Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer - Describing How It Works
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Do we Have to Provide Extra Wiring and Power Supplies?

Do we Have to Provide Extra Wiring and Power Supplies?


Greetings Douglas,

We are doing several large apartment buildings. The electrical engineer has designed the system with a standard horn strobe in each living room. Also, they want a junction box and wiring for future strobes on bathrooms and low frequency horn/strobes in the bedrooms.



The disagreement is as follows:
  • Do we have to provide NAC [Notification Appliance Circuit] booster panels to power all the possible future devices that may or may not ever be added?

  • Does the living room device have to be low frequency just in case someone may sleep on the couch?

  • Is it acceptable for bedrooms to be wired for future devices, in case a handicapped person rents the apartment, or are the bedroom horn strobes required to be installed now?

Thank you, DS

Many Layered Issues

The issues here are many layered, and at the onset look confusing. They are, though, based on the bidding process, the current and future practicality, and who really has authority over the fire alarm system.

The Bidding Process

The Request for Bid shows what to bid on. The more detailed the Request for Bids, the more level the playing field for all the bidders.

If the engineer says the equivalent of "Make sure the fire alarm system meets the NFPA Code", anyone bidding just a fire alarm system will far underbid someone who adds a lot of extra power supplies, wire, and junction boxes.

On the other hand, if the engineer says the equivalent of "Make sure the fire alarm system meets the NFPA Code, and include extra power supplies, wire, and junction boxes", then all bids will come back with this included.

The playing field is a little more level.

Current and Future Practicality

It looks to me that the engineer is making sure that the current Codes are met. At the same time, the engineer is looking for future additions that might have to be made to the system. Because the engineer is really being paid by the property owner, the engineer is trying to save money for the owner - in the long run.

I have seen where apartment units have been upgraded to handicapped units. The upgrade isn't pretty.

At the same time, where only a certain number of units in the building have been built to handicap standards, if all the handicapped units are already filled, either the new handicap renters have to wait for a unit to become available, or move into a unit that isn't handicap ready.

Then again, an old apartment unit could be upgraded to be handicap accessible. Often the wires and power supply capacity just aren't available. Upgrading the power supplies and wiring in an already occupied building is very expensive. It's far cheaper to anticipate future needs while the building is being constructed than to upgrade an occupied building.

To save the property owner a lot of cost in the long run, the engineer seems to be anticipating small upgrades to the fire alarm system, one apartment at a time.

Who has the Authority to Decide?

The NFPA Code is a publication produced by the not-for-profit organization National Fire Protection Association, Inc. (NFPA). As such, the many publications of the NFPA are a set of very good reference books showing the bare minimum way to protect from fires. They are written in language to be copy/pasted into the legal code of governments. Hence, in the title, the word "Code" follows words "NFPA 72".

When a government decides to copy/paste the NFPA Code books into their legal code, the publications of the NFPA change from reference books into the law of the land.

The fire marshal is a representative of the government, so the fire marshal has the authority to enforce the legal code of the law, including the NFPA; the fire marshal is an Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

Definition of AHJ

In the beginning of the NFPA 72 Code, the NFPA defines what is meant by the word AHJ as it is used in various parts of the NFPA 72 Code book. Remember, this is written as legal code, and anyone reading this needs to be a lawyer to fully understand what is really meant.

Intention of the Definition of the AHJ

The writers of the NFPA Code know how hard it is to read the "Code", so in the back of the Code book, in the Appendix A, many of the paragraphs of the "Code" are expanded on, and more fully explained.

Here, included in the AHJs' definition, the explanation includes the fire marshal, the electrical inspector, the building official, and many other government representatives. Also included is the insurance company representative. The NFPA goes so far as to say that in many circumstances, the property owner or their designated agent assumes the role of the Authority Having Jurisdiction.

The property owner hired an architect, who hired an engineer. That means that the engineer is a designated representative of the property owner, and is an Authority Having Jurisdiction or AHJ.

Thoughts Behind the Definition of the AHJ

OK, OK. The NFPA 72 Code does not indicate the need to install all this extra wiring, along with the extra power supplies. The NFPA Code only indicates what is absolutely needed to have a bare minimum fire alarm system.

In the publication NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code Handbook, the thoughts of the actual writers and editors of the NFPA Code are included. The Handbook includes every word of the Code itself, and places the explanatory Appendix A information with legal paragraph it is referring to. This handbook is also packed with pictures and diagrams showing what is meant in the Code.

Needed to understand the Code, sometimes the thoughts of the writers show what the Code was intended to do. In defining the AHJ, they say that sometimes an AHJ has more requirements for a project than is shown in the NFPA. The bottom line is that we, the installers of fire alarm systems, follow the more stringent requirements: the NFPA Code or the AHJ.

This is how the engineer has legal authority to request more. If the engineer, who is a designated representative of the property owner, wants more than what is shown in the Code, the NFPA says that is what is supposed to be done.

NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code Handbook

On the www.nfpa.org website, along with the NFPA 72 Code book, is the NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Yes, it's more expensive. But when trying to understand the NFPA 72 Code, I find it darn well worth the extra expense.

I've also used the National Electrical Code Handbook. That, too, I find to be darn well worth the extra expense.

Douglas Krantz

facpdoug@douglaskrantz.com
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