Fire Sprinkler Leaks and Corrosion: Common Problems (Video)

Posted by Lee Kaiser on Apr 27, 2017 6:42:03 PM

Although effective, using water as a fire suppressant presents a danger to any high-value assets that the system may protect. Proper testing and awareness of a sprinkler system's different hazards allows you to prevent a pin hole leak or corrosion that may lead to expensive property damage. Watch the video below as Lee Kaiser explains some common types of sprinkler leaks and how corrosion may affect the integrity of your system.  


Video Transcript

Lee: "Let's go to problem six. Since we've been in sort of a suppression mode, let's talk about sprinklers. We know another problem that our customers are having is with their sprinkler systems and leakage. A lot of our customers in the data center arena use pre-action sprinklers systems and pre-action sprinkler systems have become notorious for having system leaks. We want to talk about why that happens and what you can do about it, as well as know what systems. Let's look at this picture here. This is an electrical room. If you can't tell, that's water coming down into the electrical room. So think about this: If your sprinkler system leaked in the worst possible place what words would come to mind?

Some of the ones you might think about. Look at this picture. That's a retail store. Those aren't high gloss tiles right there, that's water on the floor. You see a couple fire guys standing in the back and they're thinking, 'do we have enough squeegees on the truck for this mess?' What about this picture? What kind of pipe is that? Is that black steel or galvanized?"

Audience: "Galvanized."

Lee: "This right here is water streaming out of pinhole leak. What about that picture? That's a data center and that guy's wondering, 'do I have enough buckets for the leaks that's happening in my data center?' This was out of the news. This is an office building in Tampa, Florida, a government office building. They had a leak somewhere on an upper floor that shut them down for the day. These are some of the words that might have come to your mind; the first one is pretty obvious. Costly, damaging, headache, repairs.

Sprinkler leaks are definitely a headache. For dry and pre-action systems, we know that they have a corrosion problem and there's a solution we want to share with you. Maybe you've heard about it before, maybe you haven't. What's really new in this section are some solutions for wet pipe sprinklers (or wet sprinkler systems) and some corrosion issues that they're having, how they're different than drying and pre-action systems, and then new code requirements for those. We're gonna go through all of that. For dry pipe systems, there are a lot of dry pipe systems and pre-action systems that have corrosion issues. What happens are pinhole leaks and then the system fails early. Now what do you think, what's early? Take a guess how many years that is."

Audience: "Five or less."

Lee: "Five or less, that's a pretty good guess. The shortest we've seen is a year and a half after installation. After a year and a half, the system is full of corrosion and full of leaks and it's done.

Corrosion affects the fire system performance. It can delay water application onto the fire by plugging sprinklers. When we talked about this topic a couple years ago in this room one of the attendees talked about a nursing home somewhere in Louisville that had not done a flow test on their sprinkler system. The fire department, where's the Linden guys? Was that you? Yeah, in Linden, so you tell the story, are you ready?"

Improper Testing

Audience: "Sure, they hadn't done an internal pipe inspection or a flow inspection for years in this nursing home. We went to conduct the inspection, no flow whatsoever. Water did not go from the riser to the inspector test at all in that entire nursing home. They had to replace 100 percent of the dry pipe in that nursing home because it was completely plugged up."

Lee: "So what I remember from that story: nursing home, dry pipe up in the ceiling, regular pitched roof, dry pipe up there so it wouldn't freeze, hadn't been tested, full of corrosion."

Audience: "It hadn't been tested properly."

Lee: "It hadn't been tested properly. So there were tags, green tag, all I want is my green tag. It was not done properly so when the fire department forced them to do it properly it didn't work. It was plugged and what was the end result? What did they have to do?"

Audience: "They had to replace the entire pipe."

Lee: "Had to rip out the system and put in a new one? That's the penalty you pay for not doing it right. It didn't flow out of the inspector's test station because the pipes were full of corrosion and gunk. Let's take a look at some gunk. This stuff, when they did the trip test, started to flow water from the dry pipe valve out to the inspector's test station at the end. All that gunk got dislodged by water and plugged up the lines and no water. Imagine if that was a sprinkler that discharged due to a fire, the same thing is going to happen. Gunk's gonna flow and plug the sprinkler. It's not gonna work. Secondly, sprinklers are gonna fuse. It's gonna plug and all of a sudden we've got, flashover conditions in a nursing home room and who knows what happens from there."

Audience: "That's a good point about NFPA 13, NFPA 13 doesn't require inspections."

Audience: "It's only with wet systems."

Lee: "Only on wet systems. It can be near the control valve for the zone on wet, but it still has to be at the end of the system for dry and pre-action systems.

Wet pipe systems. We'll talk about wet pipe systems. It is a smaller scale issue but we want to talk about some of the new requirements there. Why is this an issue now all together? The old timers would say that we never had problems with sprinkler systems leaking. That's because they put in all systems with Schedule 40 pipe or maybe even heavier but now, what did we start to use?"

Audience: "Schedule 10."

Lee: "Schedule 10, thin wall pipe. Just a little bit of corrosion, there's not much metal to eat away there, and that's why we're having problems in those newer systems and early failures because we're putting less steel into the system."

This is the first video in a multiple part chapter of our video series on the Causes and Cures to the Top 7 Fire Protection Challenges. To watch prior editions from this series, with topics ranging from panel issues to accidental system discharges, view the index below for a complete list of all topics. For an additional opportunity to learn about fire protection, visit our events page to learn about our seminar series.


Problem 1: How to Operate Your Fire Panel

Problem 2: Causes and Cures for Trouble Signals

Problem 3: Failure to Detect a Fire

Problem 4: Causes and Cures for False Fire Alarms

False Fire Alarms: Where to Place Detectors

Problem 5: Accidental System Discharges

Topics: Leaks and Corrosion

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