Ask the Security Alarm and Monitoring Expert

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Q:
Are alarm companies required to install Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listed alarm equipment?

A: Your question has no simple answer. First, there is no law of the land that requires the general public to use UL listed equipment. You don't need to buy a toaster that bears a UL label. You don't need to buy Christmas lights that bear a UL list. Yet, it is prudent to do so. UL writes minimal standards for virtually all equipment categories. At least you know someone is checking this equipment against a safety standard.

UL does not approve nor endorse products. As the word "listing" implies, UL literally maintains a "list" of products in various categories that have been tested to meet the requirements of the appropriate UL standard.

There are several reasons why it is prudent the use UL listed products. The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires installed equipment to be "listed for the purpose." Many local codes refer to the NEC and the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) will be looking for listed product, especially where fire alarms are installed. Certainly, if a UL certificate needs to be issued for an insurance company requirement, not only will listed equipment be required, but the way it is installed, monitored, maintained and responded to will also be predetermined.

Another very important issue is the liability aspect. Should a system, for whatever reason, fail, an expert witness in a lawsuit will look at the fact that a national standard exists in a particular category: i.e., the National Fire Code (NFPA 72) and various UL standards. Your company has a better chance at limiting liability when you elect to use UL listed equipment and install the correct UL listed equipment for the application it is being used.

A common misuse is with a control panel that is listed for commercial and residential burglary and residential fire use. Very often, this equipment finds its way into small commercial installations doing duty on the burglary and fire side. The equipment is clearly not listed for commercial fire installations.

Will the system work? Of course it will. But wait until a problem occurs. NFPA 72 requires a measure of transmission redundancy and other requirements. So, if a communication trouble occurs or a fire renders the one communications path of a residential system inoperative, the result could be catastrophic.

The main function of commercial fire alarms is the protection of property. This is not to say that evacuation of a building's occupants is not considered important. The primary function of a residential fire system is the evacuation of a dwelling's occupants. The codes are so written.

Why get caught in court when the alternative is simply to use UL listed equipment and use it for its intended application?

Louis T. Fiore is a consultant from Sparta, NJ. He is Past President of CSAA (1997-1999) and President of L.T. Fiore, Inc. His practice includes the use of wireless and the Internet for alarm monitoring, as well as regulatory issues for security systems in general. He also serves as Chairman of Central Station Alarm Association's (CSAA) Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) and Standards Committee. He is the current chairman of the SIA's Security Industry Standards Council (SISC) and a long-time member of the Supervising Station Committee of NFPA 72. Send your questions to Lou.Fiore@secdealer.com.

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