In the Summer of 2018, I was tasked with performing on-going construction inspections for renovations to a number of K-12 schools.  The idea was to continually monitor the construction as it was taking place and produce reports to the school district’s project managers to head off any issues related to progress, work not complying with the Contract Documents, and work of unacceptable quality along the way.  School districts typically schedule construction over the Summer when students are on break, and these projects were no exception. The District had issues in the past of undesirable work going unnoticed until the punch, which then created the logistical problem of how to fix the work when the Summer window was over (and classes were back in session). Since Stevens & Wilkinson was in charge of renovating the schools, the District expanded the scope to include bi-weekly construction visits to help eliminate this problem.

Five (5) of the projects I was tasked with inspecting were fire alarm system replacements to existing schools. I performed about 40 inspections total at varying stages of the construction process, which gave me the experience of a deeper look into the nuts and bolts of fire alarm system installations than my career had provided me thus far. I created a “Fire Alarm Installations Inspections 101 Checklist” based on my personal experiences in the field, which are outlined below. The adopted codes for these projects are NEC 2017 and NFPA 72-2013.

 

  1. Locations and Types of Equipment and Devices.
    • Check the installed locations of all equipment (i.e. panels, power supplies, microphones, etc.) and devices (i.e. pull stations, smoke detectors, horns, strobes, bells, flow switches, tamper switches, etc.) against the locations shown in the drawings. Sometimes installation locations need to change based on field conditions, and sometimes the contractor will make these changes without informing the engineer. When this happens, check to make sure that each changed/adjusted location meets code, required coverages, and design intent.
    • When checking the locations of devices, check the type of each installed device (i.e. strobes, horns, horn/strobes, speakers, speaker/strobes, etc.) against the drawings as well.
    • Check pull stations to make sure they are installed within 5’ of each exit doorway per NFPA 72-17.14.8.4 (See Figure 1 for an example). I also recommend taking a tape measure to a pull station to confirm proper mounting height – the operable part must be between 42” and 48” above the finished floor per NFPA 72-17.14.5.
    • Check to make sure there is a notification appliance within 15’ of the end of each corridor and a separation between appliances not greater than 100’ per NFPA 72-18.5.5.5.5 (See Figure 2 for an example). A quick way to spot check these distances is to count ceiling tiles.  I also recommend taking a tape measure to a wall-mounted notification appliance (if any are present on the project) to confirm proper mounting height – the entire lens must be between 80” and 96” above the finished floor per NFPA 72-18.5.5.1 (if not using a performance-based alternative per NFPA 72-18.5.5.6).
    • If duct smoke detectors are not resettable from the fire alarm system, check to make sure that remote indicators with reset switches are provided in accessible locations per NFPA 72-23.8.5.4.6.4. Check the installed locations against the Contract Documents as well, as there may be additional requirements on location and accessories in there.
    • Check to make sure smoke detectors are located at least the minimum distance away from supply and return air diffusers that are listed in the Contract Documents. If no distance is listed; 3 feet is a reasonable minimum distance.
    • Check to make sure device hardware (i.e. wire guards, bubble covers, door holds, etc.) is installed where specified. In renovations, make sure the contractor provides new hardware rather than re-using the existing where required by the Contract Documents.
  1. Installation of Fire Alarm Cabling and Pathways.
    • Check to make sure that the cabling is installed in the type of pathways (i.e. conduit, j-hooks, cable tray, free air, etc.) the Contract Documents call for. There may be different requirements for concealed and visible locations.  If j-hooks are used, check to make sure the j-hooks are spaced per the Contract Documents.
    • If the cabling is sharing pathways with any other systems, check to confirm that the type of systems being shared with is allowable by the Contract Documents and NEC 760.48 / 760.139.
    • Check the ends of sleeves and unterminated conduits to make sure bushings are installed per NEC 760.3(K).
    • Check the markings on the installed cable against the Contract Documents for size and color and against the Contract Documents and NEC 760.53 / 760.135 for type (NPLFP, NPLF, FPLP, FLP, CI, etc.). The types of cable allowed vary based on installation location, so it is best to check a cable at each different location type.
    • Check the markings on the installed cable against the Contract Documents and NEC for the following:
        • Size. NEC 760.49 and 760.142 list of minimum size requirements.
        • Color. While there is no NEC requirement on cabling color, the local jurisdiction may have a requirement.
        • Type (i.e. NPLFP, NPLF, FPLP, FLP, CI, etc.). NEC 760.53 and 760.135 list the types allowable for various installation locations. It is best to check an installed cable at each different location type to verify conformance.
    • Check for paint on the cabling. If you find any, check if the Contract Documents and local jurisdiction allow this (many do not because it can affect the fire rating of the cable jacketing).
    • Check each penetration through fire-resistant walls, partitions, floors, and ceilings to make sure fire-stopping is installed per NEC 300.21 (See Figure 3 for example). Check the type of fire-stopping used against the Contract Documents to make sure an allowable method is being utilized.
    • Check the cabling throughout the building to make sure it is installed in a neat, workmanlike manner per NEC-760.24(A) and that its installation does not deny access to electrical equipment behind panels and ceiling tiles per NEC-760.21. Check to make sure cabling that is installed in free air is adequately and independently supported to structural members (not by other systems) and strapped down so as not to be damaged by normal building operation (See Figure 4 for example). Check the spacing of strapping against the Contract Documents (if any requirements are listed).
  1. Labeling and Cosmetics of Installation.
    • Check to make sure cabling and devices are labeled based on what is written in the Contract Documents.
    • Check to make sure that painting around wall-mounted devices is neat and clean. It is common to find paint either on devices or not close enough to devices. It is also common to find paint missing from behind wire guards and bubble covers.
    • Check to make sure devices and test switches cut into ceilings and ceiling tiles are cut in a neat and clean manner.

 

Stevens & Wilkinson - Fire Alarm System Installations Inspections 101 Checklist
Figure 1 – Pull station not within 5′ of exit doorway
Stevens & Wilkinson - Fire Alarm System Installations Inspections 101 Checklist
Figure 2 – Notification appliance not within 15′ of the end of corridor
Stevens & Wilkinson - Fire Alarm System Installations Inspections 101 Checklist
Figure 3 – Conduit through rated wall is not fire-stopped
Stevens & Wilkinson - Fire Alarm System Installations Inspections 101 Checklist
Figure 4 – Fire Alarm cabling is supported by other cabling and systems

 

 

 

 

 

We hope this list is helpful to you and your clients.  Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments.


About the Author:

Dan Boland - Stevens & Wilkinson - Atlanta, GADaniel A. Boland, PE, LEED AP: Dan has a diverse project experience, specializing in the design of K-12hospitality, restaurants, retail, and LEED-certified projects. He is also proficient in Revit MEP, AutoCAD, SKM Powertools, and LEED project planning and execution.