Fire, Security & Electrical Blog

Can Life-Safety be Cheap?

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Last Updated on 22 February 2019.

What would YOU choose?

Yesterday I visited a site that’d just had a fire risk assessment (FRA) carried out.

The FRA called for various additions to the fire alarm system, including an L5 design.

Now, that’s pretty unusual, but there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with is, as long as the Fire Risk Assessor is happy to accept liability for the design.

You see, an L5 system is designed for a building that has a particular risk attached to it.

Consequently the building I visited needs about 8 additional detectors in rooms that are near or would affect the apartment, which is part of the commercial building.

The system currently installed could run these additions…

…Having said that, the panel is 18 years old and obsolete.

That’s 8 YEARS past its recommended “replace” by date.

So, they had a couple of options:

1) Spend £3k adding new devices to the existing system for now.

2) Spend £5K on upgrading the panel and adding new devices at the same time.

Why would you upgrade the system for £2k extra?

Surely adding the devices is all that’s needed?

Well in this instance, no. The conventional system in place had some restrictions;

  • The system requires 9 zones and the current wiring only allows for 4.
  • The stairs are not on separate zones and therefore need to be rewired.
  • The few detectors that they already have are past their replacement date.
  • They only have about 6 bells in the whole building and need more.
  • There are lots of rooms without vision panels (these warn you that the detector in the room has operated, giving you a chance not to open the door in a fire), which means there’s probably a requirement for remote indicators.

In addition to this…

The heat detector in the kitchen is directly over the oven and causes false alarms. It’s in the wrong position, doesn’t cover the whole kitchen and there are no flashing beacons.

Flashing beacons are required as the ambient noise in the kitchen drowns out the bell which is mounted outside the door.

No one has carried out an audibility test on the site and it’s not clear if the wiring is fire rated as its not been terminated at the current control panel.

Oh, and because the panel is so old, if it did fail there are no spare parts to repair it with.

What would YOU do?

Although it’s pretty obvious that the £5k job would be better in the long run, the client does have a choice.

They could ignore the observations and just add some devices to the existing ‘non-addressable’ system. However, I find that once educated on the issues, most people want to get them resolved, which is good. But then there’s a twist to this tale…

If the client chooses to work with the existing ‘non-addressable/conventional’ wiring, assuming it’s in good condition, then the control panel could be upgraded to a modern ‘non-addressable’ control panel, new wiring installed on the stairs and other additional zones. Then just add the devices that the risk assessor has asked for.

This would probably be the cheapest solution.

Until additions are required.

Which they always are.

Then, extending the system could mean wiring back to the panel and more.

The costs and disruptions then spiral – due to the nature of this technology, it can be rather expensive to alter.

Thinking long-term

The other choice that the client has is to replace the system.

Re-wiring with new technology, designed with the capability to extend and adapt as the building changes.

There are a multitude of advantages.

Just a handful include;

  • Longer product warranty.
  • Flexibility on additions.
  • Accurate and quick location of a fire.
  • But the most striking advantage is that although the cost is higher initially, the investment will be most cost-effective over the lifetime of the installation.

This takes some explaining, but its a bit similar to the old saying

“Buy cheap, buy twice”

That’s all from me,

Paul Field
Fire Alarm Straight-Talker
WFP Fire & Security


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