We Design Dry Pipe Sprinkler Systems
Dry pipe systems are installed in spaces in which the ambient temperature may be cold enough to freeze the water in a wet pipe system, rendering the system inoperable. Dry pipe systems are most often used in unheated buildings, in parking garages, in outside canopies attached to heated buildings (in which a wet pipe system would be provided), or in refrigerated coolers. Dry pipe systems are the second most common sprinkler system type. In regions using NFPA regulations, dry pipe systems cannot be installed unless the range of ambient temperatures reaches below 40F.
Operation – Water is not present in the piping until the system operates. Dry pipe systems are typically filled with pressurized air or nitrogen rather than water. To prevent the larger water supply pressure from forcing water into the piping, the design of the dry pipe valve (a specialized type of check valve) results in a greater force on top of the check valve clapper by the use of a larger valve clapper area exposed to the piping air pressure, as compared to the higher water pressure but smaller clapper surface area.
When one or more of the automatic sprinklers is exposed, for a sufficient time, to a temperature at or above the temperature rating, it opens, allowing the pressurized air in the piping to vent from that sprinkler. Each sprinkler operates individually. As the air pressure in the piping drops, the pressure differential across the dry pipe valve changes, allowing water to enter the piping system. Water flow from sprinklers, needed to control the fire, is delayed until the air is vented from the sprinklers.
Some, in error, view a dry pipe system as advantageous for the protection of collections and other water-sensitive areas. This perceived benefit is due to a fear that wet system piping may leak, while dry pipe systems will not. However, the same potential for accidental water damage exists, as dry pipe systems will only provide a slight delay prior to water discharge while the air in the piping is released from the pipe.
Disadvantages of using dry pipe fire sprinkler systems include:
- Increased complexity – Dry pipe systems require additional control equipment and air pressure supply components which increases system complexity. This puts a premium on proper maintenance, as this increase in system complexity results in an inherently less reliable overall system (i.e., more single failure points) as compared to a wet pipe system.
- Higher installation and maintenance costs – The added complexity impacts the overall dry-pipe installation cost, and increases maintenance expenses primarily due to added service labor costs.
- Lower design flexibility – Regulatory requirements limit the maximum permitted size (i.e., 750 gallons) of individual dry-pipe systems unless additional components and design efforts are provided to limit the time from sprinkler activation to water discharge to under one minute. These limitations may increase the number of individual sprinkler zones(i.e., served from a single riser) that must be provided in the building, and impact the ability of an owner to make system additions.
- Increased fire response time – Because the piping is empty at the time the sprinkler operates, there is an inherent time delay in delivering water to the sprinklers which have operated while the water travels from the riser to the sprinkler, partially filling the piping in the process. A maximum of 60 seconds is normally allowed by regulatory requirements from the time a single sprinkler opens until water is discharged onto the fire. This delay in fire suppression results in a larger fire prior to control, increasing property damage.
- Increased corrosion potential – Following operation or testing, dry-pipe sprinkler system piping is drained and moisture is retained in the atmosphere within the piping. This moisture, coupled with the oxygen available in the compressed air in the piping, increases pipe internal wall corrosion rates, possibly eventually leading to leaks. The internal pipe wall corrosion rate in wet pipe systems (in which the piping is constantly full of water) is much lower, as the amount of oxygen available for the corrosion process is lower. Corrosion can be combated by using galvanized steel pipe which is less susceptible to corrosion, or by using nitrogen to pressurize the system, rather than air. These additional precautions will increase the cost of the system but can help prevent system failure and premature need for system replacement in the future.