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Issue Date: Vol. 52, No. 8, August 2012, Posted On: 8/31/2012


A Stitch In Time: Understand Backflow Prevention Question Before It Costs You


by Kevin Daw
TAGS: backflow problems, plumbing codes, waste water, coffee sanitation, office coffee service, vending, vending machine business, Heritage Coffee, Kevin Daw, OCS best practices, coffee brewer installation, coffee brewer service, backflow, plumbed-in coffee brewers, George Carey, Innowave

In my last article, I brought up a new issue striking at office coffee operators in several states that may well spread to become a nationwide epidemic requiring operators to take action where none has been needed until now. The issue at hand is the potential backflow your plumbed-in brewers could cause, and how it might contaminate the public water supply, and therefore be a hazard to society ... unless remediated: by a master plumber, of course.

Remediation seems simple enough. Either use equipment that already provides an "air gap" by use of a water pan above the heating tank, or apply a backflow preventer valve to the inbound waterline and you're all set.

Various types of backflow preventers exist for different applications and health-hazard conditions, so check your state and local administrative codes/regulations for the correct backflow protection to use. The most common are the reduced-pressure backflow preventer and double backflow preventer valves, also known as double check valve units. Backflow preventers are primarily used in sewer, waste water, residential, sprinkler and irrigation backflow applications.

All municipalities derive their local codes by referencing recommendations from any of several sources which, in themselves, appear overwhelming. Major codes used in the United States are:

» National Plumbing Code Building Officials and Code Administrators International
» Uniform Plumbing Code International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials
» International Plumbing Code (ICC) International Codes Council
» Standard Plumbing Code Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI)
» One And Two Family Dwelling Code Council of American Building Officials
»  National Standard Plumbing Code Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors -National Association
» ANSI A40, Safety Requirements For Plumbing American National Standards Institute

In speaking with George Carey of Innowave, I learned that the Uniform Plumbing Code is usually the go-to reference guide for most plumbers.

A good start in checking out your responsibilities and liability in this area is with your own municipality, or by buying a copy of the UPC, which is readily available online.

George recommended that, although double check valve units can be bought with a rating of 100 PSI, it is wise to go with a higher-rated unit, especially for office buildings where there is a greater degree of fluctuation in water pressure. This will mitigate any potential liability issue should anything lead back to your equipment.

There is a silver lining in all of this, at least where the bottom line is concerned. The cost of updating waterlines to proper code is the responsibility of the office/building owner or lessee. Your cost as the OCS provider is in mediating the process, and being on hand to protect your assets -- basically, a time-consuming exercise. As time is money, this is no free lunch, but having the labor and unit cost covered helps. It was mentioned during the NAMA coffee service seminar that a particular building which was targeted involved a cost of upwards of $10,000 to correct the issue, so we aren't talking chump change when it comes to who is responsible for the upgrade costs.

You may choose to sit on this news and let the "sleeping dog lie." I can't argue with this approach, and if I were still in the shoes of an operator with the plethora of pressing issues operators need to deal with on a daily basis, a possible plumbing-codes problem might well be back-burnered until action was forced upon me.

But, if you choose this route, keep in mind the motivation of municipalities in instituting this particular regulation where it has not existed before. Safety of the citizenry is certainly on their collective minds, but I think collecting fines might just be right up there with the good-conscience argument.

It is at the discretion and mercy of your particular jurisdiction whether or not a fine is levied for not having your equipment up to code; and although it is fair and reasonable to pass along the physical costs of meeting the code to the client -- given that installation of appropriate check valves is a permanent building improvement -- if a large client wishes to dicker on whose responsibility the fine represents, you may find yourself in a precarious position between added cost or an irate customer.

From conversations with a few clients who have dealt with this issue, the fines have been levied on the place of business, but you will need to put on your tap-dancing shoes to keep it that way.

If you are in a state where this regulation issue has surfaced, it might be a good idea to take the initiative: make your clientele aware of current code, and suggest they may wish to upgrade voluntarily ahead of any unannounced or unwanted inspection. Show them you are looking out for them.

In any state in which you operate, it would be wise to ensure that a double check valve unit is installed on any new-building-construction water lines, as this would be the easiest time to deal with the issue.

I hope this article saves you some grief, and I promise to do my best to touch on a happier subject in next month's issue.


See Kevin Daw's previous article, Backflow Hobgoblin May Vex Plumbed-In Brewer Operators


KEVIN DAW is president of Heritage Coffee Co. (London, ON, Canada), a leading private-label roaster serving the breaktime management industries in North America. He is in charge of coffee buying for Heritage. A 30-year veteran of the workplace service business, Daw has served as a commission coffee service salesman, a principal of a vending operation and president of a bottled water company. Since 1990, he has concentrated on coffee roasting. Active in industry affairs, Daw is a Specialty Coffee Association of America Certified Brewing Technician, a member of the National Beverage and Products Association Hall of Fame, a recipient of the National Automatic Merchandising Association Supplier of the Year Award and a NAMA Coffee Service Committee member.


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