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There is no shortage of organizations predicting what the construction market will look like in 2014. We have all experienced how poorly predictions may work out in some areas (e.g., the weather). So, if we want to rely on somebody’s prophecy, we need to ensure they understand the construction market well enough.

The Gilbane Building Co.’s December 2013 “Market Conditions in Construction” report offers one reliable source of prognostication. Of course, this company knows construction; its employees live it every day. Gilbane had good news, predicting construction markets would show an increase in 2014.

Gilbane’s 2013 end-of-year prediction states that the residential market will beat the 2012 residential starts by 24 percent. The company conservatively forecasts that this same market will grow by 13.6 percent in 2014. In contrast, Gilbane predicts that the market for office buildings and healthcare buildings will increase 7 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively. 

The residential statistics include new single-family homes and multi­family units. With more new construction, you will need to remain aware of any code changes that may affect you and your bottom line. The code requires the residential market to have some form of fire detection and alarm systems. Depending on the size of the building, the code requires multifamily properties and college dormitories (R-2 occupancies) to have fire protection systems installed, normally automatic sprinklers. The building code requires the building fire alarm system to monitor the automatic sprinkler system with the alarm, and it requires supervisory and trouble signals to be sent to a supervising station.

The International Building Code 2012 Edition (Section 907.2.9.3) requires college and university R-2 occupancies to have an “automatic smoke detection system that activates the occupant notification system” with the minimum protection in specific locations as follows:

The code goes on to state, “Required smoke alarms in dwelling units and sleeping units in Group R-2 college and university buildings shall be interconnected with the fire alarm system in accordance with NFPA 72.”

Any professionals reading this will immediately say, “You can’t install smoke alarms on a fire alarm system.” Obviously, this presents a challenge.

In choosing the specific language for this requirement, the building code has apparently confused listed smoke alarms with listed smoke detectors equipped with a sounder base that can provide a local alarm signal emanating from each smoke detector.

The listing of “smoke alarms” under UL 217, Standard for Single and Multiple-Station Smoke Alarms, does not anticipate the connection of smoke alarms to fire alarm system control units. Smoke alarms typically consist of stand-alone devices powered by connection to 120 volts (V)alternating current with a 9V battery standby built into the device. These smoke alarms have provisions for connecting to other smoke alarms to form multiple-­station smoke alarms, but they do not have provisions for connection to a fire alarm system control unit to sound an alarm. NFPA 72 2013, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, defines “smoke alarm” as “A detector comprising an assembly that incorporates a sensor, control components, and an alarm notification appliance in one unit operated from a power source either located in the unit or obtained at the point of installation.”

The people who developed the code language probably intended to reference a system smoke detector listed under UL 268, Standard for Smoke Detectors for Fire Alarm Systems, with an audible base that a technician can program to provide a local alarm signal at the detector—­similar to the alarm signal provided by a smoke alarm—but connect to the building’s fire alarm system. When such a smoke detector actuates, its programming will initiate a supervisory signal at the fire alarm system control unit and sound a local alarm signal at the detector itself. In a single residential living unit, the programming can sound the local alarm signal at every smoke detector in the living unit when any of them actuates. A building evacuation alarm signal would become actuated whenever a second smoke detector actuates within the same living unit or when a smoke detector installed in a common area actuates.

Many manufacturers provide listed smoke detectors that will perform as outlined above. The fire alarm system control unit will monitor the integrity of the wiring. Removal of a smoke detector from its base will actuate a trouble signal at the fire alarm control unit and, if so connected, at the supervising station. The popularity of this particular fire detection strategy has increased over the years because it allows the college or university to know when students try to tamper with a smoke detector in their rooms.

Regardless, as a contractor, you still have the challenge of convincing the building official that the building code has used the wrong term. Hopefully, this information will make your job easier.

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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