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How to Prevent Frozen & Burst Pipes in Commercial Properties

As winter storms and extreme winter weather become more prevalent across the United States, commercial property owners and managers must plan ahead to mitigate potential damage from the cold temperatures. One of the most significant contributors to winter losses is water damage from frozen & burst pipes. When our pipes freeze and burst, not only does it cause costly damage to our property’s infrastructure but it can also slow down or stop production and day-to-day operational continuity, causing further losses.

However, with proper planning and vigilant monitoring, property owners and managers can reduce the risk associated with winter storm damage. Consider the following tips and techniques, from Cotton’s winter storm disaster recovery experts, when preparing your property for upcoming winter seasons or storms.

Causes and Risk Factors for Frozen Pipes

The first step to protecting your pipes from freezes and bursts is understanding the potential causes and risk factors of freezing temperatures. When temperatures dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, pipes are considered at risk of freezing. As this happens, the pressure within your pipe infrastructure rises and causes ruptures in both metal and plastic pipes. When this occurs, the resulting water loss can cause even further damage to walls, ceilings, floors, furniture and more.

Certain factors also contribute to your risk of frozen pipes. Some of these factors include proper insulation surrounding your pipe infrastructure, the location of your pipes relative to internal building temperature or visibility, and lack of water circulation within the lines during exposure to freezing temperatures. This means that the pipes most likely to be affected are outdoor water sources, pipes in areas without building temperature controls, or areas not commonly visited such as crawlspaces, basements and attics.

Tips for Preventing Frozen and Burst Pipes

1. Keep pipes and building properly insulated

Ensure that all areas at risk of dropping below freezing are adequately insulated and protected from cold air, particularly exterior walls, unheated spaces or isolated areas. It may be necessary to use materials such as pipe wrapping, foam or rubber insulation to reinforce these areas.

2. Drain pipe systems not in use during winter

While not always possible if your building is constantly in use, sometimes it may be necessary to completely drain and cut off pipes in parts of your building that are not in use during winter months to prevent freezing.

3. Maintain steady temperature control across facilities

Even if leaving an area vacant or unused, it is still necessary to maintain adequate internal temperature if pipes are being left filled. To prevent freezing, it is imperative to leave your facility's temperature set to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.

4. Seal any gaps or leaks in your building envelope

Inspect areas that are vulnerable to dropping below freezing from cold air and seal any obvious gaps with caulk or insulation. This includes windows, doors, or other openings on the exterior walls of your building envelope.

5. Apply heat to fire protection or sprinkler systems

Avoid draining any fire protection or emergency sprinkler systems unless absolutely necessary. Instead, ensure they have a sufficient concentration of antifreeze or implement heat tracing technology to maintain a stable temperature.

6. Allow faucets to drip to maintain water flow

In facilities with many faucets or low-use sinks, it may be necessary to open the taps slightly to maintain steady water flow throughout the system and reduce the risk of frozen, sitting water. This is particularly relevant to multifamily and hospitality properties with a large volume of tenant units.

7. Teach designated staff how to perform emergency shut-offs

In case of emergency, it is helpful to show designated employees how to shut off water to facility systems. This can allow them to act swiftly in the case of any burst in order to prevent any further damage to your property.

What to Do if You Discover a Pipe Burst or Freeze

Upon discovery of a frozen or burst pipe, it is imperative to take urgent action to mitigate any further damage. If the pipe has burst, immediately turn off both water and power to the affected area to avoid damage and risk of personal injury. If the pipe is simply frozen but hasn’t burst, make sure the temperature in the facility is high enough and implement additional insulation to warm the frozen area.

Once you have stopped the damage from worsening, it may be time to contact a trusted water damage mitigation firm like Cotton GDS to inspect the affected areas and provide urgent restoration solutions to return you to business continuity as quickly as possible. With national and international locations and partnerships, Cotton GDS can respond to your call rapidly and safely. For even more tips on winter storm preparedness for commercial properties, download a copy of our free guide today.