In my daily work, I come into contact with many electrical contractors. A few of them really stand out. In fact, a select number tend to work on most of our projects. I understand why that happens: The better contractors have learned how to differentiate themselves from the rest of the crowd.

Each one of these excellent electrical contractors has never failed to set themselves apart by taking responsibility for their work. Now you might think that should happen on every project. But it would surprise you how many contractors look for reasons not to accept that responsibility.

In my opinion, a contractor must carefully review a project’s specifications and drawings and make an effort to ensure that he or she understands the project’s requirements before submitting a bid proposal. Then, he or she must proceed to accomplish the work for the proposed price.

Obviously, exceptions occur. Occasionally, in preparing documents for the project, I may miss something. If that happens, then I must take responsibility for the error and the cost to make it right. Additionally, a hidden construction issue may arise. But, that also constitutes an exception to the rule.
Another way contractors differentiate themselves is by understanding the fire alarm system products they install. It’s also no secret that when they have this product knowledge, they save installation time and prevent costly call backs. This efficiency adds to their profit margin on every project. Their competency makes them stand out from the crowd.

Generally speaking, the technicians performing the installation for these contractors have received better training than their competitors. This makes the reliability of the installation significantly higher. These technicians have better training and a clear understanding of the codes in force in their jurisdictions. And, they clearly understand what the code term “workmanlike manner” means.

Here’s an example of this differentiation. Recently, a contractor’s foreman called me regarding a fire alarm system installation project. Before he began the work, he had oriented himself to the historic building where the installation was to take place. The owner and the fire marshal had asked that we design the fire alarm system using Class A circuitry, which had been done. The foreman knew that NFPA 72 2010 required that Class A and Class X circuits using physical conductors (e.g., metallic, optical fiber) must “be installed such that the outgoing and return conductors, exiting from and returning to the control unit, respectively, are routed separately. The outgoing and return (redundant) circuit conductors are permitted in the same cable assembly (i.e., multiconductor cable), enclosure, or raceway only under the following conditions:

1 “For a distance not to exceed 10 feet (3 meters) where the outgoing and return conductors enter or exit the initiating device, notification appliance, or control unit enclosures

2 “For single raceway drops to individual devices or appliances

3 “For single raceway drops to multiple devices or appliances installed within a single room not exceeding 1,000 feet2 (93 meters2) in area.”

The foreman knew NFPA 72 2010, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, well enough to know that the goal of the requirement intends to provide adequate separation between the outgoing and return cables. And, he understood that this separation helps ensure protection of the cables from physical damage. He also knew that the recommended minimum separation to prevent physical damage is 12 inches where the cable is installed vertically and 48 inches where the cable is installed horizontally.

Because the building was an international historic landmark, the foreman knew the importance of limiting damage to the historic fabric of the building. He called to ask if he could install the outgoing and return conductors for each circuit in the same raceway. He stressed that he felt the circuits would be able to maintain their Class A operational characteristics. And, given the historic nature of the building, in the future no one would be accessing the ceilings without a great deal of oversight. Hence, it was unlikely that physical damage could occur on the floor. He still would follow the separation requirements for the fire alarm riser circuits.

By doing as he suggested, the installation would result in a lesser impact to the historic fabric and the change would have little if any impact on the reliability of the installation. Of course, the fire marshal and I gladly granted his request.

The point of the story: this foreman understood the code and the intent of the requirement. With very little effort—but a strong knowledge of the code and reliability issues—he differentiated himself from contractors who would have simply followed the specification and drawings without question or concern for the damage they would do to the historic building while trying to install two raceways in each ceiling to meet the separation requirements of the code.

Ask yourself, “How do I differentiate myself in the marketplace?” Indeed, do you stand out in a crowd?


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.