Regardless of the changes in our federal government this year, there is one thing we know for sure: we have a new NFPA 72 2016, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code from the National Fire Protection Association. Does that mean we should have started using the new code on Jan. 1? It depends on whether the legislature in your city or state has formally adopted a more recent building code or if your jurisdiction specifically adopted the new version. For instance, California has always adopted the most recent version of NFPA 72. If you live there, buy the new code now at www.nfpa.org.
In most of the country, however, the legislature usually does not immediately adopt the newest edition of most codes and standards. If your jurisdiction has not done so, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
The legal profession has always advised that, when designing or working on any system or equipment where codes and standards are involved, one must use the most recent edition of that code or standard. This ensures the use of the most up-to-date technical advice available. Should litigation arise because of a fire or other incident, using the most recent available codes or standards may limit liability.
If that statement doesn’t get your attention, consider that any new code or standard may actually provide some relief in the requirements for a specific design or application. Also, the new code or standard may offer improved guidance on how to perform nonequipment-related requirements.
Regardless of the adoption scenarios, be aware of the key changes to NFPA 72 2016. This code will inevitably affect how one designs, installs, inspects, tests and maintains fire alarm systems.
For example, NFPA 72 2016 has added new criteria for plans examiners and inspectors. If a design is finished and submitted for approval, but it’s revealed that the plans examiner has read the new code and intends to use that information to review the system design, that could lead to frustration.
Another potential scenario involves an inspector who has decided, on his or her own, to enforce the new code. Even though the inspector may not “legally” have the backing to use the new code, he or she can still slow the approval process while you argue those legalities.
NFPA 72 2016 has new requirements regarding the risk analysis required prior to designing a mass notification system. It also provides more emphasis for ensuring the use of the correct messages. To assist with the latter requirement, the code has added a new Annex G, Guidelines for Emergency Communications Strategies for Buildings and Campuses. Annex G consists of a copy of a complete research document developed and published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation.
One of the more significant changes appears in Chapter 23, with regard to the requirements for wiring configurations. A new classification of circuit, Class N, addresses ethernet infrastructures for alarm and signaling systems. This type of wiring could greatly change the installation methods for fire alarm and emergency communications systems.
Another important pathway performance and installation criteria for Class A and Class X pathway separation requirements now specifically addresses emergency control function interface devices controlled by the fire alarm system on those circuits. Other changes to the documentation requirements in Chapter 7 could affect the on-time delivery of systems. Also, an inspector might particularly look for how these requirements have been addressed.
These referenced changes represent only a few of the revisions and additions to NFPA 72 2016 that will affect how new fire alarm system designs and installations should be treated. Suffice it to say that, should the predictions prove correct and new construction increases the amount of work on which you bid, ensure that those bids correctly reflect your costs and represent code-compliant fire alarm systems.
To ensure no surprises for both you and your customer, it becomes imperative to be aware of any code changes that could affect the design or reliability of your fire alarm systems installations.