Avoiding problems with bidet-style toilets

Bidet-style toilets are becoming more popular in the UK, and this trend is likely to continue. DIY plumbing is also on the rise leading to substandard installations and risks of contamination. Jerry Whiteley, Technical Manager at the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) discusses some of the potential problems and how to avoid them.

Personal hygiene is in the spotlight following the Covid-19 pandemic, and demand for hygiene products is therefore higher than ever. At the start of 2022, predicted bathroom trends suggested an increase in the popularity of bidet-style toilets, many of which are a combination of a traditional toilet with a plumbed-in attachment providing the bidet function. As these become more common in peoples’ homes, plumbing and heating engineers have an important role to play in providing professional advice and proficient service in line with current Water Regulations.

UK Adoption

While standard in many parts of the world, and even required by law in several European countries, the UK has been slow to recognise the advantages of bidet-style toilets. This is beginning to change, and more UK homeowners are purchasing bidet attachments. A major challenge when installing such a device is managing backflow into the clean water supply and keeping drinking water safe.

Bidet Backflow

If an ablution hose, a component of many bidet-style toilets, were to be left dangling into a toilet bowl, there is a possibility that water will flow the wrong way. A first step in preventing this would be to ensure that the hose is made short enough that this sort of contamination is not possible. Similarly, the water jets built into toilet seats in other types of bidet-style toilets can become submerged in the case of a toilet blockage. If this happens, it is crucial that backflow is prevented and clean water kept uncontaminated.

One effective way of preventing backflow in bidet-style toilets is to incorporate an interposed cistern with an air gap (Water Regulations G15.9 & G15.10, section 6 pages 28,29,30,31). By doing so, it becomes impossible for water from the bidet or toilet bowl to travel past the air gap and into the clean water supply.

Another approach would be to use a pipe interrupter (Type DC device). While this might be challenging due to design issues specific to the model of toilet, it is an option that plumbing engineers should be aware of and able to discuss with their customers. Before recommending this solution, consideration must be given to potential problems caused by reduced water pressure.

One more option would be keeping hot and cold water supplies separated. If the hot water comes from a combi or unvented system, a separate water heater for the ablution shower would help prevent contamination.

DIY Danger

DIY plumbing and rogue traders have become increasingly widespread. There has been a concurrent rise in fast-track courses online, resulting in more unqualified people offering their plumbing services. Much of the information used in these fast-track courses is inaccurate or based on non-UK standards, meaning that what is taught and products purchased are not compliant with UK water regulations.

One of the pervasive elements of rogue traders is the fact that they can offer lower priced services by using cheaper equipment and saving time by cutting corners. One corner that can be dangerous to cut is using the wrong type of valve in the ablutionary hose. Due to the likelihood of faecal particles being present, the mechanism for preventing backflow must be reliable enough for use with category 5 fluids. At first glance, cheaper and faster-to-install methods may appear good enough to an untrained eye, but they leave the door open for contamination of clean drinking water.

The Future

It is expected that the popularity of bidet-style toilets will continue rising. As such, it is critical that qualified plumbing engineers safeguard public health. This can include educating consumers about the potential dangers of cost-cutting and the expensive repairs that cheaper rogue traders or DIY amateurs can incur. Having membership with The CIPHE allows plumbing and heating engineers to prove their professionalism and proficiency to customers before work is begun, reassuring them that any system changes that accompany a bidet installation are carried out competently to prevent contamination.

For more information, please visit: ciphe.org.uk

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