Published 01.15.24

Can your Fire Sprinkler System Withstand the Cold?

When the temps go down, the chance of damage to your pipes goes up. A well-maintained fire sprinkler system is always important, but it’s especially critical during the winter.

When the temps go down, the chance of damage to your pipes goes up. 

A well-maintained fire sprinkler system is always important, but it’s especially critical during the winter when the pipes in your system are more susceptible to freezing. And of course with an increased chance of pipes freezing comes an increased risk of pipes bursting — which is caused by frozen water expanding and pushing against the walls of the pipe with enough force to rupture them.

By following our tips for winterizing your sprinkler system, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of pipe damage, inadequate fire protection, potential property flooding and expensive repair costs. Be sure to keep in mind that preparing your system for cold temperatures is a critical service, so it’s best to work with a professional fire protection company.

Also keep in mind that even if you live in an area with milder weather, you should still take steps to winterize your sprinkler system. In fact, buildings in these climates may be even more susceptible in colder weather because preventive measures that prepare fire protection systems are less likely to be followed.

  • Have your fire sprinkler system professionally inspected. According to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 25, automatic sprinkler components are required to be inspected annually, semi-annually, quarterly or monthly. So not only will an inspection by a licensed fire protection provider help determine potential problems with your system, it will also help prevent you from getting fined.

  • Winterizing Dry Sprinkler Systems
    Dry pipe sprinkler systems are often used in building areas with temperature  fluctuations and a greater likelihood of freezing conditions, such as foyers or attics. All low points in your system must be drained before extremely cold temps set in, to help prevent standing water that could cause a drain to freeze over. It’s also crucial to check risers or pump rooms, which are often located on the outside of a building, to make sure their heaters are working properly and temperatures are at or above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  

    Winterizing Wet Sprinkler Systems
    If you have a wet pipe system, make sure that all areas protected by it never fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Some wet systems also have an added antifreeze solution to prevent freezing. but these levels do dilute over time and can lose effectiveness. It’s a good idea to check throughout the winter months to ensure your system has the optimal level — since too much antifreeze can damage your pipes, and too little won’t be effective. A professional technician can test samples to make sure the water in your pipes has the correct concentration.

  • Visually inspect your system. After properly winterizing your system, routinely inspect for leaks or corrosion or any other kinds of problems. The integrity of your pipe insulation should be visually inspected as well, to see if it’s in place or if it has been disturbed.
  • Look for drafts and cold air leaks. Areas with sprinkler piping should be above 40 degrees Fahrenheit at all times, so keeping out cold air is imperative. Be on the lookout for spaces in your building that could let cold air in and possibly cause freezing pipes — such as attics, garages, closets and exposed roof areas. Also, replace windows or doors that aren’t effective at preventing freezing temperatures from getting to your sprinkler system.
  • Know how to shut off and drain your system if needed. It’s important to know if you have a wet or dry sprinkler system, and when it should be shut down. A wet system should be shut off and drained if a pipe leaks after freezing, or if there are signs of frost or ice on the outside of your system. If you have a dry system that trips and fills with water, opening all valves and draining the system will help prevent the pipes from freezing and breaking.
  • Check your other fire protection systems.
    • Some fire extinguishers may need to be moved to a warmer area of your building during the winter. If you have a water-based fire extinguisher that contains an antifreeze mix, find out the freeze rating — or you can switch to a dry power extinguisher during the winter months.
    • If your facility has fire pumps and backflow preventers, make sure they have correct enclosures and are properly heated during the winter. Other helpful tips include maintaining a steady trickle of water during cold conditions, installing a freeze protection valve, and insulating your entire backflow preventer assembly.
    • Make sure all of your emergency exit doors are clear of ice, snow and water during the winter.
  • Call on the pros if a problem occurs. To prevent extensive damage to your facility, it’s recommended to contact a repair specialist if something goes wrong. Cintas inspects, tests and services both wet and dry fire sprinkler systems, and our highly qualified technicians are standing ready 24/7 to respond to emergencies.