Is my older Commercial Fire Alarm System "grandfathered" in or do I need to upgrade it?

There are many circumstances which can trigger a required upgrade to a Commercial Fire Alarm Systems. They are completely at the discretion of the local Fire Marshal and/or Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

Some typical events that may request in a required Commercial Fire Alarm upgrade include:

  • Change of use of the property (e.g., from a Church to a School)
  • General inspection or visit by the Fire Marshal or AHJ; the local authority or the fire marshal may inspect the property for any (or no) reason. At their discretion they may feel it necessary for you to upgrade the system. Common reasons to upgrade include horns or bells that are not audible at in sleeping areas, inadequate smoke detection, etc)
  • Renovation of a property that would impact the areas of the property where current code requires commercial fire alarm system upgrades (e.g., renovation of an elevator, modification of egress flow)

Key to consider is that no property is legally "entitled" to no meeting current code and it is the discretion of the local authority as it if and when you m just comply with current codes. It can be more cost effective to upgrade the system on your timeline rather then when you are being compelled to do so potentially under a tight (and expensive) timeline.

Can we get a variance on our fire alarm system?

Fire alarm systems are strictly regulated and must meet minimum requirements. However, in some cases, the local authority will allow for exceptions or variances from current code requirements. While this is generally not recommended, there are some circumstances where it may be worth exploring a variance. Possible exceptions include:

  • Voluntarily upgrading a grandfathered fire alarm system where a complete upgrade may not be economically feasible, but a significant partial upgrade is desired.
  • Upgrading only part of a property, as the rest of it is unaffected by renovations.
  • Meeting requirements specified in code that is more current than that adopted by the local authority. Local authorities are generally not using the most recent code and, in some cases, you may want to install a system or devices that meet more recent code than the authority recognizes (e.g., wireless devices).
  • Or, if full code compliance is not practical or feasible. This process often involves a dialog with the local inspectors. In this case, you will want to work with a firm that has the right resources and relationships.

Does my multi-unit residential project require a fire alarm system?

International Building Code (IBC 907.2.9) indicates that fire alarm systems are required in properties where any of the following conditions are met:

  • A sleeping unit is located three or more stories from above the ground exit level
  • A sleeping unit is located more than one story below the egress
  • The building has more than 16 units

These are only a few of the conditions and requirements. For questions about your project, please contact us for a fire alarm system consultation at no cost.

How are fire alarm systems regulated?

Fire alarm system design, installation, and monitoring are regulated by the local "authorities having jurisdiction" or AHJ's. In Washington DC, this is the District of Columbia Department of Regulatory Affairs.

In Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia, properties are required to have a fire alarm system in accordance with NFPA 72. This code reference specifies how a fire alarm system must be designed, installed, monitored, and tested. It is a comprehensive code reference that provides a roadmap for many aspects of your fire alarm system.

Other code references that may be relevant to your fire alarm system are the International Residential Code and International Commercial Code. Urban Alarm will work with you to determine the full code requirements for your fire alarm project.

Fire alarm system code and requirements evolve on a regular basis. Your fire alarm company should have specialists that understand the requirements and are in regular communication with the local permitting and inspections offices.