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How to Prevent Damage From a Sprinkler Pipe Burst This Winter

Frozen Pipe Burst Header

Every business should have a winter preparation plan. Most of those cover the basics: what to do on a heavy snow day, how to contact employees to stay home if needed, the procedure for ensuring walkways are free and clear from snow.

These are some obvious examples because, of course, you don't want employees or visitors slipping or sliding on snow and ice. However, it's not uncommon to miss a few critical risks, including those you can't see, such as the potential for frozen or burst pipes or sprinkler systems. 

An irrigation system or sprinkler pipe burst may injure workers or cause damage, leaving your office cold, wet and soggy. The good news is there are steps you can take to prepare ahead of time.

Here's a look at what you can do to help protect your small business from damage by prepping your sprinkler and irrigation systems for the winter.

The risks of irrigation and sprinkler pipe bursts

Imagine this scenario: a strong winter ice storm has struck your area, knocking down power lines and making it difficult for emergency crews to travel. 

After a few days, everything is back to normal, so you head into the office. Unfortunately, after three days of freezing weather and no heat, a sprinkler pipe burst, flooding the first floor and damaging equipment. 

You may face a similar situation with your outdoor irrigation or sprinkler system. If a line bursts in your irrigation system, it could flood your parking lot and turn it into a sheet of ice, making it dangerous for your employees to drive or walk without risking falling.

To help avoid these scenarios, and potential accidents or damages, winterizing your fire prevention and irrigation systems should be high on your list of priorities every year.

What is winterizing?

When the temperature drops below freezing, water left inside fire sprinkler and irrigations system pipes also start to freeze. As water turns to ice, it expands, putting pressure on the sprinkler pipes and irrigation lines, which can eventually lead to cracks, bursts and other damage.

One way to help prevent the freezing that can lead to bursts and damage is to winterize your fire sprinkler pipes and irrigation systems. Winterizing is the process of preparing your building for the winter, it may include draining or adding insulation to sprinkler pipes and irrigation lines. 

The exact process of winterizing may depend on your current systems. For example, some water-based sprinkler systems may require more winterization compared to pressure-based systems, which don't use water in the sprinkler pipes. The National Fire Protection Association has more on learning about the types of sprinkler systems.

How to winterize your fire sprinkler pipes

Learning how to winterize your pipes before the cold weather hits can help mitigate the risk of a sprinkler pipe burst and save on potential repairs come spring.

  • Have your fire system tested on an annual basis to ensure it's in good working order. 
  • Visually inspect your sprinkler pipes and repair any damage. If already insulated, check the insulation for damage. If the insulation is loose or crumbling, it may need replacement.
  • Check the room temperatures for your entire sprinkler system, including the water storage tank and control center. If you have a water-based sprinkler system, the National Fire Sprinkler Association recommends your system be housed in rooms that maintain a temperature of at least 40 degrees
  • If there's the potential the temperature may drop below 40 degrees in part of your office, due to a power outage, consider installing a backup power generator to maintain temperature above that level.
  • If you have a pressure-based or dry system, freezing water in the sprinkler pipes is less of a concern. However, make sure the sprinkler pipe drains are in working order and the main source pump, where the water for your system is stored, is kept in a room above 40 degrees.

A fire sprinkler technician can also inspect your system and ensure it's winter-ready.

How to prepare your irrigation system for winter

For outdoor preparation, learn how to drain a sprinkler system for winter. You can do this on your own if you need to as most manuals provide instructions. If you have a more complex underground system, you may want to contact your installer for help.

Here's what to do if you need to know how to drain a sprinkler system for winter:

  • Shut off the water supply to your sprinkler system. If it runs on an automatic timer, shut that off too.
  • Next, you'll need to drain the water out of the system. Slowly, open the shut-off valves at the end of the lines and release the water.
  • Also, raise the sprinkler heads, which can help drain excess water.
  • As the water is draining, inspect any above-ground lines for cracks or damage. 
  • Once fully drained, lower the sprinkler heads and close the valves. 
  • Finally, consider insulating any of the lines or sprinkler heads that are above ground.

Review your irrigation systems manuals and contact a local professional who can help you determine your exact level of winterization needs.

Develop a preventative winter plan

If you haven't already, create a winter plan for your office. Having a plan in place before the cold weather strikes can reduce winter risks.

To start, review your building. It's essential to maintain and test your equipment, including fire safety, irrigation and HVAC systems. Before the winter weather arrives contact maintenance providers to stay on top of winterization procedures for equipment and when to schedule it. 

Having a system set up will help you reduce potential risks and keep up withrepairs. Set times throughout the year to review and update your winter safety plan.

For more on winter safety planning for your office, FEMA has a winter storm playbookyou can use to get started. And to learn more about how you can protect your business from damage, connect with a Westfield Agent. They can help prepare a policy that will work best for your business.