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Outside Influences

By Wayne D. Moore | Oct 15, 2016
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The green buildings market can offer a significant opportunity for electrical contractors that install fire alarm systems. Are you ready for this? How does your plain old fire alarm system installation help to meet the requirements of a green building?

The contractor typically installs the fire alarm system to meet the owner’s fire-protection and life-safety goals or to comply with applicable codes and standards. But, how does such a code-required system fit into some of the key emerging markets?

Recently, it has become popular for cities, states and the federal government to issue tax credits to builders and developers as incentives to either rehabilitate an existing (sometimes historic) building or a large manufacturing facility for a new residential or commercial use. Of course, these buildings will require some form of fire alarm system, but they may also try to meet the requirements of regenerative design, where the building will basically have no “waste.”

On its website, the Regenerative Leadership Institute describes regenerative design as a “concept based on process-oriented systems theory. The word ‘regenerate’ means ‘to create again.’ A regenerative system makes no waste; its output is equal to or greater than its input; and part or all of this output goes toward creating further output—in other words, it uses as input what in other systems would become waste.”

It might seem difficult to designate a fire alarm system as “regenerative.” However, with consideration, parts of a fire alarm system design could meet the definition.

The Regenerative Leadership Institute continues on its website, stating, “Although regenerative design is a part of sustainable living, it is not the same as sustainable design. Sustainability implies something that endures over time without degrading, but it does not regenerate itself or create anything new.”

Obviously, a well-designed and properly installed fire alarm system could endure over time without degrading, especially with an effective inspection, testing and maintenance program.

To help the building owner with his or her sustainable goals, you should think of a fire alarm system as the backbone with which all other building systems will integrate to both capture the savings offered by systems integration and as a way to strive to meet some aspects of the regenerative systems’ design for the building.

One method of showing that a fire alarm system will become part of the regenerative building design involves the use of the building’s ethernet network as the wiring method for the fire alarm system. This design would allow future system changes to occur with minimal impact to the environment.

For example, NFPA 72 2016, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, permits the establishment of Class N wiring methods, which enable the use of the building’s network to interconnect fire alarm system devices and appliances. This conserves wire, which is good for the environment, and allows for easy expansion and changes to the installed fire alarm system. It also helps achieve the regenerative goals of fire protection in the building with minimal impact to rewiring a building when changes become necessary.

Tax credits often apply to the adaptive reuse of existing buildings. In such a case, buildings initially built to serve a specific purpose will be transformed to meet the needs of the community for another purpose. Many of these buildings create challenges for the various types of required or desired systems. Careful coordination with the owner, developer and architect is necessary because the contractor becomes one of the key team members that can develop the seamless systems-­integration plan.

The design of these types of buildings can also lead to fire-detection challenges. Contractors should be aware of all of the types of detectors available on the market.

For example, rather than pepper a ceiling with spot-type smoke detectors on an open floor plan, a contractor may consider using the various types of linear beam smoke detectors to both conserve installation costs and greatly reduce the ongoing inspection, testing and maintenance costs for the owner. A similar approach could be used for the notification appliances.

Case in point: using ceiling-mounted strobes in that same open floor plan, thereby conserving the number of appliances needed to meet code requirements, will allow reuse of the space with essentially no changes to the strobe design.

Upon careful analysis, an electrical  contractor may discover other design concepts to help meet efficient design goals. If the issues are understood early in the fire alarm system design, your customer will come to rely on you for all of their fire-protection needs.

Of course, you will need to know the owner’s and other stakeholder’s goals, as they relate to sustainability and regenerative design—in addition to their fire-protection goals—to perform your work successfully and profitability.

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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