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New Code, Old Tricks

By Wayne D. Moore | Aug 15, 2015
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Design/build means different things to different people. Regardless, you should know that it places more responsibility on your shoulders as the electrical professional. It means you need to stay abreast of the codes that affect your installations.


For example, the International Code Council has released the 2015 editions of the International Building Code (IBC) and the International Fire Code (IFC). Many jurisdictions have begun the process of reviewing, modifying and adopting both of these important codes.


In both codes, Section 907.6.3 now requires all fire alarm systems to use addressable technology, but there are four exceptions:


1. Fire alarm systems in single-story buildings less than 22,500 square feet (2,090 square meters) in area


2. Fire alarm systems that only include manual fire alarm boxes, waterflow initiating devices and not more than 10 additional alarm-initiating devices


3. Special initiating devices that do not support individual device identification


4. Fire alarm systems or devices that are replacing existing equipment


The addressable requirements include identifying the specific initiating device address, location, device type and floor level, where applicable. The indications of each device’s status must include the indication of normal, alarm, trouble and supervisory status, as appropriate.


Item No. 4 means, if you replace an existing fire alarm system in its entirety, the building code or fire code will not require you to upgrade that system to an addressable system. However, given the proliferation of addressable systems that can work with existing cabling, you should evaluate each fire alarm system and its wiring to determine if you could upgrade it to an addressable system.


In addition to the addressable fire alarm system requirement, the new codes also require additional information for your shop-drawing submittals. Section 907.1.2 states that you must submit fire alarm system shop drawings for review and approval prior to installation. These shop drawings must include, but not be limited to, all of the following where applicable:


 1. A floor plan that indicates the use of all rooms


 2. Locations of alarm-initiating devices


 3. Locations of alarm notification appliances, including candela ratings for visible alarm notification appliances


 4. Design minimum audibility level for occupant notification


 5. Fire alarm control unit, transponders and notification power supply locations


 6. Annunciators


 7. Power connection


 8. Battery calculations


 9. Conductor type and sizes


10. Voltage drop calculations


Item No. 4 is particularly important because it requires the designer to calculate the necessary sound levels in each space to ensure audibility. NFPA 72 2013, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, requires a sound level of 15 decibels (dBA) above the ambient noise level or 5 dBA above the maximum ambient sound levels having a duration of 60 seconds or more.


In the case of visible alarm notification appliances, the IBC and IFC require you to install these appliances in all public and common use areas. The only exception to this requirement is where employee work areas have proper audible alarm coverage. Even so, the design of the notification appliance circuits serving those work areas must include not less than 20 percent spare capacity to account for the potential future need to add visible notification appliances to accommodate hearing-impaired employees.


In 2009, the IBC initiated emergency voice/alarm communication system (EVACS) requirements in all K–12 schools. Alarm requirements vary based on school size. In the 2015 IBC and IFC, the EVACS requirement loosened. Now, you don’t need to provide EVACS in Group E occupancies with occupant loads of 100 or less, provided that actuation of the manual fire alarm system initiates an approved occupant notification signal in accordance with the code.


Assuming you have the opportunity to work on a college or university design/build project, you need to know that the 2015 IBC and IFC require the installation of automatic smoke detection fire alarm systems in all “Group R-2 occupancies operated by a college and or university for student or staff housing buildings in the following locations:


1. “Common spaces outside of dwelling units and sleeping units.


2. “Laundry rooms, mechanical equipment rooms and storage rooms.


3. “All interior corridors serving sleeping units or dwelling units.”


Additionally, the “required smoke alarms in dwelling units and sleeping units in Group R-2 occupancies operated by a college and or university for student or staff housing buildings shall be interconnected with the fire alarm system in accordance with NFPA 72.”


These requirements exceed those for other Group R-2 occupancies. Note that the requirements include college- or university-owned and operated off-campus housing.


Before getting involved in a design/build fire alarm system installation, make sure you know the entire code.

About The Author

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, was a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is president of the Fire Protection Alliance in Jamestown, R.I. Reach him at [email protected]

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