What if I have a really old fire alarm system? What are my options? You probably have multiple options. The first step is to bring in the contractor currently servicing the system, another fire alarm system supplier or a consultant to perform a feasibility study on the existing system and related features of the building that may affect installation of a new or replacement system. Total system replacement is not always necessary; many times parts of the fire alarm system can be reused or updated.
When deciding whether to replace, upgrade or reuse the fire alarm system, several things should be considered. The age of the existing system is one of the most important factors. Most fire alarm systems are manufactured to have a life span of 10 to 15 years. Of course, many systems are in service far longer, but maintenance and replacement parts become more costly and difficult to acquire once the manufacturer no longer supports the product. Smoke detectors should be replaced after 10 years because sensitivity will deteriorate and either cause false alarms or fail to detect smoke. Original wiring may not meet current building codes; if you are converting from a general evacuation fire alarm system to a selective evacuation system using voice communications, existing wiring will not be compatible with new system requirements.
However, if a fire alarm system has been installed for fewer than 10 years, and you decide to add strobe devices throughout, or have constructed an addition to the building, the existing system could simply be expanded. The expansion capacity of the existing system will determine your choices. With a small fire alarm system, your options may be limited, depending on how much expansion you are looking to do. You might be able to install an additional fire alarm equipment panel and network it to your existing fire control panel.
In a large project, costs should be weighed carefully when attempting to reuse any portion of the existing system. Often, projects that have reused existing components ultimately cost as much as or more than replacing the entire system with all new equipment, devices and wiring. The final outcome could be a fire alarm system that has elements from the previous installation without warranty or manufacturer support and with a shorter life span versus a brand new system with a full warranty at very similar costs. When in doubt, request proposals for both reusing components — with a full description of what is being reused — and for complete replacement.
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