Expert Says Containment Protection is Necessary For Backflow Prevention

When you’re vice president of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and the Backflow Prevention Institute (BPI), backflow preventers are your business. Sean Cleary has been in the business for over 40 years. He’s a licensed master plumber who’s worked in all phases of the cross-connection, plumbing and mechanical industries. He also knows a thing or two about containment and isolation.

According to IAPMO/BPI the backflow prevention dictionary defines containment (point of service) protection as a service connection backflow preventer that restrains water within the potable water plumbing system. Isolation means, “to place or keep by itself — separate from others.” The backflow prevention industry interprets this to mean individual fixture or appliance (point-of-use) protection.

Cleary says “If a jurisdiction has a very, very aggressive isolation program then containment protection may not be necessary. However, the problem across the United States is we simply don’t have aggressive isolation programs available.”

Why Facilities Need Containment Protection

“If you have an aggressive isolation program, you’re continually monitoring what’s going on inside residences or businesses,” Cleary says. “You have to have someone going in on a regular basis to do an isolation survey to make sure everything is still protected. But what we see across the country is that we don’t have enough personnel to do that.”

The plumbing code addresses backflow protection within a facility or residence — it does not require containment protection. Containment protection is mandated by the water purveyor or water supplier. But Cleary says, “Containment protection is necessary because it provides a line of defense against a facility backflowing into the public system. That’s why containment is so important. It’s the second line of defense.”

Public water systems often have limited budgets preventing them from having adequate staff to evaluate potential contamination sources. This is also true of most non-residential water customers. They often resist routine inspections of their water system — even if they’re required. As a result, most municipalities simply require containment protection at the service connection.

Containment AND Isolation Work Best

“The best way is to have containment and isolation programs working hand in hand,” Cleary says. “The plumbing code and the internal protection will be put in place when the buildings are built or remodeled or when new equipment is added.”

Cleary says all three of the model plumbing codes used in the United States say that every testable backflow preventer, whether installed for containment or isolation protection, should be tested when installed, repaired, or relocated, and at least once a year.

But a lot of isolation valves aren’t tested, so having containment protection becomes critical. “The higher the hazard, the more necessary (containment protection) is,” Cleary says. “When we get into industrial, medical facilities, waste and water-treatment plants we know that containment protection definitely belongs there.”

He continues, “If we don’t have the protection in place and don’t test and maintain the protection, we’re going to have issues.”

Cleary says people are much more in tune with what is going on with our water systems, but there is still a lot of work to be done. “We have to educate people that having a second level of protection can’t be a bad thing.”

Another way Cleary says you can ensure your backflow prevention device is providing the utmost protection is by placing it in an outdoor above-ground enclosure. This helps minimize flood risks. He says placing an approved backflow assembly in an outdoor enclosure also makes it easier to keep up with annual testing because it’s more accessible.

Ask the water jurisdiction to provide a standard detail for outdoor, above-ground backflow preventer installations. If you’d like to learn more about trends in backflow designs, our guide can help. Download “Trends in Backflow Preventer Valve Specification and Location” today.

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