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Understanding the Different Types of Fire Alarm Systems Available

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It doesn't matter if you are installing a brand new fire alarm system or simply upgrading an existing one, it is important to be aware of and understand the different types of commercial fire alarm systems that are available. Each system works differently, and knowing the ins and outs of each one helps you understand the right choice for your building.

Categories of Alarm Systems

There are two main categories of fire alarm systems: automatic and manual. Automatic fire alarms are designed to send an audio-visual signal (such as a siren and strobe light) when they detect heat or smoke. Manual fire alarms, on the other hand, have pull stations set up around the building that can be pulled whenever someone sees or smells a fire.

Types of Fire Alarm Systems

With several types of commercial fire alarm systems available, it is important to know the features and differences between each one. Once you fully understand all of the available options, you can make the best possible decision for your building. System types include:

  • Analogue-addressable fire alarm systems: Also known as intelligent alarm systems, these fire alarms provide details on individual detectors and are designed specifically for large commercial premises and complex network systems. Analogue-addressable systems have higher intelligence, scope of control, and speed of identification. They require less cabling than more conventional systems and each call point or detector has a unique address, meaning that the fire control panel receives information from each individual device. These systems tend to be more expensive than others.
  • Aspirating smoke detection systems: Though aspirating systems are technically detection systems, they are incredibly sensitive and have the ability to detect even the smallest of fires faster than other systems. They utilize a fan and network of sampling holes and pipes to draw in air from around the building. The air is analyzed as it passes through a sensitive precision detector and if smoke particles are detected a warning signal is generated.
  • Conventional fire alarm systems: These fire alarm systems are commonly found in smaller properties and are less expensive than other alarm systems. Often referred to as four-wire systems, conventional fire alarms divide a building into detection zones that have call points and detectors hardwired to the control panel. Unlike analogue-addressable systems, where each detector has a unique address, a conventional system can have multiple detectors in a single zone. When a detector is activated, the control panel indicates the zone that the alarm originated from, but the zone has to be searched in order to find the specific device that was set off.
  • Hybrid fire alarm systems: A combination of the addressable loops of analogue-addressable systems and the hardwired zone features of conventional systems, hybrid fire alarm systems often fit settings better than either analogue-addressable or conventional systems.
  • Two-wire fire alarms systems: These systems are based on conventional alarm system technology and also designed for smaller operations. They cost more than conventional four-wire systems, but the installation cost is low and they have a faster response time and more flexibility.
  • Wireless fire alarm systems: This system may cost more than others, but it offers more flexibility and provides the same level of protection. It is extremely useful in buildings where wired systems are either unsuitable or not possible. Plus, with no cables, there is no need for long-term cable testing.

Components of a Fire Alarm System

There are several components that go into a fire alarm system, each one integral to its overall performance.

  • Control panels: This is the brain of the entire system; it constantly monitors the detectors installed throughout a building. Fire control panels can perform a range of activities whenever fire conditions are detected, such as closing fire and smoke doors, initiating fire and smoke handling operations, and sounding evacuation and fire alarms.
  • Initiation devices: Pull stations, sensor-activated detectors, and waterflow monitors are all devices that activate fire alarm conditions. Some systems require manual activation, while others have automatic elements that trigger the alarm. Whatever the setup, initiation devices are an incredibly important aspect of all fire alarm systems.
  • Notification equipment: This includes audible and visual alerts, such as flashing lights, sirens, and voice instructions detailing exit plans.

There are also additional accessories and features available for fire alarm systems that may be useful or necessary depending on the age and type of building. Gas and smoke detection options are available with some systems, with the ability to detect either in the building and/or throughout the ducts. Emergency door holding features that immediately release all fire doors are also an option, as well as emergency elevator recall systems that bring elevators directly to the ground floor and prevent them from opening on any floors where fire is detected.

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