Preparing for the Arctic Freeze

Before the snow and the frigid blasts of arctic weather arrive, it’s important to prepare your facility and your employees. Preparations now can save costly damage and maintain important fire and life safety systems.

Prepare all sprinkler systems, heating systems, process equipment, emergency generator, and snow removal equipment or service.  Check that sufficient heat will be available in buildings protected by wet pipe sprinkler systems.  Any hidden pipes alongside roofs edges and walls are susceptible to freezing.  Drain condensate from the low points of all dry pipe sprinkler systems and ensure that heating equipment in valve closets are working properly. Check any fire pump buildings and suction/gravity tank heaters as well.  Use approved heat trace on exposed pipes that cannot be drained.

Preparations before the Arctic Freeze or Winter Storm

  •  Determine personnel and resource needs to protect the facility and handle storm cleanup
  •  Review emergency plans for loss of heat, electricity, and protection system impairments. Assign responsibilities and review alerting and communications procedures.
  • Test emergency generators under a full load at least annually. Maintain generator fuel tanks ¾ full. Arrange for fuel delivery before a storm approaches
  • Have staff check remote areas for low temperatures, open doors, cracked windows, or other openings that can allow the cold to enter.
  • Monitor temperatures in areas with water pipes to detect low temperatures—especially those not normally occupied.
  • Prepare to activate your emergency management and business continuity plan and alert staff to respond if called.
  • Identify and clearly mark all water shutoff valves through the facility. Train employees on how to shut off the water valve closest to the breakage, and to do so right after a pipe breakage is identified.
  • Keep driveways clear for emergency vehicle access. Coordinate with your contractor or Public Works as needed.
  • Clear the exterior of exit doors to allow for emergency egress.
  • Shovel areas around sprinkler valves and fire hydrants to allow emergency access.
  • Inspect roof drains and remove any debris.
  • Clear roof drains of ice dams to allow melting snow to drain.
  • Clear exterior down spouts of snow or ice buildup at outlets.
  • Stay alert for the beginning of ponding-deflection cycles. As snow compresses, it absorbs rainwater and the increased weight on the roof will create depressions where water will accumulate and not drain. Often this condition worsens and leads to roof collapse.
  • Remove dangerous snow loads if deemed safe. Priority areas include changes in roof elevation, moderate or low-sloped peaked single gable or curved roofs where winds cause drifting, valleys formed by multiple-gable or multiple peaked roofs, and roofs with multiple projections.
  • Remove snow from standing seam metal roofs in strips starting at the peak to the eaves alternating side to side to assure the roof load is maintained in balance.
  • Maintain awareness of surface water flooding caused by poor street drainage. Direct surface water away from the building.

If Heat is Lost and Pipes Freeze

  • Use only approved space heaters to provide temporary heating. Check with the local fire department to determine what is approved for your area. Kerosene and propane heaters should only be used if permitted and in supervised areas where adequate ventilation and fire protection is available.
  • Do not use torches to thaw frozen pipes.

What to do if your fire sprinkler pipes freeze.  Follow insurer and fire department required impairment precautions if sprinkler systems freeze which may require you to contact them. In addition they may suggest the following to limit further damage:

1. Shut the control valve to the affected sprinkler system. Then open the 2-inch drain on the riser and any low point drains on the system. Use plastic tarps in the area of any actual pipe breakage to limit water damage to stock and supplies. After water flow has been stopped, follow these steps:

2. Notify the public fire department and consult any Impairment Kit provided by your insurer if your sprinkler system is out of service and requires repairs.

3. Do not attempt to thaw out piping in the building by using a torch or open flame device.

4. Cutting and welding or other operations employing an open flame should be prohibited in the area where the sprinkler system is out of service.

5. Hazardous operations such as spray painting, dipping or others using flammable liquids or producing a combustible dust should be suspended while the sprinklers are out of service.

6. A strict “No Smoking” policy should be enforced throughout the affected area.

7. Extra fire extinguishers should be distributed throughout the area.

8. If extensive repairs are required, efforts should be directed toward restoring as much protection as possible by plugging or blocking of the damaged section. For example, if a single branch line breaks, it is often possible to blank off that one line and return the rest of the system to service until permanent repairs are completed. Be sure to keep records of all plugs or blind flanges used to ensure they have all been removed when repairs have been completed.

9. Watch service should be provided on a 24-hour basis until repairs are completed and all valves have been reopened. In the event of a fire, the watchman should be instructed to first notify the public fire department and then reopen any closed valves.

10. If temporary heat is necessary, use only portable units listed by UL or approved by Factory Mutual. Additionally, these units should have constant supervision.

11. Electrical resistance heating should not be directly attached to overhead piping. If it is used to thaw underground piping, it should only be used by well-trained personnel.

12. Before the sprinkler system is restored to service, examine the system for cracked fittings, split pipes or leaking sprinkler heads. Finally, open all control valves and notify the public fire department and your insurer that the system is back in service.