Is Your Sprinkler System Ready for Winter?

Proper maintenance now can help you avoid inconvenient and potentially costly freeze-ups once the temperature falls. Almost every building in the United States is subject to severe winter weather and that is especially true here in the NY Metro area. Last winter we some some record breaking temperatures and had one of the coldest winters in quite some time. Unfortunately, these freezing temperatures can cause costly damage to improperly maintained sprinkler systems, and can impair their ability to provide life safety and protection. For these reasons, it is critical that every facility prepare for winter weather. Part of this preparation MUST include the fire protection systems.

As you might expect, the most common types of sprinkler problems during the winter months are freezing water in pipes. Two problems are most prevalent: water accumulating in dry pipe sprinkler systems from the compressed air in the sprinkler pipes, and inadequately heated portions of wet pipe sprinkler systems. The following checklist focuses on these two issues. It’s designed for a building owner, or responsible party, to supplement an existing sprinkler system maintenance program. It is not designed to be all-inclusive, or a replacement for regular inspection, testing and maintenance of fire protection equipment.

Winter Weather Preparedness Checklist

Wet Pipe Sprinkler Systems

  • Ensure that the building shell is in good condition; close up any unnecessary openings
  • Maintain building heat at a minimum of 40°F in all normally heated areas and any area with a wet pipe sprinkler system
  • Check coldest points of building to ensure temperature is at least 40°F (i.e., eaves, over shipping doors, spaces without direct heat)
  • Consider low temperature alarms in areas where heat is suspect
  • Identify vulnerable areas – such as crawl spaces, attics, and above suspended ceilings – where water piping pass through and provide a way for heat to reach these areas
  • Place thermostats and/or low temperature alarms at strategic locations to monitor building temperature
  • Check insulation in attic areas or other areas near wet pipe sprinkler pipes

Dry Pipe Sprinkler Systems

  • Maintain heat in dry pipe valve rooms, fire pump rooms, and all areas protected by wet pipe sprinkler systems at a minimum of 40°F
  • Heaters should be thermostatically controlled; use of portable heaters is discouraged
  • It is the building owner’s responsibility to drain all low point drains weekly before and during freezing weather; have additional drains installed if necessary
  • All low point drain and drum drip piping should be extended into a heated area
  • Have air leaks repaired to keep system from tripping if compressor power is lost
  • Air supplied to the compressor should come from a dry, room-temperature source.  If this is not possible, or moisture build-up is a problem, consider installing an air dryer or using nitrogen instead of air
  • Have the pitch checked on any pipes where the pipe or hangers have been hit, altered, or appear sagging

Hydrants, Control Valves and Fire Department Connections

  • Check private hydrant fittings for tightness
  • For areas prone to significant snow, identify hydrants with flags or markers located above the average snow line
  • Check around hydrants and post indicator valves for soft or wet ground; this is an indication of a leaky underground piping and should be further assessed
  • Ensure all control valves are in their normal operating position and secure from tampering.
  • Check fire department connections for accessibility. Keep clear by shoveling away snow to access connections.

Antifreeze systems

  • Have antifreeze solution checked for mix strength

Gravity and Suction Tanks

  • Flush heaters, water circulating equipment, and piping
  • Turn on heaters and water circulating equipment, and monitor equipment throughout winter months