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. The piping is filled with air below the water supply pressure. 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 to for a sufficient time to a temperature at or above the temperature rating, it opens, allowing the 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. For this reason, dry pipe systems are usually not as effective as wet pipe systems in fire control during the initial stages of the fire.
Some view dry pipe sprinklers as advantageous for 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.