That's Good Enough

We have all heard the phrase “That’s good enough for government work!” Whether said in jest, sarcasm or resignation, it implies you have done all you’re going to do, and the result will just have to suffice. In the world of fire alarm systems, the phrase implies the system you just finished may not represent your best effort, but it will probably pass the final acceptance test, which is all the customer really cares about anyway.

I must ask: What do you think about that statement? Have you ever uttered it?

During a conversation with one of my daughters, I got to thinking about quality issues. She had hired a contractor to perform some renovation work on her home. She continually communicated with the GC with only adverse results. It was apparent that the GC had not instructed his subcontractors as to her expectations of quality. When she did speak to the subcontractors about their work, they told her it was good enough to pass inspection. 

During my reviews of fire alarm system installations, I find too many instances where it becomes painfully obvious the installing technician did not receive enough (or maybe any?) training on the proper way to install cable. I predominantly find National Electrical Code (NEC) violations. Even if I assume I could point out those violations to the technician and he or she could fix them, the overall installation quality remains so poor that I’m afraid touching one wire will shut down the system or cause a false alarm.

In stark contrast, I occasionally find a system installation where I open the panel to find all wires are “dressed” at right angles, perfectly terminated, and cable tied to eliminate the proverbial rat’s nest.

When I open a panel and the wires jump out at me, I know the final acceptance test will take longer and will probably fail the first time. When wired like this, I know the technician did not complete the wiring in an orderly fashion. I won’t expect to see wire markers or any form of color-coding.

Naturally, the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) will be upset, because inspecting this kind of a poorly installed system will waste his or her time. Of course, such a system will upset the owner if he or she can’t get the certificate of occupancy on time.

The rat’s nest of wiring also tells me the technician had to continually troubleshoot the installation, trying to chase down grounds or opens. You can always bet on the fact that, if the technician has wired the fire alarm control unit like a rat’s nest, the technician did not wire the rest of the system much better.

This issue also tips off the AHJ to specifically look for common wiring errors. The AHJ will write these errors up and cause the first attempt at an acceptance test to fail. For example, because the technician does not know the NEC, he or she will attach the fire alarm cable to existing non-related raceway using plastic cable ties. This practice violates the NEC.

In Chapter 12, NFPA 72 states, “The installation of all pathway wiring, cable, and equipment shall be in accordance with NFPA 70 … .” In Section 110.12, the NEC requires technicians to install electrical equipment in a “neat and workmanlike manner.”

Furthermore, most of you already know ANSI/NECA 1 2010, Standard Practice of Good Workmanship in Electrical Construction, and other ANSI-approved installation standards, describe accepted industry practices. These documents help technicians learn how to properly install electrical systems.

Although, in some instances, a technician does not need to install fire alarm wiring in metal raceway, the NEC addresses the mechanical execution of work in Article 760.24, stating, “Fire alarm circuits shall be installed in a neat workmanlike manner. Cables and conductors installed exposed on the surface of ceilings and sidewalls shall be supported by the building structure in such a manner that the cable will not be damaged by normal building use. Such cables shall be supported by straps, staples, cable ties, hangers, or similar fittings designed and installed so as not to damage the cable. The installation shall also comply with 300.4(D).”

Jump back to Article 300.4, which covers the protection against physical damage, stating, “Where subject to physical damage, conductors, raceways, and cables shall be protected.”

Both NFPA 70 and NFPA 72 require the installation of all systems in a neat and workmanlike manner. The codes do not allow “that’s good enough” wiring, and neither should we. Let’s all make a commitment to train the fire marshals to know the difference between a system installed in a workmanlike manner and one that should not pass inspection, even though it may appear to work.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. He is a vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office and can be...

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