Fire Sprinkler Corrosion

Fire Sprinkler Corrosion Solutions

You know that protecting your property with a fire sprinkler system is a legal requirement and an important protection against property loss, but what happens when those systems fail due to corrosion? Corrosion threatens the reliability of automatic fire sprinklers, and unfortunately, the presence of water, iron, and other metals in systems makes it nearly impossible to avoid. Fire sprinkler corrosion eats away at pipes from the inside out, often escaping notice until it’s already caused extensive and costly damage.

What Causes Fire Sprinkler Corrosion? 

According to the Corrosion in Fire Sprinkler Systems report, 73% of dry sprinkler systems experience significant corrosion problems after 12.5 years. The problem manifests as orange-red rust that quickly corrodes metal pipes from within. This process creates an ideal environment for microbiologically influenced corrosion (MIC), which obstructs pipes with tubercules, leading to holes and other problems. It is important to catch corrosion problems early on, implement effective corrosion solutions, and fix problems before they become costly repairs.

Fire Sprinkler Pipe Corrosion
Photo by Jeremy Deen

How Does Corrosion Affect a Fire Sprinkler System? 

Corrosion can lead to holes and leaks, rust buildup that limits the flow of water, corroded fire sprinkler heads, and eventually fire sprinkler failure. Left untreated, it’s only a matter of time until corrosion triggers leaks or accidental sprinkler discharges that can cause tens of thousands of dollars in water damage to the property the system was meant to protect. Even worse, it can cause fire sprinklers to fail during a fire, putting lives at risk. Corroded fire sprinkler heads affect the deflector and discharge pattern or completely seal the plug, preventing water from reaching the fire. Implementing a corrosion solution is an important part of maintaining your sprinkler system. 

Should You Repair or Replace Corroded Sprinkler Pipes?

In the past, the standard approach to fire sprinkler corrosion solutions has been to repair only the affected pipes. While repairs can patch smaller issues, such as pinhole leaks, they may leave the larger problem untreated. No matter which of the many corrosion solutions you implement, remember that the goal is to maintain sprinkler pipes free of corrosion to the extent possible, which can significantly impact their longevity and functionality.

NFPA 25 Guidelines For Fixing Corroded Sprinkler Pipes

Property owners must balance many factors and options when considering what corrosion solutions to implement. Fortunately, NFPA 25 provides guidelines for corrosion solutions, including when to consider repair or replacement. These guidelines also allow for a degree of judgment when you are deciding how to address the problem. 

  • Class I: Little damage is found; the pipe array should simply be flushed, which involves using a pressurized water source to clear sprinkler systems of potential blockages. 
  • Class II: Medium damage is found, meaning some but not all pipes show increased damage. Those specific pipes should be replaced.
  • Class III: Considerable corrosion and deposits are present; the complete pipe array or significant parts of it should be replaced.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Corrosion Solution 

Let’s consider four main factors that can impact your decision when considering which of the various corrosion solutions would work for your property.

  • Cost: Replacing sprinkler pipes that stretch throughout a property is no small task, incurring high costs and potential business interruptions. Many property owners opt to simply repair fire sprinkler leaks until they become such a nuisance or expense that they need a better solution.
  • History of problems: If you are repairing corrosion-related leaks frequently, you will ultimately save money by replacing the pipes. 
  • System age: The remaining useful life of the sprinkler system is a significant factor when evaluating whether repair or replacement is the right choice. You should also consider the advancements in fire sprinkler technology since the system was installed. 
  • Extent of the damage: Corrosion located in a spot that makes it difficult to just replace a section of a system matters as well. Sometimes corrosion becomes so invasive that a full system replacement is the only option, but it’s important to note that localized corrosion doesn’t generally warrant such extensive measures. Surgical replacement of the failing piping can often fix the problem, followed by implementing a corrosion solution strategy.

Strategies for Corrosion Solutions and Management 

Corrosion remains one of the biggest challenges facing the fire protection industry and unfortunately, no fire sprinkler system is completely immune to it. However, many property owners fail to take corrosion solution measures to mitigate the problem until significant damage is detected. A corrosion management strategy is key to avoiding expensive repairs and replacements in the future.

To mitigate the risk of fire sprinkler failure due to corroded fire sprinkler heads, implementing comprehensive corrosion solutions is essential. Regular inspections, proactive maintenance, and investing in corrosion-resistant materials are key strategies to prevent the deterioration of fire sprinkler components. By addressing corrosion issues promptly and employing effective preventive measures, you can ensure the reliability and functionality of their fire sprinkler systems, safeguarding lives and property against the devastating impact of fire incidents.

The Role of Inspections in Corrosion Prevention 

NFPA 25 also requires internal inspections of sprinkler piping every five years or as needed to monitor corrosion levels. Regular inspection and testing of sprinkler systems are critical to catching corrosion at its earliest stages and preventing costly damage or, worse, system failure during a fire. 

Use Corrosion Resistant Sprinkler Heads 

If your environment demands it, make sure your fire sprinkler system stands ready to suppress fires for years to come by investing in corrosion-resistant sprinkler heads. Fire sprinklers listed for use in corrosive environments are either made of non-corroding materials such as stainless steel or have corrosion-retarding finishes or coatings like polyester paint, nickel, PTFE, wax, lead, or others.

Vents and Corrosion Monitoring 

To prevent fire sprinkler failure caused by corroded fire sprinkler heads, implement corrosion solutions such as installing air vents in wet systems and considering corrosion monitoring. Air vents help release trapped air in wet sprinkler pipes, reducing oxygen corrosion. These vents can be manual or automatic and should be located near high points in the system. Additionally, corrosion monitoring in environments prone to corrosive activity enables early detection of corrosion, preventing costly repairs and system failures. Monitoring solutions continuously assess metal loss or gas composition, issuing alerts at the first signs of corrosive activity.

Nitrogen Inerting Corrosion Solutions

A growing trend in corrosion solutions is stripping the pressurized air from dry sprinklers and replacing it with nitrogen, which dramatically increases the lifespan of dry piping. Nitrogen is an inert gas, meaning it doesn’t undergo the chemical reactions that lead to electrochemical corrosion. Creating an oxygen-free environment in sprinkler pipes enables them to last longer, regardless of whether water is present. It also makes a dramatic difference in long-term maintenance, repair, and replacement costs over the life of a building. 

Corrosion in dry pipe sprinklers happens when water and oxygen are present in the sprinkler pipes. To prevent corrosion, dry nitrogen pipe inerting is performed to dilute and displace oxygen gas in dry pipe systems. This process completely removes oxygen gas from the sprinkler pipes and replaces it with nitrogen gas. 

By understanding the causes of corrosion, investing in proactive maintenance, and considering innovative solutions like nitrogen inerting, you can protect your property from the devastating effects of corroded fire sprinkler heads. Don’t wait until it’s too late; take action today to ensure the safety and security of your building for years to come.