Frequently Asked Questions

I received a survey on my water usage at my facility. What is this about?

Your water provider conducts periodic surveys of their customers’ use of water to identify and eliminate possible sources of cross connections to help ensure the safety of the public water supply. The information collected through the surveys helps to identify where backflow prevention devices may be needed. This information also provides details on existing devices that may not have been previously submitted to the water company.

What is backflow?

Your current water distribution system is designed so that water flows from the water main through a service line to your site. However, certain conditions can cause water to flow from your plumbing back into the distribution system and the local public water supply, creating a potentially hazardous “backflow” incident.

Backflow may be caused by either backpressure or backsiphonage. A loss of pressure in the public drinking water system may lead to backsiphonage through unprotected cross connections, or backpressure may be created when the water pressure of a facilities internal water system is elevated above the supply pressure of the public drinking water system resulting in backflow through unprotected cross connections.

Pressure changes occur for a number of reasons, such as:
• Heavy water usage on the system (e.g. firefighting)
• Unauthorized use of a fire hydrant
• Water main breaks
• Use of a booster-pump

Backpressure incidents can occur when the pressure on your system exceeds the pressure in the distribution system. Examples include a car wash that pumps and re-circulates soapy water, or a manufacturing plant that uses substantial water pressure for production.

What is a backflow prevention device?

A backflow prevention device is a means or mechanism to prevent backflow. The basic means of preventing backflow is an air gap, which either eliminates a cross connection or provides a barrier to backflow. The basic mechanism for preventing backflow is a mechanical backflow preventer, which provides a physical barrier to backflow. The principal types of mechanical backflow preventers are the reduced-pressure principle assembly, the pressure vacuum breaker assembly, and the double check valve assembly. A secondary type of mechanical backflow preventer is a dual check valve.

Who gives the authority to implement the program?

Authority to enforce cross-connection control comes from Pennsylvania’s Safe Drinking Water Act, the Pennsylvania Code Chapter 109, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), the International Plumbing Code (IPC) Section 312, and the water provider’s cross-connection control policy.

Who should install and test a backflow device?

While there are no standards set for who can install a backflow prevention device, repairs and tests to backflow preventers must be performed by certified technicians. Technicians testing backflow preventers should be American Society of Sanitary Engineering (ASSE) Series #5110 certified. Technicians repairing backflow preventers should be ASSE Series #5130 certified. Please contact your local township which may have additional requirements on who can install a backflow.

How much does a backflow device cost?

The cost of a backflow device varies based on the size, type and location.

Are all non-residential customers required to comply?

Yes. All non-residential customers are required to comply. There are no exceptions.

What happens if I do not comply?

The water provider has the right under the Pennsylvania Code Section 109.709 to shut off your water service until you are in compliance.

What can you do to prevent backflow situations in your home or business?

• Be aware of and eliminate and/or protect cross connections.
• Maintain air gaps on sinks and when using hoses.
• Do not submerge hoses or place them where they could become submerged.
• Use hose bib vacuum breakers on fixtures (hose connections in the basement, laundry room, and on outside faucets/spigots).
• Install approved backflow prevention devices on lawn irrigation systems and on fire sprinkler system services.
• Do not create a connection between an auxiliary water system (well, cistern, body of water) and the water supply plumbing.

Who is responsible for having the backflow device tested?

It is the responsibility of the property owner to have the backflow device tested by a qualified tester. It is also the responsibility of the property /business owner to schedule their own test appointment.

I have a fire sprinkler system at my residence. Am I required to have a backflow device and have it tested?

Fire sprinkler systems connected to the public water supply are required to have either a reduced pressure zone (RPZ) backflow preventer or a double check (DC) backflow prevention device installed on the water line servicing the system. The type of device needed will depend on the type of fire sprinkler system in the residence. If you are unsure, please contact the fire sprinkler company or your water provider to determine the type of device needed on your system.

How often does backflow really occur and how much damage can it cause?

Backflow occurs very often. There are numerous documented cases where death and serious injury have been caused by backflow. The EPA has stated that there have been nearly 10,000 documented cases of illness caused by contaminants that were introduced by backflow into potable water systems. Financial loss due to equipment damage and lawsuits has ranged into the tens of millions.

Are there any tips or guidelines for installing backflow prevention devices?

Yes. Here are 10 major backflow installation device guidelines:
1/Reduced Pressure Principal Assemblies (RP’s) and Double Check Valve Assemblies (DCVA’s) must be installed a minimum 12″ and a maximum of 36″ above grade or above finished floor.

2/Unprotected bypasses on all backflow prevention devices are strictly prohibited. Protection on the bypass must be the same as the primary protection.

3/When installing a device, if the test cocks are located on top there should be 12″ of clearance between the test cocks and any obstruction. There should be 24″ of clearance if the test cocks are located on the side.

4/RP’s must be installed near adequate drainage.

5/Devices must be accessible for testing and repair.

6/Installing RP’s in a pit should be avoided.

7/Backflow preventers must only be installed horizontally unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer.

8/Be aware of the properties of the fluids you are dealing with. For example, are they corrosive or under high pressure?

9/In parallel installations, backflow prevention devices should be the same type, provide the same level of protection, and should have the same size and flow capacity.

10/If an enclosure is used around a backflow prevention device the enclosure must have adequate drainage. This is often referred to as “bore-site to daylight.”

Why should you be concerned?

Backflow may affect the quality of the drinking water at your facility and has the potential to create health hazards if contaminated water enters your water supply plumbing system and is used for drinking, cooking or bathing. Unprotected cross-connections with water supply plumbing or public drinking water piping systems are prohibited by law. You are responsible for protecting your water supply plumbing from backflow that may contaminate your drinking water and the drinking water of others. This includes complying with the plumbing code and not creating unprotected cross connections.

I have an in-ground lawn sprinkler system at my residence. Am I required to have a backflow device and have it tested?

In-ground sprinkler systems are required to have a testable backflow prevention device installed on the water line servicing the system.

Why is cross-connection control being talked about now? Is this something new? Why wasn't this enforced decades ago, when backflow was first identified as a threat to the potable water system?

Cross-connection control is nothing new. Over 40 states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, West Virginia, and New York, already have state-mandated cross-connection control programs. Also, many insurance companies and corporate legal departments have recognized the failure to provide backflow protection as a major liability. Many major insurance companies now require some level of cross-connection control and backflow prevention.

Are there any problems that can be caused within my plumbing system from installing a backflow prevention device?

Yes. The most common problem that is likely to arise is called thermal expansion. Thermal expansion occurs when any substance is heated. When substances are heated, they must have room to expand within the system they are contained. If there is no room for the substances to expand, pressure could build up to the point where it causes equipment damages or explosions that could cause property damage and/or injury. Since a backflow prevention device creates a closed system, the expanded hot water has nowhere to go unless a relief valve or thermal expansion tank is properly installed. The most common thermal expansion problem is the expansion of water within domestic hot water tanks.

There are other problems that can arise with some types of backflow preventers or from improperly installed devices. Problems can lead to water leakage and property damage. That is why it is essential that the individual who installs your backflow prevention device is properly qualified to install your backflow prevention device.

What is a cross connection?

A cross connection is a physical connection between a possible source of contamination and the public drinking water system. This connection, if not properly protected, can lead to the contamination of the drinking water system through a backflow event. Any service connection is a cross-connection.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a cross connection as “actual or potential connections between a potable and non-potable water supply.” Therefore, all service lines attached to a public water system are cross connections. According to the Safe Drinking Water Act, all industrial and commercial customers must install backflow prevention systems to avoid potentially harmful contamination of our drinking water supply. As a result, the EPA is enforcing the mandate for all industrial, commercial and residential customers. Because of the potential dangers to you and other water customers from a backflow incident, it is necessary to eliminate cross connection issues by installing backflow prevention devices.

• Cross connections can be found in many places within a plumbing system, such as:
• Hose Bibb Connections – 70% or more of all backflow incidents occur through hose bibbs
• Auxiliary Water Systems – Those individuals that have private wells or springs and are also connected to the public water system
• Ball Cock Fill Valves in Toilet Flush Tanks – All ball cock valves should have anti-siphon valves on them to prevent backsiphonage
• Inlet Fill Lines – For HVAC systems and boilers
• Portable Water Priming Lines – For pumps that pump hazardous substances
• Flushing Lines – For grease traps and other equipment
• Fire – Sprinkler systems and non-potable fire storage tanks
• Irrigation – For irrigation systems including lawn sprinklers
• Process Water and Cooling Water – Used for many reasons

Why prevent backflow?

With backflow incidents, there’s a risk of non-potable materials, those not intended for human consumption, flowing back into the local water system. This could include, but is not limited to, used water, industrial fluid, chemicals, and fire sprinkler or lawn irrigation water.

As a customer in ____________ water provider's service territory, what am I required to do?

Some water customers are required to have an approved backflow device installed and tested on an annual basis. These customers must certify to the water provider that these devices have been maintained and are in working order. This should include a test performed by a qualified technician and a completed backflow prevention device test form submitted to the cross-connection control department.

What kind of backflow device do I need?

The type of backflow device depends upon the degree of hazard present at your location. The degree of hazard depends on the use of water at your location and what could potentially enter the system. If you are unsure, please contact your water provider to determine the type of device needed at your facility.

Where should the backflow device be installed?

The backflow device must be installed on the customer’s water service line immediately after the meter and before any branching of the service line.

Who is responsible for paying for the device and testing?

It is the customer’s responsibility to ensure that any contaminants or pollutants do not enter the water distribution system from their location. All costs related to the installation, maintenance and testing are the customers’ responsibility.

Are residential customers required to have cross-control/backflow prevention measures in place?

Yes. All new construction/new residential service connections are required to have appropriate backflow protection in place before service is provided. Existing customers also must have appropriate backflow protection in place. Most fire sprinklers and lawn sprinklers require a testable backflow prevention device be installed. If you are unsure, please call your water provider.

Once I have my device tested, where do I submit a completed test form each year?

Test forms will only be accepted from the technician, who has sole responsibility for providing the form to the water utility. It is not necessary for the customer to submit the test form.