Let’s refresh our memory on the methods for choosing the correct codes and standards for an installation. With so many, it can be sometimes difficult to determine which requirements we must meet. In many states, there are conflicting codes. So where do you start?

First, remember the hierarchy of our requirements. At the top of the list are the statutes: federal, state and local. They are always the highest priority. Our statutes establish the codes that are adopted. In some states, these codes are statewide. In others, local jurisdictions can choose. Once you determine which codes are adopted, you can determine the correct edition of the referenced standards. Check with your local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to see if there are amendments that may modify parts of the codes or standards. An important rule of thumb to remember is that the job of the AHJ is to enforce the codes adopted in their jurisdiction, not make them up as they go along. So the priority is laws, codes, standards, recommended practices, in that order.

It also is important to remember that different AHJs may enforce different codes. For example, the building official may enforce the International Building Code, and the fire official may enforce NFPA 1 or 101 as their fire code instead of the International Fire Code. As a result, conflicts may exist. You need to identify the AHJs and the codes they enforce. Next, look up the requirements for the job you are working on. If you find conflicts, you must use the most restrictive requirement. For example, if you are installing a fire alarm system in a large assembly occupancy, such as a convention center, and you are in a state such as Florida, which adopts both the IBC and a combination of NFPA 1 and 101, you will find that the requirements for emergency voice alarm communication systems are different in the two codes. The IBC requires voice systems for assembly occupancies greater than 1,000; NFPA 101’s threshold is 300. Obviously, 300 is the more restrictive number, so you use that. Another example would be if you are installing a fire alarm system in a hotel. The IBC requires smoke detectors in interior corridors on floors with sleeping rooms, but NFPA 101 allows the smoke detectors to be eliminated if it is a fully sprinklered building. Once again, put the smoke detectors in, so you meet the most restrictive requirement.

Each code contains references to establish the standards’ edition that the code is based on. Remember that standards are documents for properly installing equipment required by a code. They do not tell you what you must install or where you must install them. For example, if you use the 2009 IBC, it references the 2007 edition of NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm Code. However, some jurisdictions adopt later versions to take advantage of new requirements. The 2010 edition of NFPA 72 is being adopted faster than past editions because of new requirements for mass notification systems.

It always is a good idea to discuss requirements with the AHJs before you install a system rather than finding out at the final inspection that one of the AHJs wants something different. A good example of this conflict pertains to elevator hoistways. The fire official may require smoke detectors in the hoistway, but the elevator inspector may insist they cannot be installed in the hoistway. I have heard of contractors who put the smoke detectors in to pass the fire marshal’s test and then removed them to pass the elevator inspector’s test. I don’t recommend this method for handling such a situation. Remember, as a contractor, you are simply following requirements, and if the requirements conflict, you need to get together with both AHJs to come up with a plan of action that will be suitable to both.

Also remember that annex material is not a requirement. It is a recommendation. Interpretation of requirements can vary from one inspector to another, so you may need a third-party interpretation. NFPA and IBC offer interpretations of their codes, but remember that, at least with NFPA, it is not an official opinion. The Automatic Fire Alarm Association also offers informal interpretations of code requirements to its members. Sometimes, having a third-party interpretation can resolve an issue easily.

If you invest some time learning your state and local laws as they relate to our profession; use the codes, standards and amendments adopted; and establish an open line of communications with your AHJs, you will have fewer conflicts, and jobs will go more smoothly. You will certainly be viewed as a professional by all concerned, which surely will lead to more recommendations for future jobs.


HAMMERBERG is the president/executive director of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association Inc. headquartered in Jasper, Ga. He serves on a number of NFPA committees, including the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee and the Protected Premises Technical Committee. He can be reached at TomHammerberg@afaa.org.