Don’t Risk Your Money or Your Reputation: Top reasons fire alarm system installations fail

Published On
Apr 15, 2022

Why is it when you get to project completion and turnover, delays damage your reputation and skyrocket unexpected costs? You are so focused on completing everything that you spend whatever it takes in extra labor or actual costs just to get out of the hole. Once it’s finished and the building is turned over to the client, you may quickly move on to the next crisis without reviewing what caused the previous project’s cost overruns.

In almost every situation, the fire alarm system is the major, if not the only, culprit. The root cause is the ingrained habits for procuring a fire alarm system project.

Most often, the first mistake is allowing the fire alarm system to be included in the “value engineering” process. Never attempt to value engineer a life safety system, because every time this process is used on a fire alarm system, you will initiate the scenario described above. Remember, the building will not open when the AHJ says the fire alarm system is inadequate.

The second issue is “shopping” the fire alarm system supplier quotes. I understand needing to ensure you never overpay for a system; however, you need to understand what the supplier faces in costs.

I can assure you from over 45 years of experience that the low bid rarely meets the engineering specifications, building code, Life Safety Code or NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. While I am not advocating that you question the price, I am recommending you review the value of what is proposed.

Many contractors also make the mistake of not asking their system suppliers the right questions, such as, “Has the design documentation been prepared in accordance with NFPA 72?” and “Is the supplier an authorized distributor for the equipment?”

If you suspect your supplier is importing the equipment from an authorized distributor outside of your area, do not award them the sale. If you do, you will pay handsomely when you need to repair the system during your warranty period.

Always ask what the distributor’s system programming capabilities are in terms of their personnel qualifications and the number of manufacturer-trained programmers on staff.

Another important, but often overlooked, issue is the number of projects of same size coming due at the same time as your project, which affects the supplier’s limited programming staff. Knowing the answer will help determine if they will be able to perform at the end of your project.

Make sure you get in writing that the supplier will guarantee code compliance, and never assume the supplier has designed the system in accordance with the code. For example, a common error in system design is a lack of correct audibility and visibility design for the notification appliances. You will want to ensure that the decibel-amps for each audible appliance have been marked on the drawing and the candela output for each visible appliance.

Lastly, ensure the supplier has the appropriate number of technicians available and adequate time scheduled for performing final testing of the fire alarm system with the local authorities.

Every project comes with big responsibilities for you. Life safety fire alarm systems most often represent a small portion of your total quote for work in the building, so it is often the last system installed. Because of this, quality control for the fire alarm system installation often gets overlooked.

You should develop a relationship with the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). You need to know how they schedule their fire alarm system testing and what they expect of an acceptance test. They do not want to develop a punch list of problems for you to fix.

It is important for your reputation and bottom line that you appoint one of your project managers to be responsible for coordinating the system installation. Remember that the system will be tested for its basic alarm properties and for operating other systems in the building, including the elevator recall, HVAC control and interface with the automatic sprinkler system. It is ultimately your responsibility to ensure the fire alarm system passes its acceptance test. Doing so the first time will raise your reputation as a quality contractor, thereby creating more value as you pursue more work. Don’t let your fire alarm system installations fail before you even start the project.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker, writer and expert in the life safety field, has been a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, as well as a former principal member of NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is the...

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