Typically my column addresses concerns of the commercial fire alarm system market. However, many have asked what I see ahead for the residential fire alarm market, so here goes.
The current widespread adoption of cellular communication technology to fire/security alarm systems will be a winner. It uses an existing technology and a service provider under the control of the alarm company. On the other hand, I can see the possibility for IP monitoring to fall into the hot-tub category; still sold, but to a smaller market. I fear a questionable future for alarm companies building a customer base using the various service providers of managed and non-managed networks. If the alarm companies have to contend with the different types of on-site equipment and various transmission methods/protocols, under the control of, well, no one, IP communications in the residential market may suffer a slow death. Right now, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (NFPA 72) has it on life-support with arguments for code changes and newly proposed amendments which would affect its future use. Time will tell if direct radio communications or wired IP "cloud" technology will dominate. The initial cost appeal may give IP a head start, but may become more costly in terms of service overhead and customer attrition.
It's easier to see a clear trend in residential fire protection by watching the codes and standards. Looming large on the horizon is the coming of residential fire sprinkler systems for one- and two-family homes. There's even talk of requiring monitoring of these residential fire sprinkler systems. Even if the codes don't require monitoring, many will choose the monitoring so they don't have to worry about water pouring through their home while they are away. All of this will shake out soon by amendments and changes to the 2013 edition of NFPA 72, or the one-and two-family home sprinkler standard NFPA 13D. If not, our state/local codes may make those calls.
Education is the key, moreso now
Education for residential fire alarm protection will soon become a requirement for anyone installing or testing residential fire alarm systems. There is a new annual testing requirement for residential fire alarm and detection systems in NFPA 72. Prior to the 2007 edition, professional testing was only required to be performed every three years. I foresee the test and inspection chapter of NFPA 72 to add certification requirements for the "professional" testing of these systems. In fact, the Electronic Security Association has already created a new Residential Fire Alarm Course. Passing this course and its exam will provide service and maintenance technicians with a new specialization. More on this may be found on the "Education and Training" section of the ESA Web site at www.esaweb.org.
Greg Kessinger is SD&I's longtime resident fire expert and regular contributor to the magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.