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How To Prevent Winter Freeze-Ups In Commercial Building Piping Systems

Published January 6, 2020

How To Prevent Winter Freeze-Ups In Commercial Building Piping Systems

In any area of the country where winter temperatures drop below freezing, piping system freeze-ups are a concern for a commercial building owner or manager. This is mainly a concern if freezing temperatures are paired with storms that knock out the power or create a challenge in maintaining above-freezing temperatures inside the building. 

Of course, another issue to consider is the exposure of piping systems on the exterior of the building in the basement and sub-basement areas. Typically, these are the first areas to freeze, and with their larger pipe sizes, they can result in significant and costly water damage when the lines finally thaw and the water starts running again. 

Insulating Pipes 

Here are several different options in materials that are effective at providing significant insulation to exposed exterior pipe or piping systems in the unheated areas of commercial buildings. 

Fiberglass materials can be used in conjunction with a waterproof coating or a vapor barrier to flex around the pipe and to be placed in even very small spaces. There are also options in fibrous insulation that can be formed into cylinders and slipped over small to large diameter pipes to maintain heat around the pipe. 

Depending on the application and the location of the pipe, rigid or semi-rigid insulation may be the most effective option, providing additional protection to the pipe against impact, and more flexible or even liquid applications can be used on complex areas of the piping system to eliminate areas without insulation in the system. 

Make a Winter Inspection a Priority 

Areas of even small leaks in pipes, valves, and fittings in the system can reduce the insulation factor and result in freezing at that location. The expansion of the freezing water is likely to expand the leak, resulting in a greater risk for future leaking and more freezing. 

Before the deep cold of January and February, take the time to inspect your system completely, or even better, hire the team at PSI to come out and inspect your commercial building and repair any leaks. 

Turn Off Water or Maintain A Water Circulation in the System 

Over the holidays, or if areas of the building are not in use and are not adequately heated, consider turning off water to the area or routinely running the water. This is a particularly important step in areas where there is no use of the water, and the pipe is running through unheated areas in the building or on the outside of the building. 

In very cold climates where temperatures drop well below freezing and are sustained at those temperatures, heat tape on exterior pipes and additional supplemental heating and insulation in the building are often the best preventative measures.