Avoiding Burst Pipes in Your School

Cold midwestern winters call for proactive measures to avoid water damage in your school. 

Burst pipes in your school can wreak havoc on administrators’ abilities to keep classes in session, and cause water damage to equipment, classrooms and contents. Even small water leaks, left unmitigated, can add up to larger problems like mold growth or structural damage over time, jeopardizing students’ well-being and safety. 

Facilities maintenance specialists in midwestern K-12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, face unique challenges in the winter months as unpredictable weather causes disruptions to their standard operating procedures. According to an article on FacilitiesNet.com, a 2019 cold snap caused water damage from burst pipes in 28 different buildings at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, forcing them to close buildings, relocate classes and allocate additional resources to restore the school. 

The facilities manager’s job is to help ensure a safe, secure and comfortable learning environment for all who enter their buildings. That can be a challenge in the face of budget cuts, staffing shortages and aging facilities. The best strategy for avoiding problems is a proactive approach and regular preventive maintenance. 

 

Here are some key steps to avoid cold weather-related problems, like burst pipes, from disrupting the operations at your school. 

 

  1. Conduct regular maintenance and inspections of heating systems. Regardless of the age of your school’s heating system, regular inspections and maintenance of the furnaces or boilers, including filters, ductwork and inducers are crucial to avoiding unexpected failures. 
  2. Control your building’s temperature. When classes are in session, your school’s guidelines most likely call for the building’s temperature to be maintained between 68 and 75 degrees. Depending on the capacities of your heating system, the temperature of your building (or buildings) may be automatically regulated. When school is not in session, particularly over winter breaks, facilities managers may be under pressure to override those settings and conserve resources by lowering the thermostat. However, in general, you should always keep the thermostats set to at least 50 degrees to prevent frozen pipes, particularly in outlying buildings. 
  3. Conduct regular inspections and maintenance of outside walls and foundations. In the winter months, freezing and thawing can cause stress on masonry and building foundations. Even small areas where cold air comes in can create freezing conditions for plumbing along exterior walls. Regular inspections of your building’s exterior will allow you to catch and repair small problems before they turn into larger ones. 
  4. Caulk gaps in and around doors and windows. Any areas around doors or windows in which a draft can be felt indicate both wasted heat and potential trouble spots for cold weather-related damage. A few hours of preventive maintenance sealing up these areas could prevent frozen pipes and other cold-related issues down the line. 
  5. Keep water running in faucets in colder areas. Faucets in any areas prone to freezing should be left to drip during excessively cold and windy periods, in order to relieve excessive pressure on cold pipes as they contract. It’s a common misconception that only the cold faucet needs to drip. However, when both hot and cold lines serve the same spigot, both lines must be left to drip, as they’re equally prone to freezing.  
  6. Winterize cooling systems. If you have an evaporative (swamp) cooler, it must be properly winterized to keep the water line from freezing. In the fall, disconnect the water source and clear the line. If possible, remove the water line entirely. 
  7. Protect pipes in poorly insulated areas. Any pipes located under cabinets, near windows or exterior walls, or in basements, crawl spaces or attics should be either wrapped with insulating tape or encased with fiberglass sleeves. During periods of extreme cold, all staff should be instructed to leave open overnight any cabinet doors that enclose pipes. 
  8. Warm frozen pipes properly. Should you discover a frozen pipe, it’s imperative to warm it slowly. Never use a blow torch or other heat source directly on the pipe, as this will weaken its integrity and could cause the pipe to burst in the future. 

 

Expect the unexpected. 

You should have a clear plan of action in place for water-related emergencies in your facility. 

This includes: 

    1. Designating and training key staff members. In the event of a burst pipe, damage can be minimized by quickly stopping the flow of water. Ensure that multiple school employees know where water shut-offs are located. These employees should have access to the site plan and know where the main domestic water supply valve and sprinkler valves are located. The locations of the main valve, as well as all shut off valves on each floor (if applicable), should be clearly marked. And the staff should do a walk-through to get hands-on practice. 
    2. Creating a contact protocol. Your school should have a document specific to water-related incidents that includes updated contact information for local emergency services, senior administrators, the facilities management team, the alarm monitoring company and your insurance company. 
    3. Partnering with a trusted, local school restoration company before the unexpected strikes. Once water damage has occurred, your highest priorities are keeping your students safe and restoring the damage as quickly as possible. If you already have a local restoration company that’s familiar with your facility, you can contact them immediately to begin the process of getting your school restored and your students back in the classroom, where they belong. 

 

About Hays + Sons

For more than 38 years, Hays + Sons has been the property restoration company that families, businesses and schools trust. We’re committed to helping you be prepared when the unexpected strikes, and whether you just want tips for water damage prevention and mitigation or currently have water damage, Hays + Sons has the capacity and expertise to help you get back to normal ASAP. 

The compassionate, experienced, and trusted residential restoration experts at Hays + Sons are just a phone call away, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 

If you’re in need of water damage restoration, get in touch with us at one of our offices across Indiana or in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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