The University Record, January 8, 2001

Snow, cold weather create problems in campus buildings

By Diane Brown
Facilities and Operations

The unusually cold and snowy weather in December brought increased challenges to campus buildings, resulting in several burst pipes and sprinkler heads and leaky ceilings during the holiday break.

Between Dec. 23 and Jan. 1, Plant Operations received 26 calls for leaking roofs, and broken pipes, coils and sprinkler heads. No classrooms or residence halls were directly affected.

As the winter weather continues and thawing (eventually) begins, here are some tips for preventing and responding to leaks and floods. They were compiled by Gary Ernst, general foreman of Plant Operations’ Mechanical Systems; Tom Metty, foreman in Plant’s Fire Protection unit; and Jim Vibbart, director of Plant’s Work Control area.

Cold weather building tips

  • When exiting a building, make sure exterior doors close behind you. Doors sometimes bind, and a snow or ice buildup can prevent a door from fully closing. If you encounter a door that does not close, call Plant Operations Work Control, (734) 647-2059, and report the location.

  • If you find an open window, close it. If you can’t get to the room to close the window, or if windows need to be open to reduce the heat level in a room, call (734) 647-2059.

  • Exterior stairwells can be cold because they typically aren’t well heated, heat rises to the top, and exterior doors let in a lot of cold air when they are opened. Very cold stairwells should be reported to Plant Operations Work Control, (734) 647-2059, as soon as possible so the situation can be evaluated. Stairwells frequently contain sprinkler lines that could freeze and break.

  • If an office is cold, call (734) 647-2059. In the short term, it may help to leave open the door to the office to allow warmer air from adjoining areas to enter the space.

  • Closing the sashes on fume hoods when they are not in use is a policy in labs. However, if the sashes are left open, fume hoods can be one of the reasons that large amounts of cold air are drawn into buildings. The air going out the fume hood is warm, and the air coming in from outside to “make up the difference” in pressure is cold.

  • Any little leak has the potential of being a big leak in a short time. If you spot a leak, call (734) 647-2059, and someone will be sent to check it out. It’s also important to quickly report a ceiling that looks wet, before the ceiling tiles are saturated and collapse.

  • Treat a dripping sprinkler head as an emergency, and call (734) 647-2059 immediately. The stem pipe, which feeds the sprinkler head, can freeze and “push” the sprinkler head open just far enough to drip. When the ice in the pipe melts, the sprinkler head is in a fully open position, allowing it to completely saturate the area.

    If a sprinkler head is broken and the area is flooded, the fire alarm system should automatically notify the Department of Public Safety. A call to 911 or (734) 647-2059 also is a good idea.