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Fire Alarm Regulations

New Fire Alarm Regulations to Watch for in 2021

If you’ve been keeping up to date on our insights for the alarm installation market, you know that we’ve recommended taking a look at ongoing updates to fire alarm systems as opportunities for new marketing and supplemental work throughout the year.

Since alarm regulations are often implemented year by year as legislation goes into effect, that means that 2021 will see new requirements go into effect that could provide alarm installer with even more work. Depending on the area, 2021 looks like it will be a fruitful year for these changes and the remodels or new products that go into them. Here are the top changes to look for and how to take advantage of them.

Wired, Always-On Alarm Requirements

These smoke detector device rules are become increasingly common across all states, with requirements taking effect for several years now even as the latecomers catch up. Such laws require fire alarms – smoke detectors in new developments, in particular – to be wired to house systems instead of battery-based so that they cannot be manually turned off or forgotten. Newer legislation also requires any remodels of existing buildings to retrofit these smoke detectors to keep everything up to code.

In buildings or locations where wired detectors are not required, there may be specific codes that require certain types of reliable batteries for smoke detectors. This also allows installers to offer advice and retrofitting deals for older buildings that are being renovated.

The Rise of “Nuisance Smoke” Regulations

We mentioned that states are passing regulations so that smoke detectors can’t be turned off. Why would someone do that in the first place? The most common reason is “nuisance smoke” or false alarms that register minor issues like cooking smoke or even hot steam. If smoke alarms are set to contact a fire department or monitoring center, even more time and money are lost.

This is why new standards are arriving to deal with this issue directly by mandating more technologically advanced fire alarms that prevent nuisance smoke triggers. Usually, these alarms contain more sensors with better detection features that can compare data input and make more informed decisions about whether or not signals add up to a real fire. The more common these features are, the more they are being considered by insurance companies, state agencies, and other organizations as a way to make fire alarms more dependable and user friendly – which is why you may be seeing many more mentions in the coming year.

The New “Pillow Test” Regulations

This is another regulation we’re expecting to grow in 2021, especially in urban areas and other situations where one fire alarm may be used for multi-family residences or similar situations. The pillow test is a general term for fire codes that mandate that the fire alarm must be loud enough for all residents to hear – and specifically, loud enough to wake up any residents that may be sleeping.

The pillow test has become a growing concern because fire departments have noted that lives have been lost in certain types of buildings because people sleeping there simply didn’t hear the alarm. This tends to happen when multi-family residences or other buildings were created several decades ago, and their older fire alarm systems are no longer sufficient for build needs. New regulations require alarms with decibels around 75, or decibels a certain level about ambient, and may also require alarms to sound for a specific period of time (barriers between residents and alarms taken into consideration).

The details of these regulations may bear further study. For example, some laws require pillow test retrofitting only if an owner is making a renovation above a certain price point ($50,000, in the case of San Francisco), or if the building was recently sold in the past few years. Information like this can help installers target their marketing and service offerings more accurately.

New Sprinkler and Retardant Systems

Along with upgrades to fire alarm systems, look for additional changes or retrofits that may be required in the same area, which could be a supplemental part of the project.

Some of these regulations are updating fire retardants based on what kind of rooms are in the building (especially if remodels have added those rooms). For example, if a builder wants a permit for remodeling a building with an open attic, more regulations are requiring new fire insulation and draft stops. More pertinent to installers that don’t offer insulation installation, other standards are focusing on including sprinkler systems as part of fire alarm retrofitting in an apartment or commercial buildings.

Conclusion: Where to Look for Upcoming Fire Alarm Changes

If you aren’t sure how regulations are changing in your local area, your city should keep an updated registry of building codes and a site with notifications for any upcoming changes. These resources are used by developers and contractors throughout the area, and they will be able to point you to the best sources of information for any upcoming changes. If your area hosts any meetings or forums for local contractors and construction/development, it’s also a good idea to join those and get a better look at how trends are progressing, so you know where to focus advertising dollars in the future!

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