What Does It Mean To Think Outside The Utility Vault?

Thinking outside the utility vault means installing your backflow preventer in an insulated above-ground insulated backflow enclosure. Unfortunately, many backflow preventers are installed underground in utility vaults. This, incidentally, increases the risk of cross-connection and the dangers for the people who test, inspect or service backflow preventers. 

That’s why Safe-T-Cover strongly recommends engineers and municipalities to Think Outside the Vault.

Why Backflow Preventers Are So Important?

Safe-T-Cover-Photo-64-2Backflow preventers are critical to protecting our water supply. They keep contaminated water from interacting with drinking water, preventing cross-connection. 

Approved backflow prevention assemblies are required by law in many jurisdictions, and must be installed in accordance with plumbing or building codes. A typical backflow assembly has test cocks and shut-off valves and must be tested when installed if it’s relocated or repaired it must be tested periodically.

It’s vital to keep backflow preventers protected and running efficiently to protect our potable water supply. 

What Makes Utility Vaults So Dangerous?

Backflow preventers were originally installed in utility vaults because people thought they were the safest place for them — protected from the weather and from vandals. We now know this is not the case. 

Utility vaults are dangerous for a number of reasons — the most important being that they put lives at risk. OSHA considers the utility vault a confined space and, according to the experts there, the risks include:

  • Poisonous gases
  • Restricted means of entry and exit
  • Entrapment

Utility Vaults Are Dangerous

Safe-T-Cover-Photo-384-1OSHA data indicates that the number of deaths in confined spaces have been steadily increasing over the last 15 years.                       

It’s not just the presence of noxious gases that pose a threat. These deaths can be caused by oxygen deficiency, combustible dust, electrocution, even radiation. 

“I've heard a hundred stories across the country of people jumping down into a vault and immediately dropping dead. And if they have somebody with them, they jump down there to help them and they die immediately,” said Cary Wiley, Safe-T-Cover Vice President of Sales and Marketing. 

“Any kind of underground vault carries a risk of naturally occurring odorless gases building up; many of which are harmful.  The inherent risks of spending any amount of time down in a vault being exposed to these gases can easily be avoided,” says Safe-T-Cover President Chris Ryckman. 

He added: “What’s even more concerning to me is the risk of entrapment: there are instances where inspectors have died due to being trapped down in a vault.”   

Injuries Associated With Utility Vaults

In addition to death, confined spaces are said to cause nearly 11,000 injuries each year — many of them serious. According to OSHA statistics, they include:

  • Broken bones and crush injuries
  • Amputated limbs
  • Heat stress
  • Burns and electrocution

There are also dangerous animals that backflow preventer test personnel may encounter in a utility vault. 

Utility Vaults Flood

FloodedVaultAnother major concern is that many utility vaults flood. The meter vault seen in the video is completely flooded! This significantly increases the risk of a cross-connection. “All that stagnant, dirty, muddy, horrible water can get sucked through the test cocks of the backflow preventer and into your clean drinking water,” Wiley said.  

Ryckman added, “Anytime you submerge a valve designed to keep the bad water from mixing with the good water, you run the risk of exposure.  Even a small leak can easily introduce that bad water into the potable water system.” 

In short, when things go wrong in a vault, they can go horribly wrong. This is why more and more water jurisdictions are mandating installing backflow preventers above-ground in a backflow enclosure. 

Above-Ground Backflow Enclosures Are Safe

Safe-T-Cover is asking designers and engineers across the country to Think Outside The Vault. We now know that above-ground insulated backflow enclosures offer the safest and most cost-effective way to protect your equipment. Many municipalities, local utility authorities and states agree, and are moving to require above-ground installation.

Installing backflow preventers and meters in utility vaults is an unnecessary liability for water jurisdictions, so we’re encouraging a bigger push to install them above ground in a backflow enclosure. It’s safer and more cost-effective. It simply makes good sense.

Stop putting your employees and the community at risk. Watch our video and download our free infographic that compares the benefits of installing your backflow preventer in an above-ground enclosure versus a utility vault.



What is a utility vault and what is it used for?

As the term suggests, a utility vault is a below-grade confined space in which utility equipment such as pumps, backflows or control valves are housed.


What are some of the dangers of utility vaults?

Vaults flood and trap poisonous gas. Numerous deaths every year are attributed to drowning, asphyxiation or electrocution inside a utility vault. Vaults also can be home to animals like poisonous snakes.


Do vaults keep water out?

Absolutely not! Water always finds its way into below-ground confined spaces.


Why are backflow enclosures superior to utility vaults?

Utility vaults are dangerous confined spaces, prone to flooding, susceptible to animal and insectt infestation and provide only limited access for servicing and repair. A Safe-T-Cover above-ground enclosure is modular, insulated to protect against extreme weather, braced with sustainably harvested redwood and available with slab-mounted heat. Our available patented MUNI-LOK vault key system also provides leading security for your equipment against theft or vandalism. In addition, many jurisdictions are mandating that backflows be enclosed above grade, effectively barring the use of vaults.


What types of backflow enclosures do you offer?

Safe-T-Cover offers ASSE 1060-certified aluminum enclosures made specifically to fit the dimensions around major waterworks manufacturers’ equipment.


Can I get a custom enclosure to suit my needs?

Yes! Simply fill out this form and one of our design professionals will contact you to discuss your specific needs.


Please contact us by filling out the form via the button below.
We're in the office 8am-4pm Central Time, Monday through Friday.