Backflow certification: What is it and how will that help my tech career?
Today’s qualified plumber must be diverse in the list of qualifications and or specialized training he or she may have earned. Just as the medical profession is divided up into many specialty areas, the trained professional in the plumbing industry must do the same. The ability to diagnose a problem in a hot water pump system or a simple multi- unit drain stoppage situation are mandatory.
One specialized area of the plumbing industry is the field of backflow device testing and cross connection inspections. This topic is covered in all major code books and even has written guidelines all the way from the Federal EPA to State and local Health Agencies. The protection of the public potable water supply is mandated through these laws and regulations. The prevention of polluted or contaminated water from getting back into the public water system is required at every possible cross connection.
The inspection and certification of these “backflow preventers” is the responsibility of today’s plumbing contractors. “The plumber protects the health of the nation” is the motto all PHCC contractors follow and abide by. The ability to inspect and certify these backflow assemblies is a skill that requires extensive classroom time as well as actual field experience.
Most backflow technical schools will have a weekly three-hour instructor led class with the last hour devoted to actual hands-on testing and troubleshooting backflow assemblies mounted on portable stands. The class may run three- to four months and will have an exit test consisting of written and hands-on sections.
If you are wondering what special tools and equipment are needed, it depends on how involved you decide to get into this specialty area of work. The initial test equipment (differential test gauge, test hoses, adapter fittings and misc. items) could easily set you back $1,500 or more. This is the minimum time and expense that you will incur at this point.
In most cases, the successful completion of these training programs will now allow you to take the next step. That is the written and hands-on performance test at the local Health Department or Water Agency that oversees the actual cross-connection program for that area. It is usually divided up into County jurisdiction or water district responsibility.
Each of these agencies will require a yearly licensing fee as well as hands-on recertification every two to three years. All of these have fees attached to them. It is not uncommon for students to not pass the local agencies’ hands-on test the first time they take the test. It is not meant to be easy, but it is fair. The ability to sign legal documents that a backflow assembly is working and protecting the potable water supply is serious business.
If a backflow incident occurs, and a water system is polluted or contaminated, the first thing that’s checked is whether a backflow device was in place. The test report forms are kept on file by each water or health agency for each backflow device in their system. The last person who certified that particular device will be easy to identify. In most cases, backflow device mechanical failure was the culprit.
The majority of plumbers who obtain a backflow testing license will generally get a pay raise or other bonus to reward that person for the effort and new line of revenue for the employer. This new item on your resume will help you wherever you decide to work in the plumbing industry. Just as if you become certified in specialized heating or AC equipment, this is an added bonus to your value as an employee.
One point to remember, these backflow assemblies are only inspected generally once a year. The ability to gather or obtain customers takes a long time. Your new employer may have a list of such customers, which will hopefully keep you busy at all times. Service work gets slow, so go out and test these backflow assemblies. With hundreds of different backflow assemblies in all sizes and types, what happens when they do not work or do not pass the initial test? They must be repaired or replaced within a given time period.
Now we have a whole new avenue of work. The knowledge and ability to repair these backflow assemblies is an additional line item on your resume. Just as a good plumber can troubleshoot and fix a plumbing system problem, the same applies to backflow assemblies. With some devices being as large as a Volkswagen automobile, the tools, mechanical equipment, and expertise required to do so is extensive. This information is not something that can be learned on a blackboard. Large check springs and components weighing hundreds of pounds can really be dangerous if not identified and properly secured. So look before you leap, it might be a long drop.