When I heard that the top Silent Knight blog of 2014 was the one I wrote titled “Fire Alarm System Design: Top Three Mistakes Dealers Make in the Process,” it struck me that we are on to something: dealers are struggling with how to properly design fire alarm systems.
Everybody is trying to figure out why things are going wrong and trying to be more profitable. One mistake that continually gets repeated; however, with fire alarm system design is when the dealers fail to adhere to code. I come across a lot of sales associates and installers who would like to know more about code, but training is not being provided by their companies or by any proper training source.
But codes are not the only thing causing dealers to make mistakes with fire alarm system design. To continue from my earlier blog entry, let’s explore three more mistakes dealers make when they go out to bid the project:
- Plenum vs. Non-Plenum Cable: We see a lot of instances where dealers are bidding PVC cables—the cheaper cable on the market—when plenum cable is actually the correct one to install in a lot of instances. For example, you have to use plenum cable when the HVAC system is using the open ceiling above the drop ceiling as a return space. In this scenario, the fire cable has to be nontoxic and nonflammable and, to accomplish that, plenum cable is the correct choice. We will get out on the job site and find that the wrong fire cable is being installed, which means the job gets a whole lot more complicated and costly. I have for years suggested using the NEC Table 760.154(D) Cable Substitution chart. This chart allows for the use of CM (Communication Multi-conductor) listed cable for fire alarm use. By using CMP (Plenum) cable you now can use that same cable not only for fire alarms, but also for security, access control, CCTV and any other source. This helps limit the cable being hauled on your vehicles and stocking space in your warehouse.
- The Plug-and-Play Mentality: In the previous post, I talked about the fact that before we can design a system, dealers need to understand and relay to the designer or engineer the facility’s building use group. This can be complicated at times because dealers form assumptions about a building use group based on one experience with that type of facility. But each fire installation has its own specific requirements. In addition to understanding the client’s building use group, you have to understand if the client, building owner or general contractor wants to go for a variance on the fire alarm system. For instance, the client, building owner or general contractor can go for a variance (chapter 34 in the ICC IBC building code) so they can save costly upgrades for existing structures. Then you have to understand what the variance calls for. For instance, voice evacuation systems, horn strobes and manual pulls, and full smoke detection are the three fire alarm variances that give them points towards their variance. So always verify that a specific project is not under a Variance Order.
- Electrical Contractor Relations: On jobs from the EC (Electrical Contractor), that have been bid or about to be bid, lots of times electrical companies will call the alarm company to ask them to bid it, which in most cases is last minute. To make sure your products are specified, you have to be pro-active with your EC, or whomever you get your fire alarm installation leads from. Get to them early; contact them regularly; and make sure you are getting the jobs early enough. The dealers that do this will stand a greater chance of getting their product specified by the architect, and/or engineering firm, as an addendum for the job prior to bid deadline. This then guarantees you an opportunity for securing a project.
With a new year before us, the biggest thing to keep in mind is new codes. We are starting to see a lot of code changes, and adoption of newer codes. One of the areas with the most activity is for residential fire alarm notification and detection requirements. CO2 detection is being adopted by many states for residential use groups, including single family dwellings where fuel-burning HVAC systems are used. Another one of these changes is states adopting the 2010 and 2013 NFPA 72 code, which mandates low-frequency notification. This year we are seeing a lot of jurisdictions adopting these requirements. A lot of these new codes are coming into play for fire alarm systems across the board and it’s up to dealers, designers, architects and engineers to remain up to speed with all these changes. For example, we just had a state adopt the 2010 that was not aware of the low frequency requirement in NFPA 72 2010 18.104.22.168, as of January 1, 2015. They know about it now.
Have a Happy New Year, and be safe; it’s a jungle out there.
About the Author
Jon Setters has been running Design Technology Systems, llc for over seven years. The company has designed and engineered for the big guys, (ADT Security, Tyco Integrated Security, Protection One, Guardian Protective Services, Stanley Security Solutions, Guardian Alarm Company), and numerous Electrical and privately held alarm companies.