Baltimore Launches Backflow Preventer Pilot Program

By: Bill Eller

In October, the City of Baltimore announced a pilot program to install backflow preventers in qualifying homeowners’ sewer laterals as part of an effort to reduce sewage backflow into residents’ homes.

Some of the older homes in certain sections of the city are prone to sewage backflows during extreme weather events because the homes are located at lower elevations on their streets and never had a backflow preventer installed. A backflow preventer is a device with a flapper type valve, installed inline the main sewer lateral, that allows sewage to flow away from the home but closes when material flows back toward the home. Their installation cost can vary widely from hundreds of dollars to well over $1,000. The seven installations completed to date for residents in the City of Baltimore have averaged $1,267.

Baltimore’s backflow pilot program is funded through a special fund created as part of the Service Line Protection program established in 2014 with HomeServe. Over the years, the service line program has helped participating residents save $24 million in out-of-pocket repairs, while the special fund has supported more than $500,000 in free plumbing repairs for residents. At the City’s request, this special fund is now targeting the new backflow pilot program. The backflow preventers are installed at no cost to the homeowner by HomeServe’s network of locally based and licensed contractors. The City identifies and screens potential recipients, taking into account several factors, including the homeowner’s income and the frequency of backflow incidents in the neighborhood.

Backflow isn’t only inconvenient for the homeowner; it can be a biohazard. In the case of a backflow, homeowners should turn off electric to the flooded area, if feasible and safe; and avoid using toilets and drains to prevent overflows or additional backflows. Homeowners should also take care to avoid contact with the backflow materials and liquids without protective gear.

Any area that has been exposed to sewage because of the backflow should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. A wet/dry vacuum or pump can be used to remove the black water, but any fabric or paper, such as carpeting or books, that have been exposed to backflow, must be discarded. Solid surfaces such as concrete floors can be washed down with soap and hot water, then disinfected with bleach. The cost to professionally clean up and restore a basement can range between $2,000 and $15,000, depending on the depth of the water and size of the basement, so a backflow preventer can save a homeowner quite a bit of time, effort, money and worry.

The Baltimore program is a novel example of how HomeServe’s optional service line protection supporting participating program residents with service line repairs and, at the same time, using special program funds, support a city initiative to address a critical issue facing its lower income residents. What’s more, the same repair management capability with HomeServe’s 24/7 operations team and vetted contractors that perform repairs to homeowners’ service lines can be deployed for special funding initiatives. HomeServe pays the contractor directly, with no need for homeowners or the city to manage and pay for the either process.

Cities and their residents can achieve similar benefits through a partnership with HomeServe. Contact us to learn more about our community partnerships.