We do a large amount of design work in the medical sector and are often called upon to do a code analysis on existing facilities that are being renovated. Recently, we were asked by one of our Clients to look at the hand held showers in the shower rooms for their long-term care facility.
Many of these facilities have been in use for decades and building codes have changed since the shower rooms were originally built. Also, it is not uncommon for hand held shower heads to be urgently replaced in high use facilities with whatever can be found locally by the maintenance staff under great pressure to get the shower rooms functional immediately. The result is that hand held shower heads often are lacking backflow protection, or vacuum breakers.
While this does not seem like a serious issue, because the hoses connecting the shower heads to the wall plumbing must be over 5′ in length to meet the accessibility code, the resulting condition is a shower head that can lay on the floor. In the event of a drain backup, this can submerge the head and allow for waste-water to be sucked into the buildings potable water supply during a system pressure loss and vacuum.
According to 2009 IPC, 424.2 Hand Showers: “Hand-held showers shall provide backflow protection in accordance with ASME A112.18.1 or CSA B125.1 or shall be protected against backflow by a device complying with ASME A112.18.3”
ASME A112.18.1 and A112.18.3 are manufacturing standards for the plumbing supply industry to fabricate these devices. Note that the IPC does not allow for any exceptions. ALL handheld shower heads must have backflow protection.
New handheld showers should all be manufactured to meet these specs, but it is still important to check just to make sure. And in the event of an older facility with old fixtures that do not comply, the building code officials cannot make you change anything, however, the state regulatory agency in charge of the certification of your facility certainly can impose steep fines for failure to comply.