Sprinkler systems (in concept) are not very complicated…they are designed to deliver water to plants and vegetation alike in a uniform and controlled manner, keeping the world around us looking green and beautiful! And while designs can vary in size and complexity (based on the irrigation needs of the property and the local legal regulations… among other things) there are a few parts that every sprinkler systems (should) have in common.
Today we will focus on the backflow preventer — “The unsung hero of the sprinkler world! “
Too often this indispensable part goes unnamed and unnoticed (likely) because of its passive role in the otherwise regimented and choreographed lawn watering production. Unlike the corps of valves, opening and closing in perfect conformity with the system controller — the humble backflow preventer performs its task consistently and dutifully no matter who is watching. After all, a well planned and expertly installed sprinkler system should be an unremitting symphony of irrigation — performing day in and day out in perfectly correlated consonance.
It is interesting to note that the backflow preventer is the only non-electronic part of the sprinkler system which is constantly working – day or night, whether your sprinklers are running or not — standing guard protecting the potable water supply from contamination.
So what makes the backflow preventer so special?
“When you are thirsty, and go to fetch a glass of cold water straight from the tap, do you worry about it being contaminated or even think twice before you drink it?
I suspect the answer is a negligent, “NO”. Most likely because so many of us grew up living in a society where we have been conditioned to not worry about things like water contamination.
“Should you worry?”
After all, it is not uncommon for farmers to apply chemicals or fertilizer through their irrigation systems. And in theory it seems possible that a little bit of that fertilizer could be siphoned back through the pipes contaminating the potable drinking water we all use.
“No, you don’t need to worry.”
Fortunately, backflow preventers are an integral and requisite part of nearly all irrigation installations and can be found throughout the public water system. So, the answer is no, you do not need to be on a constant alert for contaminated water.
There are several kinds of backflow preventor designs in use today, ranging from simple to complex designs incorporating multiple fail-safes for protection. To put it very simply, a backflow preventer is an elaborate one-way valve. It allows for water to flow in one direction into a system, but will prevent any water from returning back into the potable water source.
“My water comes from a well on my own land, Do I need a backflow preventer?”
You will have a backflow preventer whether you get your water from the city water supply or from your own on-site well. They are generally located on your private property as close to the potable water supply source as is possible.
If you are not already familiar with what a backflow protector does, it may be a wise decision to contact a local backflow testing service to come and test your backflow preventer. It is recommended (and in many places required) that you have your backflow preventer tested yearly by a certified tester. They will be able to show you the location of your backflow preventer, and tell you what style and brand of device you own. They will test the backflow preventer using special tools and provide you with results. (I was able to find local listings for testing services online in several large and small towns by typing “backflow preventer testing [and your town name]“ into Google. I found the average cost to be in the $75-85 range for a residential inspection/testing nationwide.
Backflow preventers are designed multiple fail safe features to protect and ensure their function. However, there are are two very serious, very real, threats facing backflow preventers…
Theft & Freeze Damage
Backflow preventers are a prime target for theft because they are made from valuable metals which can be easily recycled for quick cash. And with the replacement cost being as high as $500+ it is important that you take proper precautions to prevent theft by incorporating an anti theft device with your backflow preventer such as a backflow theft prevention cage or the Sekure-It lock up kit. For less than the cost of one replacement backflow preventer you can ensure your backflow preventer stays protected and STAYS YOURS for life!
The other fatal factor to be aware of is cold weather. If you live somewhere in the country where freezing temperatures are a common occurrence, you should winterize your sprinkler system — including the backflow preventer. Regardless of where you live in the country, it is recommended that you insulate your backflow preventer as well as any other exposed pipes or fixtures to protect them from frequent or infrequent cold temperatures. The complete guide on winterization can be found here.
Thermostatic Freeze Relief Valves
Thermostatic freeze relief valves are now available to add to your backflow preventer or climate exposed pipes. It will automatically open itself up, permitting an escape for the pressure created by frozen water. For less than $100 this kind of relief valve will prevent a cracked backflow preventer housing — saving you big bucks in parts and labor.
(Of course you can always take your cracked & broken backflow preventer down to the metal recycler, and get enough money to hopefully buy a relief valve to install on the next one!)