Fire Sprinkler Maintenance: How to Prevent Corrosion

  • October 15, 2022

Fire sprinkler corrosion is a significant safety hazard for multiple reasons. It’s one of the most common origins of a sprinkler malfunction, and if it goes unresolved, it can result in leaky pipes, flow restriction, and water damage, which could ruin the whole system. To minimize the risk, here’s all you need to know about […]

Fire sprinkler corrosion is a significant safety hazard for multiple reasons. It’s one of the most common origins of a sprinkler malfunction, and if it goes unresolved, it can result in leaky pipes, flow restriction, and water damage, which could ruin the whole system. To minimize the risk, here’s all you need to know about fire sprinkler corrosion:

What Is Corrosion and How Does it Occur?

Fire sprinkler corrosion is rusting within the pipe system. This damage occurs when the metal equipment reacts with oxygen in the environment, deteriorating the metal slowly over time through a process known as oxidation. However, this gradual wear and tear accelerates as the system interacts with water, resulting in eventual corrosion.   

There are two types of fire sprinkler corrosion: internal and external. Both can cause serious damage, but internal corrosion is more hazardous since it’s not as visible and more challenging to catch in time. Sprinklers in direct contact with the atmosphere, high temperatures, and natural elements are more prone to external corrosion.

You can’t manually prevent water buildup within the sprinkler’s internal mechanisms, so without routine inspections and maintenance, it’s virtually impossible to know if internal corrosion exists. The longer this continues without detection, the more vulnerable your fire sprinklers will be to the following issues, which can ultimately lead to equipment failure:      

  • Sulfuric, “rotten egg” odors
  • Water leakage or discoloration
  • Blocked or sealed discharge valves
  • Limited water flow (or none at all)

As corrosive rust wears away at the pipes and other mechanisms, it will eventually obstruct the sprinkler system from activating. This blockage is an enormous safety concern in the event of a fire. To prevent any future malfunctions, here’s how to spot corrosion and ensure that the system remains operational year-round:

How To Recognize and Repair Corrosion

A professional full-service inspection is the most effective way to detect fire sprinkler corrosion. There are a few basic visual checks to look for signs of external corrosion. If the pipes have a coarse texture, rust-colored tinge, or holes in the metal, chances are corrosion has occurred. A rotten stench and water stains on or around the equipment are also indicators of concern.

However, you need to call in the experts regarding internal corrosion. A licensed fire protection service will thoroughly assess the whole system’s interior piping to evaluate its condition. This inspection—done every five years—will determine whether or not there’s internal damage.

Once you spot evidence of corrosion, the next course of action is renovation. In minor cases, this will only require maintenance on your existing sprinklers, but the entire system may need replacement if the corrosion is too extensive or significant. To optimize safety and functionality and minimize the risk of future corrosion, you’ll want to have those repairs done as soon as possible.   

How to Prevent Corrosion

While you can’t guarantee fire sprinkler corrosion prevention, you can take steps to mitigate its potential and boost your equipment’s longevity. Here are a few ways to do this (some you’ll need professional assistance with):  

  • Upgrade the pipe material. Iron is highly vulnerable to rust. If your current fire sprinkler system contains iron, consider replacing it with a corrosion-resistant, higher-quality material such as copper, galvanized steel, or CPVC plastic. For extra protection, you can install wax or metal-coating sprinkler heads to help lower the risk of corrosion-related water spray obstructions. 
  • Evaluate the water quality. Sometimes water contains an unusual concentration of bacteria, which exacerbates the metal-oxygen reaction that eventually turns into corrosion. Regularly test the fire sprinkler’s water supply and treat it with antibacterial agents. 
  • Install an air venting valve. Remove as much oxygen as possible from inside the pipes. Of course, you won’t be able to eliminate it, but an air venting valve can filter out a significant amount. When the pipe chamber fills, this valve opens to release trapped air, then quickly closes to form an airtight seal. As a result, there’s much less available oxygen within the piping system to stimulate a corrosive reaction.

It’s Crucial to Protect Your Fire Sprinklers from Corrosion. 

Fire sprinkler corrosion can lead to severe damage, but the sooner you act, the easier it will be to contain that damage and restore the entire system to optimal function. The first step to avoid corrosion is scheduling a five-year interior obstruction inspection. Contact our team here at A&A Fire Protection for an exhaustive assessment of your current sprinkler equipment. If there’s corrosion, we’ll find it, then help you determine the right course of action.

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