12 Mar Dry Pipe Sprinkler System Considerations
Commercial properties have varying characteristics and a range of fire risks—highlighting the need for sprinkler systems that suit their unique features.
While many properties utilize wet pipe sprinkler systems, which store water within their pipes and distribute it when individual sprinkler heads are activated by exposure to heat, this type of system isn’t a viable option for all buildings.
That’s where a dry pipe sprinkler system can help. Instead of water, the system’s pipes are filled with pressurized air or nitrogen. This air keeps a remote valve closed until a fire activates the sprinkler system. After activation, the air exits the pipes—opening the valve and allowing water from the system’s riser to be distributed.
Dry pipe sprinkler systems are vital for commercial properties within specific industries and in environments where the pipes cannot maintain a temperature of at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they also come with a range of ramifications to consider. As such, here are some advantages and disadvantages of dry pipe sprinkler systems to keep in mind.
Advantages of Dry Pipe Sprinkler Systems
The primary advantage of dry pipe sprinkler systems is that such systems eliminate the risk of various pipe problems in the presence of cold temperatures. While wet pipe sprinkler systems constantly have water coursing through their pipes—making them prone to bursting in freezing environments—the pressurized air or nitrogen utilized within dry pipe sprinkler systems allows for increased pipe reliability in frigid conditions.
That being said, dry pipe sprinkler systems are
particularly useful for commercial properties that
encounter below-freezing temperatures. Specifically,
these systems are often implemented in:
Walk-in commercial freezers or refrigerators
Loading docks exposed to outdoor temperatures
In other words, wet pipe sprinkler systems must only be used to protect building features that maintain above freezing conditions to avoid costly pipe damages and ensure system functionality. In contrast, dry pipe sprinkler systems are optimal for protecting commercial structures that reside within colder environments.
Disadvantages of Dry Pipe Sprinkler Systems
Despite the benefits of being able to rely on dry pipe sprinkler systems in frigid conditions, these systems do carry some disadvantages. First, dry pipe sprinkler systems can have a somewhat delayed response in the event of a fire.
This is because it takes extra time for the pressurized air or nitrogen to exit the pipes, open the remote valve and allow water from the riser to travel to the sprinkler heads following system activation than it does for a wet pipe sprinkler system to immediately provide water from the pipes to the sprinkler heads for dispersal. Although most dry pipe sprinkler systems’ response times are only delayed by approximately 60 seconds, every minute counts when it comes to suppressing a fire at your commercial property and preventing additional damages.
In addition to a slowed response, dry pipe sprinkler systems are typically more expensive to install than wet pipe sprinkler systems. Put simply, the various complex features of these systems—such as air pressure supply components and piping elements—often come with higher price tags and require further design planning, thus ramping up overall installation costs.
Once installed, dry pipe sprinkler systems are also subject to additional maintenance requirements from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). While any sprinkler system must be on a regular maintenance schedule, NFPA 25 outlines the following expectations specifically for dry pipe sprinkler systems:
- Heating the riser room—Although the pipes within a dry pipe sprinkler system do not need to be protected from frigid temperatures, the water supply for such a system still does to avoid freezing concerns. As a result, the room or area in which the sprinkler system’s riser and associated valves are located—also known as a riser room—must remain heated at a temperature above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Riser rooms should also be fitted with an alarm that sounds whenever water has begun traveling from the riser to the pipes.
- Checking the air compressor—Because the pipes in a dry pipe sprinkler system are comprised of pressurized air or nitrogen, the system’s air compressor must be routinely assessed and repaired as needed. Doing so will ensure the pipes possess an adequate air supply, as well as reduce the risk of the remote valve opening unnecessarily and allowing water to travel into the pipes.
- Preventing water accumulation—Dry pipe sprinkler systems must be frequently drained to confirm that water or condensation isn’t present in the pipes. To accomplish this feat, auxiliary drains—also called drum drips—are necessary components within the system. Drum drips, which are required for each section of piping in a dry pipe sprinkler system, are able to extract excess moisture from the pipes without affecting air pressure levels. The number and location of drum drips in the sprinkler system must be clearly labeled with appropriate signage. Drum drips should be inspected regularly to ensure they are positioned and functioning properly. If the sprinkler system is activated for a fire incident or test and the pipes are exposed to water, the drum drips should be drained for several days afterward, until no more water comes out of them.
Lastly, it should be noted that dry pipe sprinkler systems generally have a shorter life expectancy than wet pipe sprinkler systems. Even with drum drips in place, the combination of excess pipe moisture from system activation or testing, and pressurized air increases the pipe’s vulnerability to rust and corrosion. Once this corrosion occurs, the sprinkler system often needs to be replaced.
Whether your commercial property already has a dry pipe sprinkler system in place or you are thinking about having such a system installed in the future, make sure you understand the unique aspects of these systems—as well as how to properly maintain them. Being adequately informed about your property’s sprinkler system and what’s necessary to keep it in good condition can make all the difference in mitigating costly losses from a fire at your establishment.
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This Risk Insights is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice. © 2021 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.
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