Do commercial buildings need smoke detectors?Mayara
The simple and direct answer is yes: commercial buildings need smoke detectors. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, between 2014 and 2016, “…an estimated 100,300 nonresidential building fires were reported… each year and caused an estimated 90 deaths; 1,350 injuries; and $2.4 billion in property losses.” The rules and requirements for smoke alarm systems are exacting. In this case, it’s important to get into the little details when considering what services you should use to install one. We have all the information you need to keep both your employees and your property as safe as possible in the case of a fire.
Occupancy Types for Commercial Buildings
To fully understand how commercial building codes work, you need to have the details about how occupancy is determined in the first place. Different parts of the same building can fall under different occupancy types as well. In this case, you should also consider this when installing or replacing security systems like fire alarms and smoke detectors.
How Occupancy is Regulated
The type of occupancy for a building is legally determined by local code officials. U.S. states all have different building codes, but the international standard for building codes, which includes the determination of occupancy, was created by a non-profit organization called the International Code Council, or ICC. The ICC’s standards and regulations specify the minimum requirements building codes should utilize in order to create a safe and healthy environment for tenants and communities at large. Additionally, these standards are then made into law by local government, sometimes with alterations or other caveats.
What Defines a Building’s Occupancy as Commercial?
According to the ICC, there is a variety of building types that fall under the business classification. Since many of these business types are commercial in nature, they are largely treated the same with the largest difference in code requirements relating to the building’s purpose and potential hazards. As a whole, ICC classifies building types under these categories:
- Factory and Industrial
- High Hazard
- Utility and Miscellaneous
The ICC also defines the business occupancy of a building as: “… the use of a building or structure, or a portion thereof, for office, professional or service-type transactions, including storage of records and accounts.” If you’re ever unsure about how a building or portions of it should be classified, you can have a local code official confirm the choice of occupancy.
Smoke Detector Requirements
Each state also has differing codes that determine how fire alarm systems should be installed and what standards they need to meet. Even the color of an exit sign, for example, can fall under legal jurisdiction in certain areas. In order to have the most recent and accurate information regarding smoke detectors and alarms, be sure to refer to a local agency in your area that’s responsible for code enforcement. Also note that while the Office of the Fire Marshall is the most common agent responsible for code enforcement regarding fire safety and related systems, this isn’t the case in every state.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a self-funded, nonprofit organization that has dedicated itself to preventing loss due to fire through researched and maintained codes. Although it may initially sound like the NFPA has codified the standards for fire protection across the U.S., it’s actually operated outside of the government as a separate entity. Because NFPA’s standards are universal and more complete than anything state governments have put together, many, if not all, of its standards have been accepted into law.
If you want to design or install a fire safety system, doing so by NFPA standards is the best place to start (right after checking local law for smoke detector requirements and other related standards, of course). For this reason, we’ve broken down some of the information contained in Code 72’s 2013 draft to help explain some of the most basic requirements you can expect for smoke detectors in commercial buildings.
Types of Smoke Detectors
These devices can be designed to detect smoke in a myriad of ways, but all of them are responsible for reacting to the presence of smoke to take action, usually by sounding an alarm. The most common smoke detectors on the market are ionization, photoelectric, and combination detectors.
- Ionization Smoke Detectors: This technology uses ionized air created by a small amount of radioactive material in a sensing chamber. Charged current runs through this ionized air, which is interrupted and decreased when smoke enters the chamber. Ionization smoke detectors sense flaming, fast-moving fires more quickly than their counterparts.
- Photoelectric Smoke Detectors: These devices use light and a sensor in a chamber. During normal circumstances, the light will hit the sensor without any interruptions. When smoke fills the chamber, however, the dispersion of light triggers the sensor and the alarm. Though less common than ionization smoke detectors, photoelectric detectors can sense smoldering fires faster.
- Combination Detectors: These devices typically use both ionization and photoelectric methods of detecting smoke. However, the “combination detector” may also refer to the NFPA’s definition, which is: “a device that either responds to more than one of the fire phenomena or employs more than one operating principle to sense one of these phenomena.” This means that a combination detector could have elements of smoke detectors and heat detectors in the same device.
Where Smoke Detectors Should be Placed
While there’s no universal law used across the U.S., you can still use basic standards that are generally accepted as safe practice for the placement of smoke detectors. The overall goal is not only detecting fires early to trigger the appropriate response, but also to reduce the chance of false alarms. For this same reason, you should also be aware of a smoke detector’s sensitivity, as this varies between different smoke detectors. In general, these are the guidelines you should bear in mind when installing smoke detectors in a commercial building:
- Every separate room and hallway should have a fully functioning smoke detector with an audible alarm system.
- If a smoke detector is hidden and/or placed higher than ten feet, it needs to have a remote alarm or other supervisory indicator that’s visible to responding personnel.
- Smoke detectors in stairways need to be placed so that walls or ceilings don’t prevent smoke from reaching them.
- Smoke detectors should be placed at least ten feet away from smoke and moisture systems (i.e., showers and ovens) to avoid false alarms.
- Smoke detector batteries should be replaced at least once a year. Most standard smoke alarms should also be replaced every ten years. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for exact maintenance details.
How to Find the Most Reliable Smoke Detectors
Generally speaking, the highest performing smoke detectors you can find feature multiple sensors for heat and smoke. Smart features built into the system will also help you keep it properly maintained so you deal with less false alarms or faulty equipment. The Fire Alarm Supplier offers reliable smoke detectors that use quality engineering for performance while utilizing modern aesthetics.