Does your building or business have a fire sprinkler system for life and property protection? Here are a few items concerning general maintenance and cold weather issues that you should be aware of to ensure the fire sprinkler system is in operable and code-compliant condition. Simple steps can be taken to prevent expensive repairs in the future.
At least once a year, the fire sprinkler system must be inspected in accordance with NFPA 25. This inspection helps to identify any potential problems that might keep the system from operating as designed.
Cold Weather Concerns
Like any systems that uses water, a fire sprinkler system may be susceptible to cold temperatures when the thermometer drops below freezing. Freeze damage can cause significant damage to the fire sprinkler system and property but can be avoided by taking basic precautions. Consult with a licensed fire protection contractor for additional assistance but we offer a few reminders for you or your building maintenance representative to review before/during cold weather:
All Sprinkler Systems
- Ensure heat is provided and maintained in exterior backflow enclosure boxes. This is often called the "hotbox" for this reason. The backflow enclosure is usually the large metal silver-colored box near your property line where the water connection was made with the public water main.
- Heaters must be thermostatically controlled; no portable heaters are permitted. Heaters must be on a direct, non-switched circuit to prevent someone from accidentally turning the heater off.
Wet Pipe Sprinkler Systems
- In areas that are normally heated, is at least 40 degrees F provided? This is required by fire protection codes and standards to prevent freezing of fire sprinkler pipe.
- Ensure the building shell is in good condition and any openings are covered/closed.
- Check insluation (where able) to ensure sprinkler pipes are properly covered.
Dry Pipe Sprinkler Systems
- Maintain at least 40 degrees in the dry pipe valve room/sprinkler riser room.
- Low points (drum drips) shoudl be drained regularly. Residual water can freeze in minutes in some cases. Consult with a licensed fire protection contractor for assistance.
- Air leaks should be repaired as quickly as possible. If the dry pipe system is unable to maintain the required air pressure due to leaks, the system may "trip" and fill the normally dry pipe with water. While this won't cause the sprinker heads to activate (no water will flow out), it does increase the risk of freezing the water in the pipe. Dry pipe systems are typically installed where there is no heat available or provided; threfore, when water fills the pipe unintentionally, it may freeze and damage/burst the pipe more quickly. Air leaks may also cause the air compressor to run constantly which can result in the compressor overheating or failing. Both situations can be avoided with simple regular maintenance and prompt attention when needed for repairs.
- It is recommended to schedule teh annual test in the fall of each year and the three-year test during spring weather.
- If your building has an antifreeze system (often just a small portion or "loop") installed, ensure a licensed fire protection contractor has checked the solution for proper mix strength. Testing of the solution and refilling of any mixture should only be done by a licensed fire protection contractor as the fire code limits what kind of antifreeze may be used. Automobile antifreeze/coolant is NOT permitted in a fire sprinkler system.
- Owners and managers of apartments or other rental properties where fire sprinkler systems are installed should make sure that vacant units have heat provided to maintain at least 40 degrees F to protect sprinkler piping. This is especially important if vacant units are on the upper floor below the unheated attic space.
General Fire Sprinkler Maintenance Tips
Never paint a fire sprinkler head. Painted heads must be removed and replaced by a licensed fire protection contractor.
Never hang any item from any part of a fire sprinkler system. The sprinkler piping is only held in place by thin metal clamps and screws and is not desgined for excess weight. The glass bulb or metal element in the sprinkler head can also be broken if a hanger or other item is inserted in the head. This results in a lot of water very quickly escaping from the sprinkler head until the fire department arrives to shut the system down.
All control valves must be in the open position. Some businesses may be required to have both physical and electronic monitoring of control valves. Current codes require at least the electronic monitoring of valves.