Repair or Replace The Fire Alarm Sytem?

By Traci L. Velez, Senior Consultant and Fire Alarm System Designer  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: What Are the Code Requirements for a Fire Alarm System In My Building?Pt. 2: What Should I Look for in a Fire Alarm Contractor?Pt. 3: Why Do Fire Alarm Bids Vary So Much?Pt. 4: What Do I Do With an Old Fire Alarm System?Pt. 5: This PagePt. 6: Can My Fire Alarm Be Upgraded?Pt. 7: Showcase: Fire Safety

Are there other concerns in deciding whether to replace the fire alarm system or reuse or upgrade the existing fire alarm system? Yes, there are other significant and potentially costly concerns when “upgrading the fire alarm system” or “replacing the fire alarm system.” The specific words used can be significant when applying for construction permits. There are generally different requirements regarding the replacement vs. the upgrade of existing fire alarm systems, including the degree to which the requirements for new construction must be met.

When replacing the fire alarm system, local code for existing buildings may allow a device-for-device replacement, without making any operational or functional changes from the way the existing system currently operates. Simple replacement may be the right option provided the existing fire alarm system meets local accessibility requirements.

One common issue may arise if the fire alarm contractor proposes to simply replace the fire alarm system. This could be a problem if the contractor discovers during the permit process that the existing system has to be modified to meet current code requirements due to changes in the building construction, occupancy or maybe even local ordinances. Some jurisdictions view any addition of devices — such as strobe devices to meet accessibility requirements — as enough to require that the new fire alarm system meet current building and fire prevention codes. These changes mandated by the fire department now become a change order, in turn, costing you more money. Extra cost comes from additional power supplies or devices, plus additional labor to install, program and verify the extra work.

A feasibility analysis early in the project can help identify options for installation and phasing of the new fire alarm system, as well as to develop cost estimates for budgeting. The feasibility analysis can also be used as a tool for defining the scope of work in the request for proposals. The design process should help assure that you will be getting a system that satisfies code (prescriptive and intent) and meets your needs. When requesting proposals, ask for a letter stating that the new fire alarm system meets all current local building codes, fire codes and accessibility requirements at the time of installation.

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  posted on 1/1/2009   Article Use Policy

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