Preventing Freeze-Ups

Winter brings with it fairly obvious hazards — icy parking lots, delayed deliveries, and dangerous driving conditions, to name a few. In addition to these, there is one hazard that can prove problematic but may not be top of mind: freeze-ups. During severe cold spells, water in sprinkler system piping, HVAC, or processing equipment can freeze and expand — or freeze up — causing pipes and fittings to burst. In addition to causing extensive water damage, freeze-ups may interrupt service, both of which can be costly for your business.

Water pipes and equipment that contain or use water, produce condensation, or depend on pneumatic controls are vulnerable to freezing. Freeze-ups can occur if:

  • A window is broken or a door is left open
  • Heating systems lack appropriate reserves
  • Building insulation is inadequate
  • Pipes run in unheated areas or concealed spaces

You can prepare your business and help minimize the risk of freeze-ups by following this checklist:

  • Appoint employees to monitor weather and initiate emergency procedures when appropriate.
  • Develop procedures in the event heat or electricity is lost, including how to restore electrical services.
  • Determine the critical processes that depend on building heat for safety and need prompt attention.
  • Identify building areas that lose heat quickly or are difficult to heat. Install thermometers and develop procedures to monitor temperatures during cold spells.
  • Confirm that water-filled pipes that pass through areas exposed to temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit are protected with insulating coverings, frost-proof castings, or listed heat tracing systems.
  • Confirm that windows, skylights, doors, ventilators, concealed spaces, unused attics, stair towers, roof houses, low spaces under buildings, and any other openings and closures do not expose piping to freezing.
  • Inspect, repair, and maintain the building exterior to minimize openings. Caulk, insulate, and apply weather stripping as needed. Close and seal unneeded dampers and vents.
  • Service heating systems on a regular basis. If heating systems are capable of dual fuel firing, ensure adequate supplies of alternative fuels are available. Test standby electric generators, portable heaters, and other emergency equipment.
  • Identify equipment, processes, and piping that contain or use water or liquids and take appropriate measures to prevent damage. For example, drain or relocate equipment or install insulation and/or an additional heat source.

During cold spells it’s important to:

  • Monitor temperatures in vulnerable areas.
  • Maintain water-filled sprinkler piping, valves, and other exposed equipment at a minimum temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Provide approved portable heaters for areas that may fall below this temperature.
  • Erect tarps as temporary windbreaks. Consider planting trees or hedges upwind of vulnerable buildings and equipment for a more permanent solution.
  • Open water faucets slightly to keep water flowing for pipes that may freeze.
  • If pipes freeze, turn off water supply and thaw or repair damaged piping.
  • Do not use open-flame devices to thaw frozen pipes or equipment.
  • Confirm all fire protection equipment is in service.
  • Monitor boilers or heating systems that must remain online and operational.
  • Keep names and telephone numbers of heating contractors, plumbers, and the fire department accessible.

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The illustrations, instructions, and principles in this material are general in scope and, to the best of our knowledge, current at the time of publication. No attempt has been made to interpret any referenced codes, standards, or regulations nor to identify all potential risks or requirements.