Let's look at the big picture and quit fighting about this.

If you think back just a few years ago, backflow preventers were never installed on automatic fire sprinkler systems. That all changed when the plumbing industry brought forward all of the information necessary to add backflow requirements in the code. Sometimes the requirements were placed in the plumbing code, other times they ended up in the building code. I personally prefer when the backflow requirements appear in the plumbing code.

The normal backflow requirement for an automatic fire sprinkler system is a double check valve assembly. When chemical additives are a part of the sprinkler system, such as anti-freeze, the backflow protection is typically by a reduced pressure principle backflow preventer. Some jurisdictions require a reduced pressure principle backflow preventer for every sprinkler installation. I think that is overkill. A double check valve assembly was designed for sprinkler system backflow protection.

When the sprinkler system is piped in potable water piping material (no black steel pipe), and there is no fire department connection, most plumbing codes do not require a backflow preventer. This is what enables a residential sprinkler system to be piped as a multipurpose piping system, or a part of the water distribution piping.

Now that the sprinkler industry has acquiesced to the backflow requirements, they have raised a new issue. Shouldn't the sprinkler contractor be allowed to install the backflow preventer? This is a very interesting question.

Back Off The Backflow

The sprinkler industry has published the reasons why they believe their contractors should be permitted to install backflow preventers. I had to laugh at one of the reasons. It stated that sprinkler contractors have been installing backflow preventers for years. Of course, I thought back a few years ago when the same industry stated that their contractors never installed backflow preventers, since they were not necessary. But let bygones be bygones. In reality, many sprinkler contractors have been installing backflow preventers.

I do not get heartburn over a sprinkler contractor installing a backflow preventer. You may be saying, "Hey, that's the plumber's work." But, let's be realistic. A sprinkler contractor is also a trained professional. They are installing piping and valves. So what difference does it make if they install the backflow preventer? It is just a part of piping.

You may be saying that the sprinkler contractor won't know where and how to install the backflow preventer. The engineering plans indicate the location of the backflow preventer. All the sprinkler contractor does is follow the plans, like any commercial project.

The problem for the sprinkler contractors is that most plumbing licensing laws require the backflow preventer to be installed by the plumbing contractor. Some laws go even farther - requiring a licensed plumber to install all of the piping up to the backflow preventer. To be honest, prior to having backflow preventers required by code, all of this piping was installed by the sprinkler contractor. The plumbing contractor never got involved.

The worst part of this whole mess is the perception. When the backflow requirements for automatic fire sprinkler systems were added to the plumbing and building codes, the intent was to protect the public. The intent was never a "make work" issue for the plumbing industry. If we make it this type of issue, it diminishes our efforts as an industry to stand behind proper backflow protection. When future issues are raised, we may be accused of bringing forward another "make work" issue.

So I would encourage you to embrace the sprinkler industry's proposal to allow the sprinkler contractor to install backflow preventers on the sprinkler system. They are requesting a change in all of the plumbing licensing laws. Why not support any change to the plumbing licensing law in your areas to allow this installation practice?

Testing One, Two . . .

However, I would issue one caution. Installing the backflow preventer is only one part of the installation. A proper installation of any double check valve assembly or reduced pressure principle backflow preventer is the testing of the device. Many of you may be saying, "Heck, the backflow preventer is brand new, why would you test it?" I am sure some of the readers never test newly installed double check valve assemblies or reduced pressure principle backflow preventers. However, it is required.

The model plumbing codes have added language to emphasize that newly installed valves must be tested before being placed into operation. If you have not been following this procedure, you should start today. How do you know the backflow preventer will work right out of the factory unless you test it? Just think - we test every other part of the plumbing system before the system is placed in operation.

Most sprinkler contractors are not certified backflow testers. They would have to hire a backflow tester to complete the installation. This is sometimes the case with plumbing contractors. When they are not certified, they hire a backflow tester to certify the valves they installed. While I don't mind the sprinkler contractor installing the valve, I have tremendous problems with the valve not being properly tested by a certified backflow tester.

This should be the position that the plumbing licensing laws take when evaluating the installation requirements. If the sprinkler contractor wants to be certified as a backflow tester, more power to them. They have the same right as any contractor to obtain this certification.

Keep this from becoming an industry battle. It doesn't do the construction industry any good if the plumbing contractors are fighting with the sprinkler contractors. We both have a job to do, let's stick to the work we are supposed to be doing. We need to work together to protect public health.