The up side of fire sprinklers is obvious: they put out fires. One down side, however, becomes evident in freezing weather: fire sprinklers can freeze and break, and when that happens, buildings get wet. Because most fire sprinklers are installed in commercial buildings or multifamily residences, that's where the breaks seem to happen. This December, local news outlets have carried plenty of stories of sprinkler breaks. A few examples:
Pipes burst at two apartment complexes in the Seattle area, reported TV Station KOMO (see: "Freezing temps cause pipes to burst in Redmond, Seattle").
In Napa, California, sprinklers froze and flooded several units at a senior living center, the Napa Valley Patch reported (see: "Cold Temps Burst Water Pipes at Napa Senior Community," by Ken Brenner). In Porterville, California, a sprinkler failure flooded a Baptist church, the Porterville Recorder reported (see: "Freeze has taken its toll on pipes," by Rick Elkins).
In Farmington, Utah, a courthouse was the victim, reports the Deseret News (see: "Malfunction at Farmington courthouse floods clerical area," by Pat Reavy). A heating system failure let cold air contact and freeze sprinkler heads in the ceiling of an office space, the paper reported, and as soon as the heat was restored, the frozen heads began to leak.
Even in the far North, where frigid winter weather is a given, the sudden change in seasons has brought problems. In Deadwood, South Dakota, pipes burst and leaked in several downtown buildings, the Rapid City Journal reported (see: "Sub-zero temps culprit in waterline breaks," by Tom Griffith). Reported the Journal: "Late Saturday, a 4-inch line serving a sprinkler system burst at the vacant Goldberg's building at 670 and 672 Main St. and gushed more than 100,000 gallons of water before being discovered more than six hours later. That break flooded basements of a half-dozen Main Street businesses. At 5:30 a.m. Monday, fire crews responded to the Silverado, 700 Main St., when its fire sprinkler system burst near the casino's front entrance, said Deadwood Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bill Glover. The system was quickly deactivated and water damage was minimal, he said. At 10 p.m. Monday, an alarm sounded from the closed Eagle Bar, 624 Main St., when a water line serving its fire suppression system burst. The alarm was noticed by a Lead volunteer firefighter working across the street and was quickly reported to police, said Glover."
Another pipe break flooded Stagecoach Gifts on Deadwood's Main Street, with water pouring out the windows and mixing with the fresh snow, the Journal reported.
Deadwood Fire Chief Bill Glover told the Journal, ""I have seen this many go before. It's been a while, but when it goes super cold like this, we have occupied and unoccupied buildings freeze up. Then when it warms up, that's when we get the water flow. It's unusual, but we expect it, unfortunately, with this type of weather. We hope for the best but expect the worst."