The snow is falling, and the temperatures are falling - winter is here! Here in northern Illinois, the winter can present a range of issues during a stretch of a few months. You have likely been keeping a close eye on your driveways, roofs, and other significant areas of your condo association. However, one place is typically overlooked yet is the most freeze-sensitive part of your condo and systems: pipes. Suppose you forget about this area during any freeze. In that case, things can get messy for the association and residents - especially if the pipe leaks or breaks in different areas of the condo.

Since there are different variations of pipes, each piping system will require a special kind of care, especially in the winter. In this article, we go through some of the most crucial winter pipe safety measures so that your condo can stay safe and to avoid potential headaches.

Before we get into the details, remember ithat while water's freezing temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it may not necessarily mean that your pipes will freeze. However, it is an important thing to keep in mind as we go through each point. What to do when the weather gets cold:
  • Keep an eye on temperatures in vulnerable areas.
  • Warm exterior piping that requires constant temperatures through heat or steam tracing.
  • Put tarps upwind over buildings and equipment that are vulnerable.

Preventing wet pipe sprinkler system freeze-ups

During any cold stretch, ensure that the attics, floor spaces, stairwells, shipping rooms, and penthouses are adequately heated. Look for false ceilings under sprinklers or pendant heads, and make sure those areas do not freeze. You will want to be sure your heating system keeps all areas warm enough to prevent frozen pipes.
  • Seal any openings in windows and doors to prevent leaks and drafts.
  • Encase outdoor exposed piping in weather-tight materials.
  • Use additional heating during cold spells to warm sprinkler piping.
  • Protect your building envelope by sealing up small drafts and making sure all doors (especially large shipping doors) remain closed.
  • Drain the water from your wet pipe sprinkler piping during extended periods of cold weather.
  • At the end of a long cold spell, conduct drain tests on sprinkler risers if you can. Do this by fully opening the drain, letting it run for 30 seconds or longer and then closing it. If the pressure does not return to normal, it means you'll need to clean ice from the mains immediately.
  • Check all room temperatures regularly.
  • Remember that if you drain your system, it no longer offers fire protection. Post a fire watch, and do not conduct hazardous operations if your system is not operational.
  • Never use open flames or torches for thawing frozen pipes near combustibles or structures.

Protecting dry pipe systems

  • Prevent excess water from collecting. Dry pipe systems freeze where water collects in improperly pitched pipes. This can also happen if you fail to drain water accumulated in low point drains or after the valve has been tripped.
  • Install air dries on air intakes to keep warmer air from condensing and creating a freeze risk.
  • If you do not already have them, install valve drains at all low points to prevent water accumulation. Open your drain valves every month.
  • Ensure proper pitch and good drainage throughout your system. Repair and replace inadequate areas as needed.
  • Heat your valve enclosures with thermostats set to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use steam or hot water heating systems from boilers. Keep a thermometer in the enclosure, and check it at least once a day.
Heat tape is permissible in most areas, and a temperature signaling device can be helpful, too. There are two types of heating tape: one that turns on and off by itself when it senses heat is needed, and another that must be plugged in when the heat is needed and unplugged when not in use. These products can be dangerous, so follow the product's direction and safety procedures strictly. While you could do this yourself, you may want to consult with an experienced plumbing professional to learn some best practices if you are not entirely comfortable doing it yourself.

Keeping other systems freeze-free

  • For antifreeze systems, test the solution annually to ensure the proper balance is obtained.
  • Make sure your fire hydrants drain properly. You can hear them drain, or you can place your hand over the hose connection during draining to test for suction, which indicates proper draining.
  • For gravity or suction tanks, prevent ice from accumulating inside or on any part of the structure. Falling icicles create a hazard, and an abundance of ice could cause a collapse. Implement heating devices that keep the water temperature in the tank at 42 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Check the temperature daily, and service all heating and circulation equipment before winter.
  • Keep fire pump rooms heated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer.
You will want to follow the manufacturer's advice on diesel pumps. To be sure the suction source doesn't freeze in case suction does come from open water, place the intake below the ice level underground. Clear the intake screen of ice. Winter can be challenging for condo associations, but you will weather it just fine if you follow these tips to prevent wet pipe sprinkler freeze-ups, protect dry pipe systems, and keep other systems freeze-free.

Working with a professional property management company can also help reduce your association's worries. As mentioned earlier, if you feel you need a second opinion, do not hesitate to contact a plumber or another contractor specializing in keeping pumps in tip-top condition. For example, in the event of an emergency, like a burst pipe, FirstService Residential's property managers can alert residents immediately via our proprietary FirstService Residential Connect software.

To get more tips and find out how an experienced property management company can help you protect your pipes, contact FirstService Residential, the leading property management company in Illinois. 
Friday December 04, 2020