Do commercial buildings need fire alarms?Mayara
Broadly speaking, the answer is generally yes. According to the latest report from the USFA, the U.S. has seen a trend of increasing fires occurring in non-residential buildings since 2008. Therefore, commercial buildings need fire alarms, since these are essential to avoid this ranking continue to grow. Fire alarms play a pivotal role in safety both at home and in the workplace, so designing and installing an effective system has the potential to save lives.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through how commercial building codes are classified, what you should look for when purchasing a fire alarm system, and some top tips that cover how and where fire alarms should be installed.
Fire alarm codes and business occupancy
The fire alarm code for a commercial building largely depends on the building’s occupancy type and location. Laws regarding fire safety and building codes differ between states, so your best option is always to check with local codes first.
Both the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have developed standards for determining the occupancy and respective safety standards of a building. As independent, non-profit organizations, their standards have widely been put into law across the U.S., so understanding and implementing their codes is a key step in developing a fire alarm system that you can rely on for emergencies.
When discussing applicable codes, it’s also important to distinguish how the NFPA defines new and existing building standards. When a building is first being constructed, it falls under NFPA’s new building codes. When a related code is updated or altered, that building then falls under NFPA’s existing building codes. Existing codes tend to be less stringent than new building codes, but they still cannot fall below the minimum standards contained in updated existing building codes.
According to the NFPA, a new business building should have a fire alarm system if:
- The building has a total of three or more stories
- The building has 300 or more occupants
- 50 or more occupants work above or below the floor with the main exit (if less than 50% of occupants use an exit, it isn’t considered the main exit)
When a business building falls under existing building codes, it should have an alarm system if:
- The building has a total of three or more stories
- The building has 1,000 or more occupants
- 100 or more occupants work above or below the floor with the main exit
Fire alarm codes and requirements
Although there is no universally accepted law for the installation, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems, NFPA 72 covers all of the safety codes for the process. Besides helping to keep building occupants safe, these standards also work to help mitigate false, or nuisance alarms. We’ve broken down some of the more technical information to explain how fire alarm systems are defined, how they should perform, and what standards they should meet.
Fire Alarm Classifications
The NFPA defines alarm systems as the following:
- Fire Alarm Systems: Household or protected premises systems
- Supervising station alarm systems: Central stations, remote supervising stations, and proprietary supervising station alarm systems
- Public emergency alarm reporting systems: Auxiliary alarm systems of the local energy or shunt type.
While household and protective premises systems are relatively straightforward, other types of alarms aren’t quite as well known. Of the supervising station alarm types, central station monitoring is the most common and is typically used in tandem with fire alarm systems to notify a local fire department when an incident occurs. Remote and proprietary supervision are similar in the way they monitor and communicate fire hazards with the local fire department or another third party.
Finally, public emergency alarm reporting systems use alarm boxes and processing equipment that is able to communicate between different devices on a wired or wireless network. These types of alarms are being installed and used with less frequency, but traditionally are operated by personnel qualified to use public emergency alarms.
Fire Alarm Components
What is a fire alarm system composed of? The NFPA defines each element of the system and its specific functions, but there are so many different components and ways to put a system together that it can be difficult to determine what commercial buildings should have. Generally speaking, a system should have:
An Emergency Response Plan: Documentation that details actions that should be taken in the case of fire or other disasters. It should include information obtained during risk analysis for the building.
Power Supply: Both primary and secondary power supplies are needed for the fire alarm system to meet NFPA codes.
Smoke/Fire Alarms: A series of devices that use smoke, heat, and other forms of detection to monitor the presence of fire and other hazardous circumstances, such as gas leaks.
A Fire Alarm Control Unit: A part of the fire alarm system that receives signals from detection devices or other control units. It then processes the provided information and determines an appropriate output function.
A Fire Alarm/Evacuation Signal Tone Generator: A device that creates a warning tone whose sound is distinct from any other type of alarm. Considerations should also be made for deaf or disabled occupants, so signals may include visual cues or vibrations. According to the NFPA, “Lights used for fire alarm signaling… shall be clear or nominal white and shall not exceed 1000 cd (effective intensity).”
Manual Fire Alarms
Manually operated fire alarms need to have protection against unauthorized use, which is usually provided by fire alarm boxes, locked cabinets, or other similar devices.
Where to Place Fire Alarms
Generally speaking, fire alarms need to be placed on secure surfaces where the surrounding conditions aren’t too hot, cold or moist. Anything that exceeds the limits of what a manufacturer has placed for the device is against the code, which is important to bear in mind when purchasing fire alarm equipment.
What to look for in fire alarm tech
Everything from the reliable power supply to the sensitivity of a detector plays a role in making a fire alarm system effective. As you search for detectors and controls best suited to your work environment (some control systems also allow for accurate and effective climate control in addition to their fire hazard monitoring), there are a few features to keep in mind:
Compound Detectors: Workplaces have multiple hazards to monitor, so finding equipment that combines sensors for the best performance is always a good idea. Using smoke detectors that have both ionic and photoelectric detection, for example, will help the system detect different types of fire faster. Smoke and heat detection paired together will also provide faster and more accurate hazard monitoring. Finally, gas leaks are also a concern, so you should also look for options that take gas levels into account as well.
Reliable Occupant Notification: Workplaces can be subject to more than just ICC and NFPA codes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also have standards that fire alarm systems need to account for. Look for alarms with audio and visual signals that are in compliance with industry standards that accomodate for occupant needs and disabilities.
Fire Department Interaction: Fire alarm systems should be able to alert the fire department of emergencies for the fastest possible response time. Look for systems that can reliably send communications and process appropriate responses from detected abnormalities.
Cost & Warranty: You should always pay close attention to manufacture instructions and warranties, as the former will ensure that hardware is installed and maintained properly while the latter can save you money in the case of equipment failure.
If you’re not sure where to start looking for trustworthy brands and products, The Fire Alarm Supplier can help. We offer a wide variety of brands to suit your needs, whether you’re looking to replace parts of an existing system or invest in an entirely new one. You’ll also be able to find the latest developments in brand names you already like for some of the most modern and effective detectors and alarms for your business.
Edwards products implement simplicity and effective design for reliable results. The G1RF-HDVM is a multi-candela horn-strobe alarm with adjustable cd output so you can readily meet stringent fire safety standards.
Siemens features some of the most robust control panels and modules for fire alarm systems. In addition to building in a truly smart system, you’ll also be able to include detectors like the HFP-11, which utilizes multiple sensors and error checking to ensure accurate detection.
Bosch is one of the most modern well-known brands for fire safety. You can take full advantage of this technology with Bosch systems that include items like the FPA-1000-V2, addressable fire alarm panel.
Buy Now Ensuring that your workplace is a safe and well monitored environment can be a straightforward process when you have the best information and technology available. If you’re interested in finding even more security products and brands to shop for, check out our