Unlocking the Code: Deciphering key points of NFPA 72

Shutterstock / Linear_Design
Shutterstock / Linear_Design
Published On
Mar 15, 2022

It is difficult to know where to start to explain some of the important and often misquoted sections of NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. I will start with two important items relating to proper code use.

I always reference the most recent edition of the code, which in this case is 2019. You, however, should know what edition is adopted in the area where you will be installing the fire alarm system.

In terms of retroactivity, you will always, at a minimum, use the adopted code in your jurisdiction, with the one exception in Chapter 14, Section 14.1.4 of the 2019 edition that states, “The requirements of this chapter shall apply to both new and existing systems.” Chapter 14 relates to inspection, testing and maintenance and is the only retroactive chapter, regardless of the NFPA 72 edition that is formally adopted by the building code in the installation’s jurisdiction. However, as stated in Section 1.4.2 (of all editions), “In those cases where it is determined by the authority having jurisdiction that the existing situation involves a distinct hazard to life or property, retroactive application of the provisions of this document [NFPA 72-2019] shall be permitted.”

The documentation requirements in Chapter 7 also seem to surprise contractors.

It amazes me that professionals choose to overlook one of the most important requirements for a fire alarm (or MNS) system installation: proper documentation. If you tend to only provide “pipe and wire,” you still need to follow the shop drawings to begin your part of the as-built (record) drawing documentation. Your subcontractor or supplier must then provide their part. You should require in your purchase order that your supplier/subcontractor provide the as-built drawings and coordinate with the installation team to ensure these are provided to the owner. Refer to Section A.7.3.2 to determine what is expected for the design documents.

There are a few new requirements to follow regardless of the adopted NFPA 72 edition. First, the design professional (you, your subcontractor or someone else) must be qualified to prepare fire alarm design documents. Second, sections 7.3.3.3 and 7.3.3.4 require that design documents “incorporate performance criteria to ensure that the system will provide a beneficial component to the fire and life safety needs of the owner, occupants, and authority having jurisdiction and that they must clearly communicate the intended performance and functionality expected by all installing contractors.”

Additionally, for buildings that call for communications, Section 7.3.3.5 requires that for “spaces designated as acoustically distinguishable spaces (ADS) in accordance with 18.4.11, the design professional shall coordinate with other design disciplines so that intelligibility of messages can be achieved utilizing the emergency communications equipment as specified in the design documents and available to contractors/installers.”

Chapter 7 (in all code editions) requires that design documents include ambient and audible design sound pressure levels in accordance with Section 18.4.1.5.4. The 2019 edition states that sound pressure levels that must be produced by the audible appliances in the coverage areas must be documented by the system designer during the notification system’s planning and design to meet the code requirements.

Section 7.5.5 provides the requirements for record or as-built drawings, including:

  • Current updated shop drawings reflecting the actual installation of all system equipment, components and wiring

  • A sequence of operations in an input/output matrix or narrative form to reflect actual programming at the time of completion (for an example of an input/output matrix of operation, see A.14.6.2.4.)

  • Where necessary, revised calculations in accordance with Section 7.4.10 depicting any changes due to installation conditions

  • Approval documentation resulting from variances, performance-based designs, risk analyses and other system evaluations or variations

As stated in Annex A-7.5.5.5, documentation is important especially “for technicians so they will be able to recognize variations of system configuration during acceptance, re-acceptance, and periodic testing. It is also necessary for enforcement personnel to prevent confusion when they could otherwise misidentify an approved variation for being non-code compliant. This documentation is also necessary for those who might design additions or modifications.”

Finally, and probably most importantly, when the fire alarm system installation is complete, the code requires that record/as-built drawings be given to the owner with a copy placed inside the documentation cabinet in accordance with Section 7.7.

Make sure you are code-savvy to ensure misunderstandings or costly changes not accounted in your estimate do not affect your bottom line.

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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