Don't let winter leave your sprinkler system out in the cold
Dry pipe systems and wet pipe systems require different kinds of maintenance to keep them operational. Although dry pipe systems are designed for cold environments, they often malfunction in winter because of poor maintenance.
Dry pipe systems are not technically dry -- they produce condensation. The structural layout of many buildings prevents proper drainage of condensation to the riser, so additional drains called "drum drip drains" are installed at the system's low points to allow maintenance without taking the system out of service. If these drains are not maintained regularly, the excess water that collects in them may eventually freeze. As ice expands, it will break a fitting or valve and allow air to escape, thereby filling your system and causing a full fire alarm.
"The best practice in performing dry system inspections, testing and maintenance is to perform the annual test in the fall and the three-year test in the spring, and to maintain drum drip drains as often as necessary, especially before the first freeze each year," says Greg Johnson, service manager for United States Alliance Fire Protection. "Residual water in dry systems will freeze in minutes if conditions are right."
In wet pipe systems, adequate heat is essential to the system's operation. Maintenance checkups should include inspections of the building's heating system and insulation to ensure that each area, including any vacant space, will be no colder than 40 degrees.
No matter what kind of system you have, it's important to check it before the temperature drops. Freeze-ups often happen at night, requiring costly emergency service. Your insurance company may not have to pay for property damage or business interruption if there is no proof that your system was maintained in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association's standards.
While property owners may be looking for places to save a few dollars, the damage a freeze-up can cause is far pricier than the cost of prevention.
"During a hard freeze in 2008, we responded to an emergency call for a system that was less than 5 years old. The call was for a leak in the fire pump room, which was caused by ice expanding in the sprinkler pipe. All the sprinkler components were frozen solid and had to be replaced," Johnson says. "It was a $50,000 service repair that could have been avoided with a timely inspection and a $5 door sweep for the mechanical room."
To schedule maintenance or an inspection, call Greg Johnson at (847) 816-0050.
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