Attention to Details

Although we have all heard, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” we find that the small stuff really matters as we build our businesses. Part of the issue depends on who defines what constitutes the “small stuff.”

I have found throughout my career that the contractors who consistently do the best electrical work—and in my field, the best fire alarm system installations—are the contractors who pay attention to the important details of the project. In other words, they really do sweat the small stuff.

Recently, during a pre-acceptance test of a fire alarm system, a number of items that some might have considered unimportant put an owner at risk. These items delayed the opening of the building and prevented the occupants from moving in on time. As you might imagine, the owner was not happy. The contractor had not paid attention to a detail in the National Fire Alarm Code that ultimately can prove very costly, as well as likely can delay the issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy. During the pre-acceptance testing, it became evident that the building still had many incomplete construction items.

As far as the fire alarm system, an investigation disclosed that the contractor had installed several smoke detectors within the building in areas where the active construction continued. NFPA 72-2007, Section states, “smoke detectors shall not be installed until after the construction clean-up of all trades is complete and final.”

The code does have an exception that allows the authority having jurisdiction to require detection for protection during construction. But, regardless of why the contractor installed the smoke detectors, the code requires the contractor to test the sensitivity of the detectors. At the completion of the construction, the contractor must clean or replace any detectors found to have a sensitivity reading outside the listed and marked (on the detector) sensitivity range in accordance with Chapter 10.

Unfortunately, the contractor had overlooked other details in addition to the problem related to potentially dirty smoke detectors. Other details missed include the following:

• The drain piping for the dry-type sprinkler system serving the attic was not fully installed; therefore, the dry-valve and associated pressure switches and monitor modules were not tested.

• As the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system with the building was not fully operational, the control relays for HVAC shutdown were not tested. It should be noted, however, that duct smoke detectors were installed and functionally tested.

• The magnetic door hold-open devices were not fully installed at the time of the test because doors were missing. Therefore, the magnetic door holder-open devices were not tested.

Finally, the contractor had overlooked that the elevator company had not installed the elevator contactor. This prevented the testing of the fire alarm system interface. The primary recall, alternate recall, operation of the visual signal (firefighter’s helmet) in the elevator, and elevator power shunt trip could not be tested. Even though the electrical contractor had made certain to install and program the smoke detector bases within these spaces, because the elevator contractor was not on-site to provide access to these spaces, the electrical contractor could not install the detectors or test their functions. As a result, the contractor failed another area of the pre-acceptance test.

The contractor had scheduled the final acceptance test with the fire department within three days of the pretest. With everything the contractor needed to complete, not to mention the work the other trades needed to complete before the contractor could sensitivity test and clean or replace the smoke detectors, I had to recommend that the contractor reschedule the test.

In his article, “Pay Attention to Details” published in Ezine @rticles, Gary Ryan Blair wrote, “If you long to accomplish great and noble tasks, you first must learn to approach every task as though it were great and noble. Even the biggest project depends on the success of the smallest components. Many people downplay small details, dismissing them as minutia—the ‘small stuff,’ that we’re encouraged to ignore. But, in fact, our whole environment is simply an accumulation of tiny details.”

Electrical contractors must pay attention to all of the details that affect a fire alarm system installation, including ensuring the systems provided by other trades that must interface with the fire alarm system will reach completion for both the pre-acceptance test and the final acceptance test.

In my opinion, when it comes to fire alarm system installations, you do need to sweat the small stuff.

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist
Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. Moore is a vice president with JENSEN HUGHES at the Warwick, R.I., office. He c...

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