How Freezing and Thawing Affect Fire Sprinkler Systems

Many people are familiar with the woes that come with frozen pipes during the winter months. When water freezes inside plumbing pipes it expands and solidifies, causing serious problems. Ice inside of a fire sprinkler system can be especially harmful, and may impact the safety of employees and customers. Ice blockages could hinder the life-saving abilities of a fire sprinkler system in the event of a fire, or break the pipes altogether. The breakage of fire sprinkler pipes from freezing water is called a freeze break in the fire safety industry. A sprinkler shut off tool can help alleviate the acute problem.

Aside from the obvious reason frozen pipes are detrimental to a fire sprinkler system in a commercial building, there are also more subtle situations that can amount to great risk. Here are some things for companies to watch out for in regards to fire sprinkler systems.

Gradual Impacts of the Integrity of the System

 Sometimes a sprinkler pipe doesn’t freeze completely. The water inside can freeze, thaw, and freeze again when exposed to low temperatures for longer periods. This phenomenon causes a vicious cycle that applies added stress to the pipe. Even if a pipe thaws out after a freezing event and appears fine, its integrity could be compromised. Hairline cracks could develop, causing leakage, and eventually break. Broken pipes in fire sprinkler systems can cause substantial flood damage to buildings and merchandise regardless of a fire. A sprinkler shut off tool can help in this type of situation to prevent further water damage.

Problem Areas May be Hard to Find… And Costly to Repair

 Ice is less dense than water. When ice forms in fire sprinkler pipes, it adds pressure to the water leftover in the pipe. This increased pressure can cause water to burst the pipes in different places from the actual ice blockage site. Fire sprinkler damage from a freezing event can be subtle and difficult to locate. Added to that are the headaches of costly water damage repairs and inventory loss.

 Prevention is the best remedy for damage from frozen pipes. Fire sprinkler pipes in higher risk areas like hallways and stairs should be insulated or in a heated area. Periodic maintenance checks of the system are recommended in addition to required annual inspections by government authorities. In the case a fire sprinkler turns on for no apparent reason, a sprinkler shut off tool will help control the damage.

Dry Systems are Also Affected

Dry sprinkler systems are utilized in buildings located in areas where freezing conditions are likely to occur. While the pipes in these systems are not filled with water for most of the year, regular maintenance will still need to be performed to ensure they are dry and work properly in the event of a fire. Studies show that unattended pipes can build condensation and drain water over time inside the system, even after it is drained of water during a test.

To mitigate this freezing risk, it is important to ensure that the nitrogen system is working properly. Dry system valves used in auxiliary test runs should also be kept in a dry, heated environment. When the system is operated, run the auxiliary drains each day until water no longer comes out of the pipes. Once this is achieved, perform the same test in weekly and then longer interval periods.

What to Do if You Don’t Have a Sprinkler Shut Off Tool

These essential tools are a quick and easy way for your maintenance staff to control water damage if a fire sprinkler turns on accidentally. Freezing pipes are one of the most common reasons a fire system sprinkler activates. If you don’t have these tools supplied, consider the cost-effective Shutgun. These handy devices are a toolbox staple for hotels, schools, contractors, building managers, hospitals, and more! Contact us today to help you as soon as possible.

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