What is backflow testing and why does it matter?

Backflow testing ensures that there is no backflow of dirty water into the potable water in a system. It confirms that the backflow prevention device is working properly, and your clients do not have to worry about contaminated water. 

As a master plumber, you likely understand the importance of backflow testing, but can you claim the same for your team? Or, even more importantly, do your clients understand it? You should make sure that your technicians suggest a backflow test at each visit and be prepared to explain to them why this is so important. This way, they can pass on that knowledge to your customers, allowing you to make sure clients are satisfied with your service. 

We have gathered the most important information to have on hand when explaining to your plumbers why they should suggest backflow testing to clients. 

To start, remember that annual backflow testing is a legal requirement nearly everywhere. You can easily find the specific law requiring it in your particular state or city.

What is backflow testing?

To explain backflow testing to your clients, you need to also explain backflow, which your team tests for in hopes of confirming there is no contamination. Explain about the pressure in the water pipes that bring water into homes. The pressure means that the water usually flows in a single direction, but if it goes the other way, this is called backflow. Unfortunately, the water that flows backward is frequently non-potable, meaning that it could contaminate drinking water.

All homes and properties have backflow prevention devices designed to stop this backflow from happening. These are required at cross connections, which are where pipes carrying non-potable and potable water connect with each other. 

The following image shows how one type of backflow assembly works inside: 

illustration of open and closed valve

Some common examples of cross connections include:

  •   fire suppression systems
  •   hot tubs
  •   pools
  •   irrigation and sprinkler systems
  •   radiant heating systems
  •   wells
  •   soda fountain machines

Backflow testing confirms that the systems are in good condition. 

In a backflow test, your team pressurizes the entire assembly and tests each part separately.

Common causes of backflow 

Your team should also be aware of the common causes of backflow, so they can keep their eyes out for potential problems and educate your clients.

Backflow can happen if the pressure in the water tank or container is lower than the pressure of the water system. When this happens, the contaminated water can be pulled into the system, something known as back-siphonage.  

Backpressure is another backflow cause, and it occurs if a multi-story building, fire protection system, or other water system has higher water pressure. When this happens, the pressure differences can cause the contaminants to flow into the public water supply. 

Backflow can also occur if sewer pipes are damaged, which people typically notice due to the smell and leaks.

Major trends influencing backflow testing 

Why your plumbers should teach customers about backflow prevention

Having your plumbers take the time to teach customers about backflow prevention will help increase customer loyalty and retention. This comes from the fact that clients feel respected and that your company has their best interests’ in mind. After all, the backflow prevention advice can reduce the need for you to make repairs and earn money in the future. This prioritization of what is best for clients instead of your company’s pockets helps with satisfaction and loyalty. 

How much do backflow situations cost to resolve?

Backflow situations can vary greatly in terms of repair cost, depending on the scale of the problem. City-wide backflows happen occasionally, and those are incredibly costly, as they can affect the entire water supply. This type of situation will obviously cost more to repair than a smaller-scale backflow issue at a customer’s home.   

Fixing simple issues with a backflow prevention device can be just $30 to $50. Fixing more complex or labor-intensive issues, such as major damage to the assembly, can easily cost several hundred dollars, up to $550 or so depending on the assembly you install and your labor rates. 

Of course, you will set the prices for the various backflow repairs based on industry standards and the prices of competitors. You should have a clear idea of the various approximate costs and pass this on to your plumbers, so they can share those estimates with clients.

The individual pieces of backflow testing – how the test works and what to expect

During backflow testing, your plumbers will have to check every single part of the backflow prevention device to confirm that the assembly is operating how it should. They will start by pressurizing the assembly. Then, they test each part separately, looking for something slightly different depending on the component. 

For example, check valves need to maintain a minimum pressure. Relief valves have to open before the system reaches a specific pressure differential. To test each part, your plumbers will open and close various valves. Your plumbers will also examine the device visually to spot problems.

If your team notices any issues with the system during the backflow testing, the test will be followed by repairs, typically immediately.

Backflow testing education for clients vs. The alternative

As part of your training for plumbers regarding backflow testing, make sure that they are all on the same page in terms of answering common questions from clients. This allows for consistency and lets you confirm that your plumbers are providing accurate information. Without training them on how to answer the most common questions, they may not be able to answer them in a way clients can understand. This can lead to confusion or even dissatisfied clients. 

At a minimum, ensure your plumbers can succinctly answer the following questions in terms your customers understand. To make this easy for you, we have provided sample answers. 

What is backflow testing for?

Backflow testing is to ensure that your potable water does not become contaminated due to changes in pressure or damage to the water system.

backflow prevention assemblies protect our drink water supply

Is backflow testing necessary?

Yes, backflow testing is a legal requirement. It is also necessary for the health and safety of customers, as it is dangerous to drink contaminated water or even to interact with it regularly, depending on the contaminants.

How much does it cost to get backflow testing?

The cost of backflow testing will depend on what your company charges, but the national average is around $20 to $100. The test should not take more than an hour to complete.

How does a backflow test work?

During a backflow test, your plumbers will open and close various valves on your clients’ backflow prevention devices to confirm that they work properly. The test also involves a visual inspection to confirm there is no obvious damage to the device.

Conclusion: why you should care about backflow testing

To help your plumbing business with customer satisfaction and therefore customer retention, do not skip training your plumbers on all of the following information. While they are likely already aware of some of these, you want to ensure they all understand the various concepts and can answer questions from your clients.

When you go out of your way to answer questions for clients, they will feel that you have gone above and beyond. This comes through in reviews, which you can then take advantage of to bring in new clients. You can get even more reviews via Podium’s Review feature. You can try Podium out for free today. Once you get set up, it only takes minutes to text customers to remind them to leave a review. Podium streamlines your other communication with them as well via features like Inbox.

Jennifer Wilson
Jennifer Wilson Strategic Home Services Account Executive

Jennifer Wilson is a home services professional at Podium, the premiere messaging platform that connects local businesses with their customers.

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