Just the phrase “frozen pipes” is enough to give any business owner, property owner or building manager a feeling of dread. Water freezes inside a pipe, pressure builds up behind the blockage, and WHAM! the pipe bursts. The damage is costly and can even shut down business operations.
Let’s cover some proactive steps to prevent freezing pipes:
- Insulate your building
- Protect vulnerable pipes
- Drip water through your faucets during periods of extreme cold
- Have a backup heating source
- Protect your fire sprinkler system
- Use building automation, monitoring and early detection systems
Insulate your building
Pipes inside your building aren’t immune to freezing. You should have insulation installed in your walls, ceilings, floors, attic, basement and foundation.
Pipes are most likely to freeze in the “cold zones” of your building—areas that aren’t regularly accessed and/or heated.
Some common “cold zones” include:
- Crawl spaces
- Attics/roof spaces/above suspended ceilings
- Exterior wall cavities
- Remote storage areas
When insulating an attic, look for visible light and seal or insulate any openings you find. Check and seal windows, partition walls, vents, electric and mechanical chases, and plumbing stacks.
On your exterior walls, seal cracks, gaps and openings. These might include electrical conduit and other utility service lines. Your goal is to keep cold air from reaching the wall cavity. Install weatherstripping around all doors and windows to keep cold air out and your heat in.
Protect vulnerable pipes
You can insulate pipes that are vulnerable to freezing temperatures using pre-formed pipe insulation sleeves or wrapping. This lessens the chance that the water inside them will freeze when the temperatures drop.
When possible and safe to do so, drain and shut off pipes that aren’t needed during the winter months. (For example, your lawn irrigation system.)
If you have pipes located in cold zones that you can’t drain and can’t adequately heat, you may need to use approved heat tracing or heat tapes. Heat tapes are lengths of wire with embedded heating elements that are wrapped around pipes to prevent freezing. Ask your mechanical contractor or commercial plumber if this is recommended for your piping system.
Drip water through your faucets
Moving water is less likely to freeze. Let faucets drip during periods of extreme cold to keep water circulating. If freezing does occur, this simple action also helps relieve the pressure buildup between the faucet and the ice blockage. It could mean the difference between business as usual and a burst pipe.
Have a backup power source
Power outages are all too common in winter due to ice buildup on power lines. An ice storm can cause massive damage to power lines and long periods without power. The last thing you need on top of that is frozen pipes due to frigid indoor temperatures.
Make sure you have a reliable backup power source for your building, such as a standby generator, to keep temperatures at safe level. Your mechanical contractor or commercial electrician can help you find the best option for your facility.
Protect your fire sprinkler system
Do you have a wet sprinkler system for fire protection? The wet piping systems that run and supply it may be vulnerable to freezing. This includes the sprinkler branch lines and the main lines that come up from underground and pass through your building wall.
There’s more at stake than a burst pipe if your sprinkler system freezes. Ice blockages will impede the flow of water, meaning your sprinklers won’t work properly in the event of a fire. If the weather is severe, there may be a delay in emergency response time, too. It’s absolutely crucial that you take steps to protect your system.
Talk to your service provider about the measures that are appropriate for your system. Some common actions include:
- Using a central station to continually monitor your fire protection sprinkler system
- Insulating pipes and/or using heat tracing connected to a reliable power source, including a backup source
- If the sprinkler control valve room isn’t heated, installing a UL-approved electric or gas heater connected to a backup power source
Be proactive with building automation, monitoring and early detection systems
If the roads get dangerous and employees are told to stay home, there may not be anyone in the building to check the temperature and take other precautions. Temperatures may plummet unexpectedly during the night. Thankfully, there are full Building Automation Systems (BAS), as well as other smart building and monitoring technologies, to alert you to problems and help you take action.
- Monitoring systems that notify you if the building’s temperature drops below a certain level
- Smart building controls that let you turn up the heat remotely from your mobile phone
- Monitored excess flow switches for incoming water lines that provide early detection of broken pipes and valves
Ready to winterize?
If you’re in the Wichita area, CTS can help you prevent cold weather problems like freezing pipes. From piping systems to backup power to building automation, we can do it all. Contact us today to schedule.