Frozen Pipe Prevention Tips
By Matt Komac, MSGIA Assistant Director for Property & Liability Pool Operations
In the last few years, MSGIA has experienced a significant increase in both the frequency and severity of frozen-pipe water losses affecting our members, and these losses are costly and disruptive. This academic year promises to be no different. In fact, when winter decided to hit this year, it came in full force and hasn’t let up. Montana has experienced colder average temps throughout the state the last two months, which has already led to frozen-pipe water losses for some of our members. To be sure, we usually don’t start seeing these types of losses until the holiday break, and they often carry through the coldest winter months into March.
With the Holiday break quickly approaching, we believe it important to remind districts to take steps to help prevent these winter-related problems from costing your district. Water damage can negatively affect buildings in both the short and long term; in fact, a single water line crack can result in thousands of gallons of water being released into your building per day. And if a break does occur, it is crucial that it is identified and mitigated as soon as possible.
Many modern heating systems now have alarms that indicate when the temperature drops below a certain point; however, these should not be solely relied upon, as they can and do fail. One of the best tools to prevent long-term heat loss in a building is to have a staff member do a daily walk-through of the buildings to make sure all mechanical systems are functioning properly. If a heating system fails, this due diligence will typically allow enough time to identify the problem and address it before significant damage occurs. During really cold temps, it may be necessary to conduct a walk-through twice a day.
Below are some additional recommendations to help keep your facilities protected during our long Montana winters:
- Make frequent visits to your buildings, especially unoccupied areas of buildings.
- Inspect all areas along the perimeter of the building to ensure they are sealed and that there are no drafts that will cause a cold spot in your building.
- Drain wall hydrants and fire-pump test connections that may be exposed to freezing.
- Verify that underground water mains have adequate depth of cover. Water mains that do not have adequate cover can be isolated and shut off to protect them from freezing.
- Maintain an appropriate interior temperature (55°F and above).
- Check your buildings at least once a day to ensure the mechanical systems are functioning properly.
- Check to be sure that high winds during cold temps did not cause a pilot light to blow out or a cold spot to develop in your building, which may result in a freeze event.
- Consider installing an automatic low-temperature alarm system, but do not solely rely on it.
- Know the location of your building’s main water shut-off valve – the quicker you can turn off the water, the better chance you’ll have to minimize the extent of the damage.
- If a building is going to be vacant for an extended period of time, shut off the main water line valve and consider having a plumber drain and winterize the lines – vacant buildings are notorious for frozen pipes and water losses.
- If your district provides teacher housing, structure the lease so that the district pays the heating bill, which is then built into the monthly rental cost. This will prevent tenants from not maintaining adequate heat in order to save money; and, you will also know that the energy bill is being paid, to prevent any unsuspected shutoffs.
If you do experience a water loss it is important that you notify your district’s insurer ASAP so they can help identify the resources that will be necessary to make sure the water is properly mitigated to prevent further damage to your building and contents. Return to newsletter