Fire suppression systems are a crucial component in protecting your home or business from potentially catastrophic fire damage.  Within these fire suppression systems, sprinklers play a major role and are usually the most recognizable piece of the fire suppression puzzle, next to fire extinguishers, of course.  As indispensable as sprinklers are to fire suppression systems, they require a certain amount of pressure to ensure proper functionality.  Any malfunctions to the sprinkler system may result in serious issues to your home or business’ potable water supply.  Removing your fire suppression system is not an option, and does not need to be, as long as you properly maintain and monitor your backflow preventer.

What is Backflow?

The search for clean, potable water and protecting water supplies from active and potential water contaminants are age-old issues and remain so in many regions around the globe, even in the United States (e.g., Flint, Michigan).  One method of contamination that is within our ability to control is backflow.  Simply speaking, backflow is when the flow of water reverses and returns contaminated water back to clean water sources.  This flow reversal is a major concern for all fire suppression systems, plumbing systems, and irrigation systems and attention to this detail should be a part of all residential and commercial building maintenance plans.

Backflow happens when there are pressure changes in pipelines.  Back siphonage and backpressure are the two causes of backflow in pipelines.  Back siphonage occurs when there are instances of vacuum conditions in a pipeline pushing downstream contaminated water into potable water.  Backpressure happens when the pressure downstream is higher and allows the contaminated water to be pushed upstream.  Elevation and pumps are contributing factors in instances of backpressure.

The concern over backflow in fire suppression systems is that as the water sits in the pipes of the sprinklers waiting to deploy during a fire emergency, dangerous metals leech into the water sitting in the sprinkler system.  This happens through a chemical reaction between the water and the metal.  Some of the metals known to leech into the water through corroded metal pipes are mercury, lead, and zinc.  Drinking water contaminated with lead has been known to cause serious harm to humans, including blood pressure and reproductive problems in adults and hyperactivity and behavioral issues in children.

Water sitting in sprinkler systems has also been known to harbor harmful bacteria, including Bordetella bronchiseptica. B. bronchiseptica, while uncommon, causes respiratory infections in humans and may be devastating to people who are immunocompromised.  Besides the harmful effects of metals and bacteria, these corroding pipes can develop obstructions in the fire sprinkler systems which will cause the fire sprinkler systems to malfunction when you need them most.

Luckily, the industry understood the need for protection from backflow and developed the backflow preventer, which ensures backflow is never an issue in your fire sprinklers, plumbing systems, or irrigation systems.

Backflow Inspections and Maintenance

While leeched metals and harmful bacteria are frightening, an accidental fire that can devastate a home or business, potentially risking lives, is even scarier.  Fortunately, through inspections and proper building and safety system maintenance, it is easy to ensure backflow is never an issue in your fire suppression system.

While most people voluntarily want to ensure their backflow preventers are working optimally, laws and ordinances have been enacted both on the federal and local levels to ensure owners are being responsible. The National Fire Protection Association Standard 25 compels owners of fire sprinkler systems to have their systems inspected quarterly.  Owners are also required to fully flush their systems every five years.  Locally, fire marshals are responsible for ensuring the regulation of fire sprinkler systems downstream of any potable water supplies.

It is recommended by the NFPA that all valves receive a monthly inspection to confirm they are open.  A bi-annual test of all water flow devices is suggested as well.  Many local authorities require water flow alarm systems.  These alarm systems should be tested every six months as well.  It is important to note that many of these water flow alarms are connected to emergency services for immediate response.  When testing the alarm system, make sure to alert the proper authorities to avoid any confusion regarding an emergency event.

Proper maintenance is a great way to protect you, your building or home, and your community from any backflow disasters.  Visual inspections of the fire sprinkler system by certified technicians will allow any damaged or corroding parts to be replaced before any emergency occurs.  Because of the gravity of the situation when a backflow event occurs, it is imperative that you contract with a certified technician to conduct regular maintenance.  Certified technicians undergo rigorous training to ensure the instances of backflow emergencies are drastically reduced.

Fire Suppression Maintenance: Backflow Testing
Fire Suppression Maintenance: Backflow Testing

Prevention with ATS

Engineers have developed multiple forms of backflow preventers.  Examples of backflow preventers include atmospheric vacuum breakers and pressure vacuum breakers which aid in the event of back siphonage, double check valve and double-check detectors assemblies, which work against back-siphonage, and backpressure conditions, as well as reduced pressure principle assemblies which also provide protection in back-siphonage and backpressure situations.

Because these devices are crucial to protecting you, your employee or families, and even the surrounding community from contaminating potable water supplies, it is imperative that businesses and homeowners contract with a proven, reliable, and highly trained company to install, maintain, and inspect backflow prevention devices.  A Total Solution is a fully licensed Class 2 contractor with certified technicians who understand the importance of backflow prevention and are known to work with all of the best industry-proven backflow prevention devices, including brands like Ames, Watts, Febco, and Wilkins.

Contact ATS today to discuss your backflow prevention solutions.