31st January 2023

Ask an expert: Cooling tower winterization

Now that the winter weather is really setting in, it’s crucial to winterize your cooling tower to ensure that it’s protected from the damaging effects of ice.

We know that many of our customers have questions about cooling tower winterization, so we’ve put the most common questions to our resident expert, Jeff Ebert. With extensive experience in the cooling tower industry, Jeff knows exactly what it takes to get maximum performance from your cooling tower – here’s what he told us…

Q1) How can winter weather affect my cooling tower?

When the temperature drops below freezing, ice can form on the air inlet faces, fill, and structure of your cooling tower. The ice obstructs airflow and can quickly accumulate into heavy blocks of ice that can’t be removed by typical de-icing methods. 

Q2) What’s the risk of doing nothing to protect my cooling tower from winter weather?

Inevitably, this means that large blocks of ice will accumulate within your cooling tower, which adds significant weight to the tower’s structure and other components. This creates a real risk that your cooling tower will be damaged, and it could even collapse. Ice forming around the cooling tower also poses a safety risk to anyone working on your site.

Q3) What are some of the mistakes people make when it comes to winterization? 

The biggest mistake people make is thinking that due to its location, their cooling tower doesn’t need to be winterized, but weather patterns are changing. Many industrial facilities managers who didn’t have to worry about severe weather conditions in the past have been caught unprepared by winter weather in recent years, and the operation of their cooling towers has been affected as a result.

Q4) How do Galebreaker’s winterization solutions work? 

We provide fixed and rolling winterization screens that are fitted to your existing cooling tower structure, and they work in conjunction with concise fan motor controls to suppress freezing air. By restricting the airflow into the tower, our winterization screens help to keep the heat within your cooling tower and ensure that it runs at maximum performance, no matter how low the temperature falls.

Q5) What are the benefits of winterization?

There are a number of benefits to winterizing your cooling tower, the first being that you can protect it from damage and potential collapse caused by the build-up of ice. This way, you can avoid costly repairs and potential downtime for your plant. 

Winterization screens also help to keep the heat in your cooling tower, which will enhance its performance during the colder months. And as ice can also pose safety risks to your workers, by taking steps to protect your cooling tower you are also fulfilling your duty of care to your team. 

Q6) Do you have any real-life examples of the benefits of winterization?

We’ve installed winterization screens on cooling towers across the country, but one that stands out is an installation at a Chicago-based power plant. When we inspected their counter-flowing cooling tower, we found excessive icing which was affecting the performance of the cooling tower and damaging the wooden structural members.

The customer had installed tarps as a temporary solution, but they clearly weren’t working. They also had to be removed and reinstalled annually. When we replaced the tarps with a permanent, retractable winterization solution the customer immediately noticed the difference as the ice on the structures at the air inlet disappeared. They’ve also been able to avoid the cost of installing tarps every year – and the cost of repairs that would have been inevitable if the tarps were left any longer – and improve the performance of their cooling tower.

Q7) What makes Galebreaker’s products different from other winterization solutions? 

Often, customers install temporary tarpaulins to cover the air inlets on their cooling towers, then remove them and discard them after the winter season. Tarpaulins are often tricky to fit around the cooling tower, and as they’re not a custom fit they don’t provide maximum protection for the tower. Our winterization screens can be easily retracted and stored on the tower during the summer, and as they’re specified and installed by our experts they will fully protect the entire cooling tower.

Occasionally, facilities managers will choose to retrofit by-pass piping in order to prepare for severe winter conditions, but this is a very costly option, which is why many opt for winterization screens instead. 

Q8) How do you ensure that you’re providing maximum protection for cooling equipment? 

At Galebreaker, we use Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) to analyze and predict the movement and flow of air around your cooling tower and its fans. We can model the effect of winter weather on your cooling tower and simulate installing screens in different locations until we identify exactly where we should install screens on your cooling tower to provide it with maximum protection from bad weather.  

Q9) Are winterization solutions only beneficial during the winter? 

No – our winterization screens can provide year-round benefits when installed on your cooling tower. During the summer and autumn months, they can also prevent debris such as leaves, wood chips, and insects from entering your cooling tower. This is important as debris can foul the fill and process water, which can lead to legionella.

Q10) Can a fabric solution withstand harsh winter weather? 

We have installed our fabric winterization screens in the harshest of environments, from arctic and offshore locations to deserts. Many of them have been in service for over a decade, and are still fully operational today – so they are more than fit for winter weather conditions.

Winterize your cooling tower now 

If your cooling tower is still exposed to the winter weather, or you’re relying on temporary tarps, it’s time to properly protect your equipment from ice before it’s too late. Get in touch with our team to discuss Galebreaker’s winterization solutions today.