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When Icy Temperatures Become a Fire Hazard

Ironically, freezing temperatures can be a fire hazard for commercial property. As pipes freeze over, fire sprinklers tend to malfunction. The following precautions can reduce the risk of your sprinkler pipes bursting: 

General Tips:

  • Communicate inclement and freezing weather predictions with property managers and on-site staff.
  • Establish a protocol for checking fire systems before and during cold weather.
  • Never attempt to repair broken fire safety equipment yourself; always hire a professional fire protection contractor. If you need a referral, call our office at 972.387.3000.
  • NEVER use flares, candles, or other open flames to thaw frozen pipes. Similarly, do not use fuel-burning heaters. Not only can these heaters induce carbon monoxide poisoning without proper ventilation, they are also a fire risk.
  • Next time you have your fire sprinkler system serviced, ask your contractor to demonstrate how to turn off the water valve. This way, you can minimize the amount of water damage (and wasted water) if a pipe bursts. *Always notify your insurance carrier if you shut down your sprinkler valve!

If You Have a Wet Pipe System:

Indoor fire sprinklers are typically “wet sprinkler systems,” whose pipes are full of water. Heat activates the sprinkler head, and water sprays out (similar to a faucet). The following precautions will reduce the risk of your wet pipe systems from freezing:

  • Insulate any sprinkler piping that could be exposed to outside temperatures. Close all windows, doors, and vents to the outside elements.
  • Heat buildings to a minimum of 40F, taking particular precautions to heat spaces frequently exposed to cold temperatures, such as entryways, stairways, basements, and loading docks.
  • If your building’s heating is interrupted due to a power outage or system maintenance, plan to provide temporary heating to prevent your pipes from freezing. (Never use a fuel-burning heater in an unventilated space).
  • Remove ceiling tiles from drop ceilings to allow warm air to reach pipes.
  • For loading docks or other parts of the system that may have an antifreeze loop system, the specific gravity of the antifreeze must be checked prior to the cold weather season to ensure it has the proper proportions of antifreeze and water. Make sure the valve is open.
  • Always notify your insurance carrier if you turn off the water valve for your sprinklers!

If You Have a Dry Pipe System:

Dry systems are typically found in parking garages or warehouses, where temperatures may drop below freezing. In a dry system, the pipes are pressurized with air that holds the water back from the main water line. Since dry pipe sprinkler systems do not hold water in their piping, they are less likely to freeze — but certain precautions should still be taken.

  • Replace any broken or missing sprinkler pipe hangers.
  • Install air dryers in the air intakes to keep the pipes’ air supply cold and dry.
  • Install an alarm that monitors the temperature of your building’s valve room.
  • Protect the dry pipe valve and riser from freezing by using electrical heater strip sunder thermostatic control. Maintain a temperature of at least 50F.
  • Drain water from auxiliary drains and all other low points, including drains beneath stairs and platforms.
  • Check the air pressure every 24 hours, ideally at night, or whenever the temperatures are coldest. There should be enough air in the pipe system to allow for a dip in pressure, which occurs in low temperatures.
The descriptions of coverages listed in this article are brief and subject to the provisions, limitations, and exclusions that can only be expressed in your policy and related endorsements. For additional information of how Swingle Collins & Associates can assist in meeting your coverage needs, please contact your dedicated risk manager. The information contained in this article is provided for informational and educational purposes only. It contains general information on insurance issues and may not reflect the most current developments in insurance coverage and is unlikely to apply in all factual scenarios. The information does not include all the terms, coverages, exclusions, limitations or conditions that may be contained in the actual insurance contract language. The policies themselves must be read for those details. Sample policy forms will be made available upon reasonable request. Thank you. 

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