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Safety And Security

Winterizing your fire protection system

September 19, 2010
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Along with changing leaves and football season, fire protection system maintenance is another autumn staple. Why?

As cold weather approaches, sprinkler pipes and other system components become increasingly vulnerable to freezing.

Not only does this make fire safety systems less effective and responsive, but it also amplifies the risk of severe water damage as a result of bursting pipes.

And, buildings that are located in mild climates may have even greater vulnerability in the event of a cold front since precautionary measures are more likely to have been overlooked.

Tips for all
Regardless of your location, a complete inspection and a handful of simple precautions can safeguard your system and help prevent serious damage and expensive losses.

A thorough inspection is the first step in preventing sprinkler freeze-ups.

If this is not your area of expertise, simply schedule an inspection with a local fire protection professional.

He or she will conduct a thorough examination to ensure that there are no physical deficiencies that could hamper your system or prevent it from receiving adequate heating during cold weather.

Items to be on alert for include cracks in the walls, broken windows, insufficient insulation, exposed roof areas, and loose siding — all of which make your system more susceptible to freezing by allowing cold air to penetrate the building.

Before and after the inspection, remain on alert for any drafts and ensure that all windows, vents, and doors are kept closed when they are not in use.

Your wet pipe system should be assessed to ensure that all elements, especially those areas that are exposed to outdoor temperatures, are properly equipped to maintain a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above.

Close attention should be paid to entryways, attics, stairwells, skylights, and areas underneath floors or above ceilings; such areas generally run the greatest risk of exposure.

If your fire protection professional identifies system components that lack adequate heating, he or she can suggest ways to extend your existing heating system to reach these areas.

Occasionally, the solution can be as simple as removing a few tiles from a drop ceiling to encourage greater circulation of heat.

Additionally, you''ll want to be sure that sprinklers located closest to heat sources have intermediate to high temperature ratings, which will help curb unintentional activation.

If your wet pipe system utilizes an antifreeze loop system, your fire protection professional should check it at several points to determine whether the system contains the proper proportions of antifreeze and water.

Using a hydrometer or refractomer to gauge the specific gravity measurements, adjustments should be made to the solutions as necessary.

Furthermore, all water-control valves should remain open.

These basic preventive measures will help reduce the risk of freezing and ensure that your wet pipe system runs smoothly throughout the winter.

Always be extra careful
As dry pipe systems do not normally contain water, they are less likely to freeze than wet pipe systems.

However, it is still important to take some precautions with these systems before cold weather arrives.

To begin, your fire protection professional should check the pipe system to ensure that all water and condensation is drained.

And, because appropriate pitch facilitates proper drainage, he or she should check the system for missing or broken sprinkler pipe hangers and make any necessary replacements or repairs.

Finally, he or she should verify that the system has enough air to withstand a drop in pressure caused by cold weather.

The compressor that is responsible for supplying air to the system should be located in a cool, dry place to prevent additional condensation.

If necessary, your fire protection professional may recommend the installation of a temperature-signaling device in the valve room to monitor temperature activity and signal potential hazards.

The time to prepare your fire protection system is now.

Prevention is always the cheapest, quickest, and easiest way to avoid weather-related problems with your life safety system.

Schedule an inspection for your fire protection system today.

In the long run, proactive thinking will cut down on costly damage as well as repairs, and it will help keep tenants and property safe all winter long.


Chuck Castle is the president of Castle Sprinkler & Alarm and ACE Fire Extinguisher Service, leaders in fire protection services for more than 62 years. Castle and ACE are committed to helping their clients maintain their fire protection systems in the most economical form possible. For more information or to schedule a free fire system consultation, contact Chuck at ccastle@csafire.com or visit www.csafire.com.

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