Safe at Home?

Residential opportunities abound for ECs

According to the most recent National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) analysis, almost 75 percent of all reported structure fires occurred in homes. In a 1997 survey performed for the NFPA, 53 percent of U.S. residents feel safest from fire at home. It is estimated that we spend 55 to 75 percent of our time at home, yet 78 to 83 percent of all fire deaths result from home structure fires. On a per-hour basis, the home is one of the least safe places. [The U.S. Fire Problem Overview Report––Leading Causes and Other Patterns and Trends––Homes, NFPA, Quincy, Mass.]

Because of these statistics, state and local governments and the major building codes require some form of protection installed in one- and two-family homes. The challenge is how much do you offer the homeowner? The opportunities for additional work in the home will raise your efficiency and profits.

The closest many electrical contractors get to a “residential fire alarm” installation is the installation of the required smoke alarms in new one- and two-family homes. Generally the building code regulating the construction site will outline the requirements. These requirements are established in NFPA 72, with the latest requirements included in NFPA72-2002, Chapter 11, “Single- and Multiple-Station Alarms and Household Fire Alarm Systems.” Where required by applicable laws, codes or standards for one- and two-family dwelling units, “approved single- and multiple-station smoke alarms shall be installed as follows:

- In all sleeping rooms

Exception: Smoke alarms shall not be required in sleeping rooms in existing one- and two-family dwelling units.

- Outside of each separate sleeping area, in the immediate vicinity of the sleeping rooms.

- On each level of the dwelling unit, including basements.

Exception: In existing one- and two-family dwelling units, approved smoke alarms powered by batteries shall be permitted.”

Although there are four optional methods to power smoke alarms, the most commonly used in new construction is a commercial light and power source along with a secondary battery source (normally a 9V battery) that is capable of operating the smoke alarm for at least 24 hours in the normal condition followed by four minutes of alarm. AC primary (main) power shall be supplied either from a dedicated branch circuit or the unswitched portion of a branch circuit also used for power and lighting. Additionally, where more than one smoke alarm is installed for new construction, they shall be arranged so that the operation of any smoke alarm causes the alarm in all smoke alarms within the dwelling unit to sound.

Electrical contractors are often unaware of the best location to install smoke alarms. From the installations I have seen, it would seem that someone has convinced contractors to install them on the sidewall of each space requiring a smoke alarm. Because no one knows where the fire will occur, the codes recommend mounting all detection devices, like smoke alarms, directly on and in the center of the ceiling. When this is not possible, then a smoke alarm can be mounted on the sidewall, 4 inches (measured to the top of the detector) to 12 inches from the ceiling.

Smoke alarms cannot be installed in kitchens, bathrooms or garages. Contractors should be aware that some of the smoke alarm manufacturers are now offering heat alarms that can be interconnected to the smoke alarms in a home. The heat alarms could be used in the kitchen or garage where smoke alarms are inappropriate.

Of course, the easiest approach to meeting the minimum code requirements for one- and two-family homes is simply to install the smoke alarms as described above. But if you want to increase the opportunities for more revenue from every home you provide the electrical installation, consider offering a complete residential fire alarm system. NFPA 72-2002 also governs these systems and the installation requirements are also found in Chapter 11. Offering residential fire alarm system allows electrical contractors to provide more complete coverage than the minimums required by the building codes. Detection could be provided throughout the home, attics, closets, kitchen, basements and garages with notification appliances installed in the bedrooms and other areas necessary to meet audibility requirements.

Once a complete system is installed, the contractor can offer connection to an alarm-monitoring center to help ensure the fire department is notified. These monitoring centers offer agreements where the contractor can receive a reduced monitoring fee allowing for a profitable recurring revenue stream to the contractor.

Electrical contractors have the advantage to work directly with the owner of each home where they provide the electrical installation and thus have the opportunity to increase their contracts by offering more than minimum code required smoke alarms. Given the fire history of homes, your offer should be welcomed. EC

MOORE, a licensed fire-protection engineer and a director of operations for Hughes Associates Inc., Warwick, R.I., was a co-editor of the National Fire Alarm Code Handbook.


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...

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.