July 13, 2015

Why is Commercial Fire Alarm So Expensive?

FireI often get asked from potential buyers as to why a fire alarm for their business is so much more costly than the alarm for their home.

Fire alarm systems are a crucial part of protecting lives in both commercial and residential properties. They are designed to save lives and protect property by alerting people that a fire has broken out, giving them extra time to escape and call the fire department.

Fire alarms in the home

Although it is strongly advisable to have a working smoke alarm in a residential property, it is not a legal requirement. There is one exception: rented properties where, by law landlords must ensure that a mains powered smoke detector is installed and maintained. In rented apartment blocks this means that every individual property has to have at least one smoke detector.

In a home, fire alarm systems tend to be fairly small and simple. They will usually consist of one or two smoke or heat detectors fitted in a central location or near to areas that pose a greater risk of fire, such as kitchens. Tested is often left to the resident and does not require any enforcement by the town or city.

Commercial fire alarms

Fire alarms in commercial buildings are usually much bigger and more complex than those used in home. With larger sized buildings such as offices or retail areas, fire alarm systems will need careful design and planning, including approval and inspection by the town or city planning board – a lengthy process.

10801943_839687512720604_7444488913301157472_nFire detectors will need to be spread out across the building, with several in each area as required by law to provide full coverage. The reason for this is so that anywhere a fire starts, the alarm will be able to quickly alert people to the danger.

All fire alarms and components of such need to be integrated together with a central control panel or brain which shall be monitored around the clock. Note! I stated shall. This means that fire code (law) requires a commercial fire alarm to be monitoring 24x7x365.  These systems should indicate the exact location of the fire so the fire department can plan to respond to the proper area without delay.

Detectors will have to be able to detect smoke or heat, whichever is most appropriate for the environment; a professional fire protection technician should be consulted to provide advice on this.

In addition to smoke and heat detectors, commercial fire alarms must have:

Pull stations – devices located by the exits of a building and allow people to sound the alarm. As you can imagine, in a large building that includes many people—and many exits—this is an important addition to commercial fire alarm systems.

Horn strobes – commercial fire alarms rely on a different method of notification compared to residential fire alarms. Unlike residential fire alarms, commercial fire alarm systems require both visual and audible alarms that must meet a specific volume level.

As you can imagine, there is a lot more legislation concerning the installation, placement, testing and maintenance to regulate fire alarms in commercial premises than in residential buildings. Building code must be complied with and failure to do so is seen as a breach of a responsibility towards safety and can be punishable by law.

Fire alarms systems play such a key safety role in commercial buildings and there are a lot of lives potentially at stake. If the fire alarm systems are not sufficient then harsh penalties can be given, including hefty fines and in the case of extreme negligence, this can even result in imprisonment if lives are lost as a result of an ineffective approach to fire safety.

In addition if a fire does occur in commercial premises insurance policies may be voided if it can be proved that the fire alarm and smoke detectors were ineffective.

Lastly, there is also specific training and licensing that a security company must undergo in order to install, service and monitor a fire alarm. If a company attempts to install a fire alarm without the proper training, the local fire marshal will site the company and installer and can fine both parties.

In both commercial and residential properties, the importance of having a working fire alarm system cannot be underestimated. Fire alarms save lives and there can be no bigger incentive than to ensure that the people who enter a building, be it commercial or residential are fully protected.

For this reason it is always recommended to consult a professional fire alarm specialist to help you choose the most appropriate type of fire detector and monitoring system.