Avoid Catastrophe in Your Condo Association This Winter: Protect Your Pipes

Posted on Tuesday January 31, 2017

 
Winter is here, and in Chicagoland and the rest of the state, the cold can present a range of issues. You’ve probably been keeping a watchful eye on driveways, roofs and other essential areas in your condo community. But don’t forget about one of the most freeze-sensitive parts of your buildings and systems: pipes. 
 
Things can get downright messy if a pipe leaks or breaks, both for the association and for residents. Different piping systems require their own types of TLC, especially in the winter. Follow these winter pipe safety measures to avoid potential headaches. 
 
Actions to take 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. 
 
Preventing 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 by sealing up small drafts and making sure all doors (especially large shipping doors) remain closed. 
  • Drain the water from your wet pipe sprinkler piping during extended periods of cold weather. 
  • At the end of a long cold spell, conduct drain tests on sprinkler risers if you can. Do this by fully opening the drain, letting it run for 30 seconds or longer and 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 that if you drain your system, it no longer offers fire protection. Post a fire watch, and do not conduct hazardous operations if your system is not operational. 
  • Never use open flames or torches for thawing frozen pipes near combustibles or structures. 
 
Protecting dry pipe systems
  • Prevent excess water from collecting. Dry pipe systems freeze where water collects in improperly pitched pipes. This can also happen 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.
  • If you don’t already have them, install valve drains at all low points to 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 at least once a day. Heat tape is permissible in most areas, and a temperature signaling device can be helpful, too. 
 
Keeping 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, which indicates proper draining.
  • For gravity or suction tanks, prevent ice from accumulating 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 Fahrenheit or warmer. You’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s advice on diesel pumps. To be sure the suction source doesn’t freeze in case suction does come from open water, place the intake below the ice level underground. Clear the intake screen of ice. 
 
Winter can be brutal, but if you follow these tips you’ll weather it just fine. Working with a professional property management company can also help reduce your association’s worries.
 
For example, in the event of an emergency, like a burst pipe, FirstService Residential’s property managers can alert residents immediately via our proprietary FSRConnect software. In addition, our Emergency Response and Incident Command (ERIC) program quickly engages a response team to manage the incident and address the problem. This leaves property managers and supervisors available to attend to the needs of residents.
 
To get more tips and to find out how an experienced property management company can help you protect your pipes, contact FirstService Residential, the leading property management company in Chicagoland. 
 

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