Suggestions for Fire Sprinkler System Winter Maintenance:
The days and nights are turning colder week by week. Before you know it the 2021 holiday season will be coming to an end, and we will be hunkering down for a long cold winter. Your buildings need your attention before it’s too late. Any fire sprinkler system that is exposed to the cold requires a little TLC before the colder months officially arrive. Lack of proper maintenance is one of the leading causes of fire sprinkler system failures. If not properly maintained, these systems can freeze, burst, cause water damage, and fail to function in the event of a fire. That’s why it’s so important to ensure your fire sprinkler system is ready for winter and has been properly inspected, tested, and maintained by a qualified contractor.
Your property may have a wet sprinkler system (with water in the pipes), but in areas where you can’t maintain adequate heat, a dry pipe system may be used instead (which only has air in the pipes). Regardless, wet and dry systems both require proper maintenance to ensure they don’t freeze or rupture when the temperature plummets.
The minimum adequate temperature for maintaining sprinkler systems in all buildings with water-filled pipes is 39-40 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NFPA 25, but we recommend keeping the building at around 10 to 15 degrees above that just to be on the safe side.
Wet systems are the most common sprinkler system for fire protection. For these systems, the pipes are filled with water and ready to activate in the event of a fire. However, if the pipes get too cold, they can freeze and rupture, causing extensive water damage. The workaround this is heat. However, temporary heat such as a space heater is not the answer, as this can create a serious fire hazard. Some wet systems will use antifreeze to protect against freezing, but it’s important to test your antifreeze solution annually before the onset of winter. Glycerin antifreeze can be used in both plastic (CPVC) and steel sprinkler systems, while propylene glycol should only be used in steel systems. The downside to using antifreeze is, if it’s not maintained at the proper concentration, the pipes could freeze.
Dry systems use nitrogen or pressurized air to charge/monitor the system, so there’s no water sitting in the pipes; instead, if the system is activated, water is released into the system from the dry pipe valve. Dry systems are typically used in environments without heat, such as exterior loading docks, underground parking garages, and unheated warehouses. Although the system is called “dry” there are still wet components to the system. During the winter months, a dry system that’s improperly maintained could freeze or rupture. It could also freeze due to improper pitch of the sprinkler pipe.
Create a Plan
Frozen pipes can happen even in buildings that are properly heated — a condo where someone left the door open could result in a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In some cases, a building might lack adequate insulation in various nooks and crannies, causing drafts. Sometimes the way a pipe is routed on an exterior wall will not have enough insulation thus causing a burst in colder temperatures. Pipe tracing or heat tracing — where cable is wrapped around a pipe that provides heating — is one way to help resolve this. Another potential option is to wrap insulation around the pipe in areas that are susceptible to freezing. Building owners should consider having a plan in place if there’s a loss of power that causes the heat to shut off, such as during a major winter storm. With sensor technology, it’s possible to view a building’s thermostat via your mobile phone (and set alerts), so you’ll know if there’s a problem without having to step foot into the building.
Even if you lease the building, maintaining the sprinkler system could be your responsibility. Check your lease agreement or contact the building owner and obtain a copy of the inspection report. Annual inspections should be conducted by a qualified fire protection contractor, who will identify any deficiencies or maintenance issues.
Reach out to your qualified contractor and set a time for your system’s winter check-up. Don’t wait for the last minute, make the call and get it on the calendar.