Fire Department Urges Businesses to Protect Fire Sprinkler Systems in Winter

Posted on Thursday Dec 02, 2010

Freezing temperatures can burst pipes and damage property

fire sprinkler.jpgAs cold temperatures approach, Evanston Fire Officials want to remind property owners to maintain minimum heat to protect automatic fire sprinkler systems from freezing and causing costly water damage. This is especially important for businesses that may temporarily close or property owners who may relocate during the winter.

Commercial properties across the city, including shopping centers, hotels, condominiums and apartment buildings are typically protected by automatic fire sprinkler systems. These systems are installed for life-safety purposes as well as protecting property since sprinkler systems are noted for extinguishing small fires before they have a chance to get out of control. In fact, national statistics show that 88% of fires in protected buildings are extinguished by only one or two sprinklers.

However, if a system is allowed to freeze, devastating consequences may occur. Although special types of sprinkler systems are available for use in areas subject to freezing, most sprinkler systems are wet pipe systems, meaning that the piping is normally filled with water. If a system or even a small portion of a system is exposed to freezing temperatures, water in the piping can turn to ice, expanding in volume and producing thousands of pounds of pressure. Such pressure can break fittings, but can also force open the valve caps of sprinklers resulting in apparent accidental discharge or leakage when the system subsequently thaws.

Freezing of wet pipe systems occurs most often due to a lack of adequate heat. However, open doors, windows and vents; broken windows; cracks in walls; loose shingles and siding; and similar building maintenance defects are also responsible for a number of frozen systems each year.

Keep doors, windows and vents closed when not in use or when resulting drafts will allow subfreezing air to contact sprinkler piping. Repair broken windows, doors and other items in need of fixing. Remember the possibility that high winds may accompany periods of low temperatures. Provide heating of adequate capacity to maintain the temperature at no less than 40°F near sprinkler piping. Particular attention should be given to piping in attics, entries, penthouses, stairways, under floor areas, above ceilings and similar out-of-the-way areas where low temperatures might occur. Heat should be provided by extension of the existing heating system.

For more information about fire sprinkler systems and their maintenance, contact Evanston Fire & Life-Safety Services at 847/ 866-5918.