Destructive Force of Ice

As most everyone knows, this winter has been hard on just about every corner of the country.  It’s been a very cold winter and the southeast has had its share of low temperatures.  For this reason, buildings that must be protected against fire sometimes have to use dry sprinkler systems.  Conventional systems that pressurize lines with water up to the sprinkler heads are impractical because the lines are usually routed through areas (such as attics) that are subject to falling below freezing.  As a result, the water in the lines can freeze and cause the lines to beak or burst.  When thawing occurs, water damage will also occur.  In order to prevent such damage, dry systems are employed.  That is, instead of filing the lines with water, the lines are pressurized with air.  Pressurized air serves to keep the main water valve closed until such time as a fire causes the sprinkler heads to open and relieve the pressure.  As the air pressure is relieved, the main water valve opens, water fills the lines, and exits through the open sprinkler heads to fight the fire.  However, there are times when water can get into the branch lines.  Water can enter when there is a loss of air pressure due to a leak in the system or when water is completely removed such as after a hydrostatic test.  The photos below show what happens to an iron pipe tee when water is frozen inside.  In one instance, the tee is broken in half whereas in the second instance, the tee is fractured on one end.  Note that both fittings came from the same job.  Ice typically expands between 9 and 12% by volume and as a result, places a tremendous amount of pressure on the fitting walls to cause failure.

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About R.J. Hill, P.E.
R. J. Hill is the author of two blogs: R.J. Hill Consulting and the Descendants of James Alexander Hill. Mr. Hill is a registered professional (mechanical) engineer with over 39 years of experience, 34 years in private practice. Please visit www.rjhill.com to see the kinds of forensic investigations that Mr. Hill performs.

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