A Buyer’s Guide to Fire Alarm Systems

When you are choosing a fire alarm system for commercial premises or a residential building, you will come across three main options: non-addressable, addressable and wireless, and your choice will depend on numerous factors.

When you are choosing a fire alarm system for commercial premises or a residential building, you will come across three main options: non-addressable, addressable and wireless, and your choice will depend on numerous factors.

Fire alarm systems

Fire alarms are clearly one of the most vital safety and security measures for any type of building. In this post, we are exploring the three different types of fire alarm to help you decide which may be most appropriate for your particular building, as well as looking at the regulations surrounding fire safety in the UK.

What is a fire alarm system and what are the legal requirements for fire alarms in the UK?

A fire alarm system is a collection of devices that work together to detect heat, smoke, fire, carbon monoxide and other hazards and to warn people of impending emergencies.

Property owners are required under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, as amended by the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022, to make sure premises reach required standards of fire safety.

Fire alarm systems are required in the majority of non-residential buildings, including common areas of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), blocks of flats and maisonettes.

Unless you can answer ‘yes’ to every one of these statements, you will need a fire alarm system within your premises:

  • Are your premises small, simple, single-storey or open-plan?
  • Could a shout of ‘fire!’ be easily heard by all occupants?
  • Are your premises free from vulnerable occupants, for example older people, very young people or people with disabilities?
  • Are your premises free from high-risk substances, such as chemicals?
  • Are your premises free from any high-risk activities, such as cooking?
  • If a fire broke out anywhere in your premises, would you be able to spot it?

Even if you can answer ‘yes’ to all of the above, it is still recommended that you should have a smoke alarm or heat alarm in any room where a fire could potentially start.

The best way to understand your individual risks – and stay within the law – is to complete a Fire Risk Assessment.

What are the different types of fire alarm system and which do I need?

Ensuring the right fire alarm system is chosen is a key responsibility of the building’s designated Responsible Person. As well as the fire alarm system, consideration will also need to be given to the alarm response, the escape route, emergency and exit lighting, sprinklers and fire doors.

The fire alarm you choose depends on your particular premises. Current UK fire alarm regulations state that all business premises must be fitted with ‘an appropriate fire detection system’. This means that if there’s a fire, there must to be a way for that fire to be easily detected, and occupants easily alerted.

There are three main types of fire alarm systems:

Non-Addressable Fire Alarm Systems

Non-addressable fire alarm systems are usually the option of choice for smaller properties such as small offices, restaurants and retail premises.

This type of system consists of a control panel which is connected to a range of compatible devices such as heat detectors; smoke detectors; multi-sensor detectors; relay modules; bell modules and sounders.

Once a device is activated, the control panel will indicate the activated zone for the location of the incident. So that the part of the premises affected can be easily identified, a zone chart will be displayed next to the control panel.

Addressable Fire Alarm Systems

Addressable fire alarm systems again consist of a variety of detectors and devices, all connected to a central control panel.

The difference with this type of system, however, is that each individual device has its own location or address. This means the precise detector that has been triggered can be instantly identified, with no need to refer to a zone chart. For this reason, addressable fire alarm systems are perfect for larger buildings and premises that are spread across an expansive area, allowing you to know precisely where the fire is.

Addressable fire alarm systems offer a range of benefits over non-addressable systems. These include reduced instances of false alarms; greater reliability; faster detection of the location of a fire and more control over programming. In fact, these systems can be configured so that a specific action triggers a particular response.

For example, where a detector in a certain area of a building picks up signs of a fire, it will trigger alarms in set areas, and in other areas the system will be put into alert mode. This allows for a much safer, phased evacuation, where priority areas are evacuated ahead of others that are further away from the central area of issue.

Addressable fire alarm systems also offer the advantage of individual monitoring for faults, which makes it a lot more straightforward to maintain the system. When there is an issue with any of the devices, the central control panel will display where that issue is located, so enabling it to be quickly rectified.

Wireless Fire Alarm Systems

The individual devices that make up a fire alarm system are usually connected to the control panel by means of fire resistant cable. However sometimes, cabling is not desirable, or simply just not possible, for example in the case of listed and heritage buildings, and properties of public interest such as museums.

Cabling is also not a convenient option for temporary sites and properties under renovation, which still require fire safety measures.

Wireless fire alarm systems offer a solution, and when planned, installed and maintained by experts will offer a viable alternative to wired addressable systems. Technically advanced systems are available that comply with the various required safety standards.

The wireless detector devices that make up the system are designed to offer a long battery life for the ultimate in reliability, and are connected via radio waves. The control panel is fully programmable in the same way as those of a wired addressable fire alarm system, making it suitable for large buildings and, in fact, premises of all sizes.

What are fire alarm system ‘grades’ and ‘categories’?

There is a complex system of ‘grades’ that define how a fire alarm system should be constructed (grades), and ‘categories’ which determine the areas of the building it should cover.

The best way to discover the most appropriate fire alarm grade and category for your particular building is to seek advice from a reputable, accredited expert.

Who should I choose to design and install my fire alarm system?

It comes as a surprise to many, but there are currently no legal minimum qualification or training requirements for those wishing to set up themselves up as ‘fire alarm designers’.

This is why it is crucial to ensure that the company you choose is accredited by a professional body.

To ensure proven credibility, the certification body offering accreditation needs to have been validated by UKAS (the United Kingdom Accreditation Service). Such bodies include The National Security Inspectorate (NSI), and the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB).

This accreditation provides peace of mind that the company you’re trusting with peoples’ lives is a true expert, and that they will ensure the fire alarm design is appropriate to your premises and its individual levels of risk. They will also ensure the alarm system meets the technical standards demanded by the British Standards Institution or suitable equivalent.

Tailored Advice on Fire Alarm Systems from Barry Bros Security

At Barry Bros Security, we have been tailoring safety and security systems for businesses across the Capital and beyond for several decades.

If you are considering your options for a new fire alarm system, why not talk to one of our helpful experts? We will visit your premises and provide bespoke advice on the very best system to suit your particular needs and of course, to ensure you meet your legal obligations.

As an NSI Gold accredited company, you can rely on our expertise and enjoy full reassurance of standards compliance.

To get in touch, you can visit at our London showroom where our security specialists will be able to attend to you personally, or give us a call. We look forward to being of assistance.

How Can We Help?

Regardless of the type of premises you are looking to protect, Barry Bros Security has the solution. Contact us today for expert advice and the benefit of decades of experience in the security industry.