As an electrical contractor, you know the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) makes changes to the National Electrical Code every three years. Other codes and standards change on a similar cycle as well. Why is that important? Because not knowing the changes to the codes and standards that regularly affect your installation business can cost you a lot of money, either directly in changes to your work after the fact, or in lost jobs where the competition used the changes to their benefit to win the job.

According to most reports, the tough times remain with us. So, you need an edge to help get the projects that become available. That edge begins and ends with sales, of course. And, a strong training component is part of making sales.

Tom Hopkins, author of “Selling in Tough Times: Secrets to Selling When No One Is Buying,” has some critically important advice.

“During challenging times, it’s more important than ever to dedicate yourself to training, practicing and improving everything you do,” he writes. “Being well trained will help you become one of those people who thrives, not just now, but when things turn around, as they always do.”

I couldn’t agree more. Knowing the changes to the codes and standards and staying current with the latest applications is what will help you thrive in this slow economy and beyond.

Some changes to the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code can provide you the opportunity to visit your existing clients. You could then offer to upgrade their fire alarm systems to take advantage of those changes that could save the client money, either operationally or in reducing their long-term maintenance costs.

For example, the section from NFPA 72 2010 as written below allows an owner to submit alternative means of compliance for system inspection and testing to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) for review and approval:

“14.2.8 Performance-Based Inspection and Testing. As an alternate means of compliance, subject to the authority having jurisdiction, components and systems shall be permitted to be inspected and tested under a performance-based program.”

The Annex A material offers valuable guidance, and as can be seen, the performance-based option rests on meeting an acceptable level of system operational reliability.

“A.14.2.8 This section provides the option to adopt a performance-based inspection and testing method as an alternate means of compliance for Sections 14.3 and 14.4. The prescriptive test and requirements contained in this Code are essentially qualitative. Equivalent or superior levels of performance can be demonstrated through quantitative performance-based analyses. This section provides a basis for implementing and monitoring a performance-based program acceptable under this option (provided that approval is obtained by the authority having jurisdiction). The concept of a performance-based inspection and testing program is to establish the requirements and frequencies at which inspection and testing must be performed to demonstrate an acceptable level of operational reliability.”

“The goal is to balance the inspection and testing frequency with proven reliability of the system or component. The goal of a performance-based inspection program is also to adjust inspection and testing frequencies commensurate with historical documented equipment performance and desired reliability. Frequencies of inspection and testing under a performance-based program may be extended or reduced from the prescriptive inspection and testing requirements contained in this Code when continued inspection and testing has been documented indicating a higher or lower degree of reliability as compared to the authority having jurisdiction’s expectations of performance. Additional program attributes should be considered when adjusting inspection and testing.

“A fundamental requirement of a performance-based program is the continual monitoring of fire system/component failure rates and determining if they exceed the maximum allowable failure rates as agreed upon with the authority having jurisdiction. The process used to complete this review should be documented and be repeatable. Coupled with this ongoing review is a requirement for a formalized method of increasing or decreasing the frequency of inspection and testing when systems exhibit either a higher than expected failure rate or an increase in reliability as a result of a decrease in failures. A formal process for reviewing the failure rates and increasing or decreasing the frequency of inspection and testing must be well documented. Concurrence from the authority having jurisdiction on the process used to determine test frequencies should be obtained in advance of any alterations to the inspection and testing program. The frequency required for future inspections and tests may be reduced to the next inspection frequency and maintained there for a period equaling the initial data review or until the ongoing review indicates that the failure rate is no longer being exceeded—for example, going from an annual to a semiannual testing when the failure rate exceeds the AHJ’s expectations, or from annual to every 18 months when the failure trend indicates an increase in reliability.

“See also NFPA 551, Guide for the Evaluation of Fire Risk Assessments, for additional guidance.”

This new allowance can help to reduce the testing and maintenance costs for many of your clients. And, of course, you are in a great position to assist your client in determining when the documentation of continued inspection and testing indicates a higher or lower degree of reliability, as compared to the AHJ’s expectations of performance. If you are not currently performing this work for your client, he or she will certainly want to take advantage of your expertise and switch that work to you!

New requirements for smoke detector placement change the dead air space restriction for installing fire alarm systems in residential environments: “17.7.3.2.1 Spot-type smoke detectors shall be located on the ceiling or, if on a sidewall, between the ceiling and 12 in. (300 mm) down from the ceiling to the top of the detector.”

Based on Canadian research, the dead air space is no longer an issue for smoke detectors. Be cautioned, however, that the committee did not change the requirements for heat detectors, so the 4-in. space out from the wall and down from the ceiling requirement still exists for spot-type heat detectors.
Now, the change in mounting height requirements for manual fire alarm boxes could prove costly for you when installing a fire alarm system in any commercial environment: “17.14.4 The operable part of each manual fire alarm box shall be not less than 42 in. (1.07 m) and not more than 48 in. (1.22 m) above floor level.”

As indicated by the bold print in Section 17.14.4, the upper allowable measurement has changed from 54 inches mandated in the 2007 edition of the code to 48 inches in this edition. This change essentially matches the new ADA requirements.

These represent only three of the many changes made to the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code that can affect your business and profitability. Continual training in the area of code changes and how these changes affect your business should remain high on your to-do list. You have many training resources available to you. These include online web-based training programs that allow you to learn about the code changes while in the comfort of your home or office.

To paraphrase Hopkins, “Don’t just rely on your company to train you either.” Too many electricians try to blame their lack of training on an external source, such as the company for which they work. Ultimately, only you can motivate yourself to learn and grow in your knowledge of the codes and standards that affect your work. Enroll in a course of training today!


MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates, Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at wmoore@haifire.com.