Arctic temperatures can have a dramatic effect on your building, freezing pipes and causing costly damage. Especially vulnerable systems include fire protection equipment and piping; heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment; compressors and piping; water and sprinkler mains; valves; and sanitary systems. Depending on the extent of damage, failure or disruption of these important systems can be expensive to repair or force temporary closure of your business.
Certain types of buildings and occupancies are more susceptible to freeze claims, especially during extreme cold. Schools, stores, offices, apartment buildings, vacant buildings and buildings more than one story tall are more likely to experience a freeze-related loss, and when they do experience a freeze, the damage can be greater than in other types of buildings. For example, some buildings are designed to make use of heat generated by human occupants. When vacant for long periods during extreme cold, the temperature can drop below freezing.
Churches, schools and multi-tenant mercantile buildings are especially vulnerable because they can be unoccupied for several days at a time.
FIRE PROTECTION EQUIPMENT
Fire protection equipment including water mains, extinguishers, hydrants, sprinkler systems and post indicator valves can be extremely vulnerable to drops in temperature during severe winter weather. Post indicator valves are cast iron vertical indicator posts designed to operate the control valve of an automatic fire sprinkler system. If a fire occurs, frozen equipment could result in insufficient means to contain the fire. Verify that all fire protection equipment is operating effectively, and if it is brought offline or damaged, have a qualified fire protection contractor repair the system and place it back into service.
- Plan for maintenance personnel to manage and monitor buildings during cold snaps, making more frequent visits to buildings or areas of buildings not normally occupied.
- Be certain that hydrants and their locations are properly marked so they may be easily located and cleared after a heavy snowstorm.
- Inspect all areas along the perimeter of the building to ensure they are sealed and there are no drafty areas.
- Drain wall hydrants and fire pump test connections that may be exposed to freezing.
- Verify that underground water mains have adequate depth of cover. For water mains that do not have adequate cover, can they be isolated and shut off to protect from freezing?
- Check packing on post indicator control valves for leaking, and repair as necessary.
- If fire pump suction is from a reservoir, make certain that the in-flow pipe is below the frost level (below grade) and deep enough in the water to prevent ice clogging the intake.
- Provide heat for dry-pipe sprinkler system enclosures. Make sure space heaters are in good operating condition.
- Test solutions in all anti-freeze sprinkler systems and add anti-freeze as necessary.
- Inspect and maintain all sprinkler systems in accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 13) and local standards.
Winter storms frequently cause electrical power failure, which in turn can disable your heating system. If this happens, water-filled piping (such as sprinklers, domestic water pipes and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems) may freeze and rupture. It is important to assess the potential for this hazard.
- Inspect safety shutoff valves and cutoff switches on combustion equipment such as rooftop units, boilers and ovens.
- Have qualified contractors or staff properly inspect heating, air-handling units and space heaters. Assure that space heaters are monitored for fire safety.
- Review the location and storage of flammable liquids such as propane, gasoline and diesel fuel.
This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Contact your local, independent insurance agent for coverage advice and policy service.