So winter’s coming...and you’ve got a watchful eye on driveways, roofs and other essential areas. But don’t forget about one of the most freeze-sensitive parts of your buildings and systems: pipes.
Different piping systems require their own types of TLC, especially in the winter. In this piece, we’ll take a look at some overall winter pipe safety measures, along with some steps you can take for overall plumbing wellbeing.
Take action when the weather gets cold.
- Keep an eye on temperatures in vulnerable areas.
- Warm exterior piping that requires constant temperatures through heat or steam tracing.
- Put tarps upwind over buildings and equipment that are vulnerable.
Prevent wet pipe sprinkler system freeze-ups.
- During long cold periods, make sure attics, floor spaces, stairwells, shipping rooms and penthouses are adequately heated. Look for false ceilings under sprinklers or pendant heads and make sure those areas don’t freeze. You’ll want to be sure your heating system keeps all areas warm enough to prevent frozen pipes.
- Seal any openings in windows and doors to prevent leaks and drafts.
- Encase outdoor exposed piping in weather-tight materials.
- Use additional heating during cold spells to warm sprinkler piping.
- Protect your building envelope – seal up small drafts and make sure all doors (especially large shipping doors) remain closed.
- Drain the water from your wet pipe sprinkler piping during long periods of cold weather.
- After a long cold spell ends, conduct drain tests on sprinkler risers if you can. Do this by fully opening the drain, letting it run for 30 seconds or longer, then closing it. If the pressure does not return to normal, it means you’ll need to clean ice from the mains immediately.
- Check all room temperatures regularly.
- Remember, if you drain your system, it no longer offers fire protection. Do not conduct hazardous operations if your system is not operational. Post a fire watch.
- Never use open flame or torches for thawing frozen pipes near combustibles or structures.
Protecting dry pipe systems.
- Dry pipe systems freeze where water collects in improperly pitched pipes, or if you fail to drain water that has accumulated in low point drains or after the valve has been tripped.
- Install air dries on air intakes to keep warmer air from condensing and creating a freeze risk.
- Valved drains at all low points can prevent water accumulation. Open your drain valves on a monthly basis.
- Ensure proper pitch and good drainage throughout your system. Repair and replace inadequate areas as needed.
- Heat your valve enclosures with thermostats set to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use steam or hot water heating systems from boilers. Keep a thermometer in the enclosure and check it once a day at a minimum. Heat tape is permissible in most areas, and a temperature signaling device can be helpful, too.
Keep other systems freeze-free.
- For antifreeze systems, test the solution annually to ensure proper balance.
- Make sure your fire hydrants drain properly. You can hear them drain, or you can place your hand over the hose connection during draining to test for suction. This indicates proper draining.
- For gravity or suction tanks, make sure ice does not accumulate inside or on any part of the structure. Falling icicles create a hazard, and an abundance of ice could cause a collapse. Implement heating devices that keep the water temperature in the tank at 42 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Check the temperature daily and service all heating and circulation equipment before winter.
- Keep fire pump rooms heated at 40 degrees or warmer. You’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s advice on diesel pumps. Be sure the suction source doesn’t freeze, so if suction does come from open water, place the intake below the ice level underground. Clear the intake screen of ice.
Winter is here, but keep these tips in mind and you’ll weather it just fine.