Today, many homes are equipped with residential fire sprinkler systems, especially in large housing blocks such as townhomes, condos or apartment buildings. These systems often require a backflow prevention device that must be inspected and tested annually. The backflow preventer keeps the home’s potable water unpolluted and safe for both the homeowners and their community while the fire sprinkler system keeps the home dwellers safe from fire damage.
Bob Boule’ is the Cross Connection Control Coordinator at Town of Billerica, Massachusetts and has a lot of experience with residential fire sprinkler systems and their related backflow prevention assemblies. Bob has been in the backflow business since 2001 when he was a backflow device inspector as well as a surveyor. He began testing in Billerica in 2002 and is now heading up the program 16 years later. Billerica has used Tokay software since 2007 to track all the Town’s backflow prevention equipment inspections. Bob tells us that, “During my 16 years, Billerica’s program expanded from a department testing a few hundred devices to one that now logs some 1,800 plus device tests along with completing surveys as needed.” Bob is in charge of tracking all commercial and residential testing, conducting surveys, testing all town owned devices, and generating summary reports for the billing clerks.
Boule’ says that residential fire sprinkler systems have been one of the largest challenges of their program. “My first encounter was in the form of a 132 unit development of townhomes. Massachusetts Cross-Connection Control regulations require that surveyors look at data design sheets to approve the backflow device the builder would like to use. The problem was the lack of approved devices to choose from. The Commonwealth’s regulation also requires that we test devices used on those systems.” It was a large, complicated project from the start and continues to need to be inspected and maintained. Each of these individual housing units need inspected annually. It’s not easy to schedule with homeowners who are not always home during office hours. Luckily, many of these assemblies are located off of the garage in a utility room with outside access. Including this specific townhome cluster, Billerica requires backflow prevention assembly inspections for more than 300 individual homes.
Your municipality can learn from Billerica’s residential fire sprinkler system experience. Bob says “My advice is when a new project is looking to be built in your Town, be sure to ask for one device sized to service all homes within a building. The device should be located in a room accessible from outside the building. If that is not possible, try to involve the homeowner or condo association to help with scheduling a single day or two for testing. Billerica does this by offering a discount to homeowners that agree to be tested within the cluster of homeowners.”
Boule’ also advises testers to schedule their residential backflow inspections during the warm seasons to avoid weather related inconsistencies and inconveniences for homeowners. He stresses to have a second pair of shoes or booties to wear over shoes when entering a home.
Bob also tells residents to never turn heat off completely in any space of their house, keeping pipes warm enough to avoid freezing. Bob also suggests that homeowners be sure that their heating system would turn back on after a power outage if they are not at home. Additionally, he warns owners of private backflow prevention assemblies to never attempt to add antifreeze to their system without checking with the local fire department and cross connection office as zoning rules may not allow it.
There are other features in homes that may require backflow prevention beyond residential fire sprinkler systems. Outdoor fountains or ornate pool water features along with both geothermal and radiant heating systems may also require backflow prevention equipment, depending on local zoning regulations. Pools, hot tubs and irrigation systems for both apartments and stand alone houses also may be included depending on zoning.
Which residential systems does your municipality require to be tested annually? Do you have a housing block that makes it hard to conduct your annual cross connection inspections? Let us know in the comments!
Wise has never lived in a home with a fire sprinkler system but works in higher education sustainability where her office is armed with these life saving devices despite their frustrations to local backflow prevention testers.