Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer - Describing How It Works
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What Is the Difference Between Conventional and Addressable?

Like a light switch, a conventional fire alarm system sends signals by turning on and off the electricity. Like a computer network, an addressable system sends signals by sending packets of data.

An addresssable system doesn't supersede or replace a conventional system; an addressable is a conventional system with an addressable signaling system added to a conventional system.

By Douglas Krantz

Conventional Fire Alarm System

The word conventional doesn't mean "Old and Obsolete"; the word conventional means "Sanctioned by General Custom". The conventional fire alarm system is the standard way, or ordinary way of making a fire alarm system.

Addressable Fire Alarm System

The "Addressable" portion of a fire alarm system isn't a replacement for a conventional fire alarm system; the "Addressable" portion is an added communication system inserted into a conventional fire alarm system.

For Programming Purposes, what is the Difference Between a Conventional System and an Addressable System?

The address number for an addressable fire alarm system is an identifier. Just like zone inputs 01 through 10 is used for a conventional fire alarm system, inputs 01 through 99 are used with an addressable fire alarm system. For programming purposes, the difference in this example is that an addressable system uses 99 zone inputs instead of just the 10 zone inputs for a conventional addressable system.

In conventional fire alarm systems, I have seen 1 input fire alarm systems up to 52 input fire alarm systems; in addressable fire alarm systems, I have seen 9 input systems up to more than 4000 input systems.

Remember that the numbering of the inputs and outputs are only labeling of the inputs and outputs. The numbers for a conventional fire alarm system may be inputs 1 to 5 and outputs 1 to 3; the numbers for an addressable fire alarm system may be detector inputs 01 to 99, or L1 D001 to L2 D125 and modules (both inputs and outputs) L1 M001 to L2 M125.

With so few inputs and outputs on a conventional panel, messages on the screen can only lead firefighters to an area of the building. With so many inputs and outputs on an addressable panel, messages on the screen can lead firefighters to an exact location in the building.

For programming purposes, the only difference between a conventional system and an addressable system is the quantity of numbers. The rest is all command instructions in the software. Hybrid panels, ones that have both conventional inputs and outputs and addressable inputs and outputs, intermix the conventional and addressable inputs, and they intermix the conventional and addressable outputs.

Regardless of whether a system is conventional or addressable, or even whether the system is relay based, discrete component based, or computer based, the basic programming command for any fire alarm system is still always the same: "When a specific input goes into alarm, certain outputs activate".

For Wiring Purposes, what is the Difference Between a Conventional System and an Addressable System?

An addressable system doesn't supersede or replace a conventional system; an addressable is a conventional system with an addressable signaling system added to a conventional system.

Keep in mind that all circuits that are connected to addressable input modules are conventional; all outputs connected to addressable output modules are conventional. All addressable input devices, like detectors and pull stations, are conventional devices with addressable modules inside them; all output devices, like addressable strobes, speakers, and horns, are conventional devices with addressable modules inside them.

As far as wiring goes, one difference between what's called an addressable system and a standard conventional system is the number of wires coming into the addressable system is reduced. In a conventional fire alarm system, all inputs and outputs are located inside the control panel. Because all inputs and outputs are in the panel, many wires come into the panel.

In an addressable fire alarm system, some inputs and / or outputs are located in the control panel, and many inputs and / or outputs are located elsewhere in the building. The addressable detectors and modules are connected to the panel as a group on a single or just a few communication systems (like the Signaling Line Circuit or SLC, wireless, fiber optics, computer style networking, etc.). Because most inputs and outputs are elsewhere in the building, only a few wires come into the panel.

Because a conventional fire alarm panel has so few inputs and outputs, many devices are connected to each input or output. Because an addressable fire alarm panel has so many inputs and outputs, each device can have its own input or output.

Firefighters notice a difference because, rather than showing just the zone of the fire, they get a detailed display showing which device has detected a fire. The same with a technician trying to find the device in trouble. In a conventional fire alarm system, the technician sees which zone has a device in trouble; in a addressable system, the technician can see which device in a zone is in trouble.

For Troubleshooting Purposes, what is the Difference Between a Conventional System and an Addressable System?

The troubleshooter for a conventional fire alarm system only has to be concerned with:
The troubleshooter for an addressable fire alarm system, as well as being concerned with conventional wiring, panels, and devices, also has to be concerned with:

Bottom Line: Addressable fire alarm systems aren't different than conventional fire alarm systems, addressable fire alarm systems are conventional fire alarm systems with addressable features added to the conventional system.

Based on his electronics training, and his understanding of Life Safety, Douglas Krantz has compiled his knowledge of Conventional Fire Alarm Systems into the book Make It Work - Conventional Fire Alarms. The book covers the basics of the Conventional Fire Alarm System, and shows how Life Safety and internal supervision affects the fire alarm system.

Douglas Krantz -- Fire Alarm Engineering Technician, Electronic Designer, Electronic Technician, Writer

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