For businesses and organizations using unheated warehouses or other structures, where freezing temperatures could cause the pipes in an automatic sprinkler system to burst, chances are, the system is equipped with a dry-pipe fire sprinkler system.
Dry-pipe sprinkler systems
Dry-pipe sprinkler systems are used in settings where a temperature above 40°F (4°C) cannot be reliably maintained. Unlike wet-pipe systems in which the pipes are filled with water, the pipes in a dry-pipe system are pressurized with air that holds the water back from the main water line.
When a sprinkler is activated, the air is released, which releases the water into the pipes
When a sprinkler is activated, the air is released, which releases the water into the pipes where it flows to the sprinkler heads. A common misconception regarding dry-pipe systems is that they cannot freeze because the water they require is held back by valves and only released into the pipes when the system is activated.
Danger of freezing
Dry-pipe systems can, in fact, freeze. And, when they do, they can flood the areas they are intended to protect, causing costly damage. When this happens, the fire sprinkler system is rendered inactive. When a fire sprinkler system is impaired, a fire watch is required until it is repaired, which can significantly increase the expenses associated with frozen pipes.
Listed below are some relatively simple maintenance steps that businesses can employ to help avoid a freeze-up of their dry-pipe fire sprinkler systems.
How Can a Dry-Pipe System Freeze If It Doesn’t Hold Any Water?
This is often the first question a Koorsen Fire & Security technician gets when responding to a call to repair dry-pipe systems with valves and pipes broken as a result of freezing or frigid cold temperatures.
Water can get into a dry-pipe system in two different ways. The most often way in which it can occur is as a result of activation during routine testing or in response to a fire, which releases water into the pipes.
Proper installation of dry-pipes
Normally, the dry-pipe sprinkler system would be designed with the pipes sloped to low point drains
Normally, the dry-pipe sprinkler system would be designed with the pipes sloped to low point drains, so that after an activation, any excess water can be drained from the pipes. However, if the pipes are not properly installed, the slope may not be sufficient to drain all the water left in the pipes.
Water can also collect in dry pipes as a result of condensation, which occurs when pressurizing the system with air, after it has been activated. There is always some humidity in the air, which is condensed into water, when the air in the pipes is pressurized. Condensation can plug a sprinkler’s valves when it freezes, preventing the water from entering the pipes, in the event of a fire incident.
Low point or auxiliary drains
In these cases, low point drains (sometimes called auxiliary drains or ‘drum drips’) can be installed to collect any extra water that remains after an activation is carried out and/or from condensation, so that it can be easily drained.
The maintenance requirements for dry-pipe sprinkler systems can be found in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 25 Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems.
Carrying out routine testing
While routine testing should always be completed by a factory-trained and certified technician, there are some things users can do themselves so as to help ensure that the dry-pipe sprinkler system does not freeze in extreme cold temperatures. The basic points that users can check in their dry-pipe sprinkler system are:
- Regularly checking all low point drains and emptying them when necessary, is one of the simplest and most effective ways to avoid freeze-ups in a dry-pipe sprinkler system. It only takes a few minutes to empty a low point or auxiliary drain and can potentially save businesses and individuals thousands of dollars in repair costs or expenses incurred due to replacement of sprinkler system or parts.
- Simple visual inspections completed when checking on low point or auxiliary drains can help individuals spot any mark of vandalism, damage or corrosion, so that it can be repaired proactively and on time.
- Checking the pressure in the dry-pipes daily in cold weather conditions helps to ensure that it is sufficient to keep the valve tightly closed.
- Providing additional freeze protection for dry-pipes in unheated areas with additional insulation to help block the flow of cold air from entering pipe chases and soffits, which can lead to freezing and damage.
Installing temperature signaling devices for added protection
While all dry-pipe sprinkler systems have a pressure switch that is activated when water flows
While all dry-pipe sprinkler systems have a pressure switch that is activated when water flows, for an additional layer of protection, users can have a professional technician install temperature signaling devices to warn of potential freezing conditions in the sprinkler systems. They can also upgrade their existing dry-pipe sprinkler system from compressed air to nitrogen, which helps to further eliminate condensation and corrosion caused due to condensation.
Koorsen Fire & Security can help users and businesses with these improvements to help ensure that they never have to bear the heavy expense of repairing or replacing their dry-pipe sprinkler systems, due to a freeze-up or extreme cold-related damage.
Freezing can be easily avoided by performing the simple steps described above and partnering with the experts at Koorsen Fire a& Security, who will perform the required inspections and testing of the dry-pipe sprinkler systems.