Antifreeze Systems…But, it’s Spring

No matter what time of year it is, there is always a deadline. Food expires, taxes are due, bills to be paid, end of month/year reports to be filed, or new codes to be enforced. Some of these happen on a regular basis. Some are enacted immediately. There are some that are enacted and give time to comply due to cost or innovation. Antifreeze systems fall in the last category.

Antifreeze systems have been a part of fire sprinkler protection since codified in the 1940 edition of NFPA 13 where it allowed “non-freezing solutions to be used for maintaining automatic sprinkler protection in minor unheated areas which would be otherwise unprotected during freezing weather, but they should not be encouraged as a substitute for approved air check valves or dry pipe valves” In the 1953 edition, it included requirements for antifreeze systems in the body of the standard and permitted the use of propylene glycol or calcium chloride solutions, as well as glycerin, diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol. These solutions and concentrations permitted by that standard are the same as those permitted by the current 2010 edition of NFPA 13, with the exception that calcium chloride is no longer permitted.

Three fire incidents lead to the investigation of antifreeze solution discharge. The first was an incident at a New Jersey restaurant in 2001 where a heater on a patio caused a fire sprinkler to open and what is believed to be 100% antifreeze discharged on the heater and started a fire. The next incident is an apartment kitchen stove fire that reported a flash fire when the sprinkler discharges. The design of the system was 50-50 (glycerin, but tests of other systems within the same complex show 70-30 (Truckee, CA 2009). The last fire was in an apartment where the fire started in the floor near a couch and when the sprinkler opened there was some type of flash fire. This system was designed to be 60-40 (Glycerin)

In August 2010, the NFPA issued four Tentative Interim Amendments (TIAs) to ban antifreeze solutions (NFPA 13, 13R, 13D and 25) that were placed on hold until new TIAs were issued in March 2011 that allowed propylene glycol up to 38%, glycerin up to 48%, solutions higher than if specially listed, and they must be pre-mixed solutions. As part of the TIA, it included a section regarding existing systems. It allowed for systems installed prior to September 30, 2012 to forego required listed antifreeze until September 30, 2022 if they met certain testing requirements under NFPA 25.

The deadline for building owners to assure that their fire sprinkler system is compliant is coming soon. Thinking back at the last delayed deadline of CO alarms in multi-family residences, and the fact that most owners put this off until they were issued violation notices by the fire department for failure to comply with the installation date, this was a mess. This will be no different and may have a potential cost for the listed antifreeze or modifications required for the system. This will all take time. The fire sprinkler contractors have been talking with building owners and occupants about the antifreeze requirements, but they need to hear this from the fire service to take this seriously.

The issue with the current unlisted pre-mix solutions is that thet only protect to around -8 degrees F. There are currently three listed antifreeze solutions: Tyco’s LEP with a minimum use temperature of -10 degrees F, Tyco LFP+ use to -25 F, and Lubrizol’s Freezemaster to -15 F in existing systems.

NFSA will be planning and presenting information regarding this issue over the next 18 months to help educate all involved with antifreeze fire sprinkler systems. We welcome any questions and will provide whatever assistance needed to help assure proper code compliance.