The Problem with Frozen Sprinklers

This should be obvious, but it happens so infrequently that it can be off of most business owners’ or property managers’ radar. When the weather people predict an Arctic Express is going to roll through, wet fire sprinkler pipes that are left in unheated areas or dry fire sprinkler pipes that have water condensation in them can freeze or break! This causes our local fire departments to be dispatched to dozens or hundreds of locations, which in turn slows their response time to real fire emergencies. Freeze break repairs also typically come with major repair costs because once one small area is affected, it spreads to other areas, often causing multiple sections of sprinkler mains or branch lines needing replaced. Not to mention that sometimes the only method to getting a system back online is letting the ice inside the (unbroken) pipe to thaw, which can mean several hours or days of your fire sprinkler system being down which also creates the need for fire watch. Don’t get caught — protect your pipes and you’ll protect yourself and your assets.


Wet Sprinkler Systems

Water expands when it freezes — that’s why ice floats. Wet sprinkler pipes tend to freeze before other water pipes because they contain water all the time and that water is stagnant, not moving like your domestic water to your sinks, toilets, and water fountains. During long Denver winters, the water in wet-systems can expand enough to burst steel pipes or they might just create enough ice to plug up the flow. Either way, the system is down until it thaws or is repaired and, since ice could burst or plug the pipes at almost any point, the problem may not be visible until the Spring thaw. Luckily wet sprinkler lines are not allowed to be installed in areas like parking garages or commercial canopies, but with these wet sprinkler lines you just need to make sure there’s adequate heat or insulation, especially where the piping might sit near an exterior wall.


Dry Sprinkler Systems

To avoid these freeze problems in areas like parking garages or commercial canopies, another option is available: dry valve systems. Dry systems use pressurized air in the pipes, and a special “dry valve” is used to keep the water feed held back. Then if a sprinkler head bursts due to a fire (or if there’s a loss of air pressure due to a leak), that dry valve’s clapper opens up and fills the dry pipes with water. That air isn’t perfectly dry, of course, it contains water vapor which can collect and causes water buildup at the systems low points. Once these “puddles” form, dry systems might suffer the same complications as wet systems. Dry systems are always fitted with low point drains (aka drum drips) that allow you to collect and drain this condensation. But if those drip drums aren’t maintained every few weeks in the winter (or more in some cases), they can freeze, then break, then cause the system to fill with (soon to be frozen) water as well! If you have dry systems and aren’t familiar with these, Integrity Fire offers customer training on how to spot the low points, drain the drip drums, and assess general issues with your dry system. Call today if you would like your team to be trained on your dry systems!


Preventing Frozen Pipes

Without water being able to flow through pipes to every part of your location (because of sections of frozen pipe), you have reduced fire protection or perhaps none at all if the system has to be left down. In theory, the fix for wet systems couldn’t be simpler: Keep the pipes warm. In practice, you have several options: Wrap the pipes with insulation to keep heat in. Make sure the building has adequate heat when occupied and empty — 55 degrees is suggested; 40 degrees is the minimum. Where pipes must be in areas that may go below 40 degrees, consider adding heaters, or you could look into converting the wet system to an antifreeze.or dry system. During your annual or semi-annual dry system inspection, your fire professional can examine the pitch or angle of the pipes to the drains to make sure that the condensation flows properly to a low point where condensation can be drained off. If the pitch isn’t right, puddles may form where you can’t find them.


Let the technical experts at Integrity Fire Safety Services do a complete annual fire sprinkler inspection. You’ll get a full report that’s in NFPA compliance, with an estimate on repairs or upgrades if you need them!