Fire Alarm Systems into Old Buildings


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Historic buildings pose unique challenges when it comes to installingand implementing fire safety alarms. This is because the techniciansare expected to install the systems in a manner that does notinterfere with the building’s fabric integrity, while at the sametime, ensuring that the system functions efficiently. As such, thereis a need to have a complete evaluation of the building and thesystem itself, which sets ground for decision making. Given theevolution of the modern systems, technicians are always faced withthe challenge of balancing between modern systems and preservation ofthe building’s structural and historical integrity. As such, thereare three step into the accomplishment of this task. They includeinstallation of the system, design considerations, installationapproaches and management of the system.

Beforeembarking on the task, the technicians have to obtain the building’sblueprints and floor plans, to guide them through the entire process.The plans have to be updated and as accurate as possible. The aim ofdoing this is to ensure that there is no wastage of time andresources throughout the exercise. Secondly, the technicians have tochoose from a number of designs which are available, and decide uponthe best applicable to the building. These systems have differentways of drilling and fitting, all which have implications for thebuilding’s stability. Thirdly, the technicians have to choose anappropriate installation approach. These are to ensure that there areno structural problems to be faced once the system has beeninstalled. Finally, there have to be plans to manage the system afterinstallation is complete, to ensure that necessary maintenance isconducted to avoid damage to both the system’s functionality andthe building’s structural integrity.


Some of the challenges in renovation and maintenance of old buildingis installation of fire alarm systems. Different types of structuresface almost a similar concern when it comes into installing new firealarm systems. For instance, the engineers and electricians have todetermine how to replace the existing fire alarm systems withoutresulting in major or noticeable changes to the building, which mayequally result in a maintenance nuisance (Andrews, Bevins &amp Seli,2003). At the same time, the security managers and fire people haveto understand the code of compliance and other regulatory concerns.There is need to have a comprehensive evaluation of the building andthe system, which creates a platform for decision making andexecution of the plan. Given the technicality if the modern systems,and structural requirements for optimum performance, there are anumber of issues which have to address so as to successfully installthe system. This paper looks at how fire alarm systems can beimplemented in to old buildings while at the same time maintainingthe overall original look and feeling to the building.

Implementingthe system

The first step to safely implementing the fire alarm system withoutchanging the look and feel of the building is obtaining the originalblueprints and floor plans. These plans have to be accurate andupdated, should there have been any structural adjustments that mayhave been implemented since the building was finished. This not onlysaves time and effort while implementing the system, but ensuringthat the system is effectively installed and functions without anyhitches, besides maintaining the structural integrity of thebuilding. Other extra benefits of beginning with this step includekeeping inventory of structural assets of the building and ensuringthat the security assessments are well maintained (IBC, 2006). Thebuilding plan will also help the engineers installing the system toadvise the management on how to maintain the system and ensure thatit keeps working for a long time.


To keep aligned to the objective of not changing the general outlookof the building itself, there are a number of design considerationsthat have to be taken care of. Of these, the most important is thephysical impact of the new system to the historic fabric of thebuilding. When undertaking retrofit work, there has to be drilling ofholes and fitting of anchors into the walls and ceilings (Purkiss,2013). These have serious implications to the building’s stability.The technicians have to ensure that the components are installed in areversible manner and that further adjustments and movements can bemade without compromising the building’s historic integrity. Thesemeans that the cutting work and fixations all have to be carefullydone. Some of the precautions that are supposed to be taken includekeeping in mind that some holes, such as those drilled into unpaintedwood, cannot be fully repaired, and may end up changing thestructural fabric of the building.


Modern fire systems, for purposes of efficiency in operations,include a number of pipes which transmit water throughout the entirebuilding in equal force (Ramachandran, 2002). As such, there are anumber of designs that are considered when installing the system. Asfor the pipes, it is recommended that timber enhancements be used tocover the pipes, and instrument treatments be used to controlleakages. This is because leakages have been identified as theleading causes of destruction to old buildings (Brown, 2005). At thesame time, when upgrading is being done, the performance of thetimber installations has to be evaluated, to ensure that they performtheir function without interfering with the structure of the buildingand the integrity of the system. Similarly, the technicians have toensure that they install the fire alarms at critical junctions wherethere would be minimum disruptions to the paneling of the building.In order to do this effectively, advised may be sought from historicbuilding specialists, who have experience in working with suchdelicate structures.

Managementof the system

Installing the fire alarm system is only the first step in securingand protecting the building. There has to be established a managementsystem to ensure that all suitable protective measures, both to thebuilding and to the system, are ensured. For old buildings, Gottuk(2012) says that a robust system is one which has a well-drawn outmanagement plan, which caters for all risks which might be faced andis efficient n protecting both the integrity of the system and thestructure. In regard of this, there are a number of key points whichhave to be incorporated. First, the system has to be regularlyreviewed to note any effects to the building. Secondly, maintenanceschedules have to be put in place to ensure that the system and thebuilding’s structure stand in place without any affecting theother. There also have to regular upgrades to ensure that while thebuilding’s structure is maintained, latest technology is embracedfor the system.


Andrews, P. L., Bevins, C. D., &ampSeli, R. C. (2003).&nbspBehavePlusFire Modeling System: Version 2.0: User`s Guide.Fort Collins, CO: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, RockyMountain Research Station.

Brown, M. H. (2005).&nbspEconomicanalysis of residential fire sprinkler systems.US Department of Commerce, Technology Administration, NationalInstitute of Standards and Technology.

Gottuk, D. T. (2012).&nbspVideoimage detection systems installation performance criteria.Springer Science &amp Business Media.

IBC, I. (2006). Internationalbuilding code.&nbspInternationalCode Council, Inc.(formerly BOCA, ICBO and SBCCI),&nbsp4051,60478-5795.

Purkiss, J. A., &amp Li, L. Y.(2013).&nbspFiresafety engineering design of structures.CRC Press.

Ramachandran, G. (2002).&nbspTheeconomics of fire protection.Routledge.