napa Valley.
What is Napa Valley Backflow Testing and Why is it Necessary for Your Home?
We’ll start by answering the most basic questions: what is backflow and why does a home need a backflow prevention device? Backflow is one of the risks that come with contemporary plumbing technology. Since the dawn of civilization, engineers have been trying to figure out better and better ways of distributing water from a single location, like a reservoir, to homes, farms, and any other individual places that need it. The ancient Romans built aqueducts that used gravity to move water from one place to the next. Today, we use pressure to force water through underground pipes until it reaches your house. If you’ve ever turned on a hose or faucet and tried to block the water with your thumb, you’ve felt how strong the pressure has to be to distribute so much water that quickly.
Because the pipes rely on pressure, they’re designed to only flow in a single direction. One set of pipes brings water into your house and out through fixtures like shower heads and faucets, and another set of pipes brings wastewater back out again and takes it to the sewer or elsewhere to be recycled. It’s a highly convenient and efficient system, but that doesn’t mean it’s without a downside. Changes in the pressure can cause the water to stop and flow backward. That means you’re not getting any fresh water from the water main, and waste water is flowing up from the sewer into your home. This is called backflow.
Most modern-day fixtures actually come with their own ways to avoid backflow. Have you ever wondered why you never see a faucet that comes all the way down into the sink? That’s called an air gap, and it’s meant to prevent backflow. If a water source like a faucet is entirely submerged in water, it creates pressure pushing back against the flow from the faucet. This can cause the flow to reverse. That’s why garden hoses are the most common culprits for backflow. How many times have you just left the end of a hose in the pool or a bucket when you’re filling it up? Without that air gap, you’re putting yourself at risk for backflow.
Despite precautions like air gaps, the pressure inside your pipes is still sensitive and can be changed by any number of things. That’s where the backflow valve comes in. What is a backflow valve, you ask? It’s essentially a failsafe that switches on when backflow is detected and blocks any sewage water from entering the pipes in your home. This also cuts off the backward pressure, allowing the water to start flowing in the correct direction again. When your preventer is working properly, you might not even know you had backflow at all.
The key words here, of course, are “working properly.” Because backflow is a relatively rare occurrence, the preventer can fail or break without you even realizing it. Once a backflow preventer fails, however, there are only two ways for you to find out: when you run a test on it, or when sewer water suddenly starts flowing up through your kitchen sink. We certainly know which option we prefer.
In Napa Valley, backflow testing is required by the local government. This is partially for your own protection, but mostly to prevent backflow from reaching the main water lines. If the preventer fails, a single instance of backflow can end up contaminating the drinking water for the entire block. In order to avoid health risks, hefty fines, and the social rejection that comes after accidentally poisoning all your neighbors at once, we recommend getting in touch with a valley backflow testing provider like Valley Comfort Heating & Air for your yearly test.
What is the Proper Procedure for Installing Backflow Preventers?
We might be a little biased, but our answer for how to install a backflow preventer is the same as how to install a water filter or how to install an air filter: hire a professional who already knows how to do it. There are a ton of different types of preventers, and it would take about 50 pages of text and diagrams to teach you how to install each one. Calling a professional to handle the job for you, on the other hand, is extremely easy and generally won’t cost you more than a couple hundred dollars.
That being said, if you consider yourself to be a relatively handy person and you’re confident in your plumbing skills, installing or replacing a backflow preventer actually isn’t all that difficult. Because all the different types of preventers have their own installation process, we recommend studying the instructions that came with the part before trying to put it together. If you know how to install a water softener or other plumbing gizmo, you should easily be able to figure out a backflow preventer as well.
Before you start messing around with your pipes, we’ve put together a short list of some common pitfalls first-time preventer installers encounter:
- Turn the Water Off – This one seems pretty obvious but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget. Unless you want to be sprayed with water the whole time, you should switch it off before taking the pipes apart.
- Distance From the Ground – Backflow preventers can be installed underground or above the ground, depending on your preference. If you do decide on an above-ground installation, make sure the valve isn’t more than five feet from the ground. Placing it too high can cause problems when you’re inspecting or repairing it later on.
- Downward Water Flow – Backflow preventers can work both horizontally and vertically. However, if you’re installing it vertically, make sure it’s on a pipe where the water is flowing up, not down. If the water is flowing down onto the preventer, its weight can prevent the valves from fully closing.
- Floor Drains – If you’re installing the preventer indoors, make sure it’s not too far from a floor drain. Preventers have relief valves to release excess water when they’re closed, but those valves can leak and you don’t want water dripping onto the floor. We recommend attaching the relief valve to a drain pipe ending just above the floor drain.
- Y-Strainers – A Y-strainer is essentially a filter that attaches to a pipe and catches anything solid in the water flowing through. You should always have a Y-strainer installed upstream from the preventer to keep it from being contaminated with solid waste from the sewer.
If you remember these tips and follow the instructions closely, you should be able to install a backflow preventer without any problems. However, if you’re not feeling especially confident in your own plumbing abilities, you can always get in touch with a professional to handle it for you.
Benefits of Napa Valley Backflow Testing and Prevention in Homes
Even if you’re comfortable rolling the dice on potential backflow issues, the most convincing argument for getting a preventer and keeping up with the regular tests is that it’s illegal not to. Napa Valley requires every building connected to the municipal water mains to install a backflow preventer and have it tested once a year, so you’ll just end up getting fined for not having one. However, there are plenty of other benefits of backwater valve installation.
The quality of your family’s drinking water is something that you should always keep in mind. Just as health effects are one of the benefits of installing water filters in your home, the same goes for backflow prevention. Unless you’re excited about the idea of drinking shampoo, old food, soap, and, worst of all, raw sewage, a backflow valve is pretty much a necessity to make sure your drinking water is clean and fully potable.
Besides the gross-out factor of ingesting wastewater, backflow prevention also protects you from some potentially serious health concerns. Wastewater is a breeding ground for some of the worst diseases out there, and humanity has spent hundreds of thousands of years trying to keep our drinking water as far away as possible from the waste for exactly that reason. Anyone who played Oregon Trail will recognize the dangers of diseases like cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. Modern plumbing technology to reduce cross-contamination is the reason why these deadly illnesses are mostly a thing of the past in developed countries like the United States. However, ingesting backflow can bring all these diseases right back into your home. In fact, modern backflow prevention research was initially spurred by a massive dysentery outbreak during the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. It was later discovered that the two most popular hotels in the area had cross-connections that infected the entire water supply with amoebic dysentery, something contemporary plumbing would have avoided entirely.
Regular testing is the only way to make sure your backflow preventer is up to snuff. With all the water that passes through your pipes, it’s easy for the valves to become loose, connections to weaken, and seals to break. The best way to protect yourself and your family from backflow is to stay up-to-date on your backflow testing at all times.
Why Valley Comfort Heating and Air Conditioning is the Best Choice For Your Napa Valley Home
Now that you know all about backflow, you might be wondering why you’re hearing all this from a company that specializes in HVAC systems. It might sound a little counterintuitive, but backflow testing is actually something that a lot of HVAC contractors get certified in. That’s because there are a bunch of HVAC systems that require a connection to the plumbing in your house. Furnaces, baseboard heaters, and other heating systems that use a boiler require some plumbing skills to set up, and backflow testing is one of the steps we have to go through when installing one. In order to save time and money for our customers, we decided to start offering backflow testing as one of our Napa Valley heating and air conditioning services.
Of course, you shouldn’t just base your decision on convenience. We’re more than happy to earn your business with our years of experience, superior customer service, and everything else that makes us Napa’s top choice for heating, air conditioning, and other HVAC-related services. You don’t have to take our word for it, either. Feel free to ask around and take a look at our Napa Valley heating and air conditioning reviews on Facebook and Google. We’re confident that the results of our work speak for themselves, and we have a long history of satisfied customers who’d say the same.
If you need to get your backflow preventer tested, are interested in installing a new air conditioner or furnace, or just have some more questions that haven’t been answered by our blog, we encourage you to get in touch with us at Valley Comfort Heating & Air today. You can contact us through our website here, give us a call at (707) 329-4120, or come in and visit us at our location in Santa Rosa CA.