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What is a vacuum breaker?

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A vacuum breaker is a mechnical device used to avoid backflow or a negative pressure in a plumbing system.
It typically consists of an air valve with a spring holding it closed. When the pressure within the system is positive, the valve remains closed. When the pressure is negative (less than atmospheric), the negative pressure overcomes the force of the spring holding the valve closed and the it opens, typically allowing normal atmospheric air to enter the system, thereby eliminating the negative pressure. Otherwise, the negative pressure might cause backflow of the plumbing system.
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