Fire & Life Safety: CAD Trends and Features

CAD programs assist in the execution of fire and life safety plans and drawings.

Autodesk allows the architect the option to save their drawings in formats other than the dwg format. I now call or email the architect and ask them to send me a simple floor plan drawing, showing the names of the rooms and spaces, in the Adobe pdf file format (with a 100 percent success rate, I might add). I then open the Adobe pdf in Acrobat, crop the borders around the drawing, including any notes and other information leaving me with only the floor plan. I then perform a “Save As” and choose a high quality jpg image format. Visio (and other similar software drawing programs) will allow you to “import” a jpg as a background image. I then re-size it to fit my printer paper and position it on my drawing ‘page’ to save room for a key and wiring notes. I then protect the imported image, by not allowing it to be re-sized or moved once I have inserted it on my page. With these parameters in place, I am free to drag and drop my own fire alarm symbols onto the floor plan image and connect them with my wiring symbol. Visio allows the wires to glue to the symbol/shapes. This way, if you need to move a symbol on the drawing, the wires will move with it. Connecting the symbols in this way allows you to forgo creating a separate line/riser wiring diagram. Like Autodesk, Visio has a ‘viewer.exe’ program you can send along with your drawings so that others (who don’t have the software) can review them. Or you could just save your drawing, complete with fire alarm symbols, as a pdf or jpeg to send as an email attachment.


Other options for the designer

You might also want to take a look at Smart-Draw, as it is in the same price range as Visio. Marketing by both software vendors seems to promote the diagramming and flow chart capabilities over their drawing features but rest assured, they are both capable of creating the type of simple drawings smaller alarm companies use most. As a bonus, both Smart-Draw and Visio have trial versions for you to download before you invest your time and effort.

When shopping for a computer-aided drawing program, always look for your selection to include a “Bill of Materials,” or BOM feature. A good software drawing program can create this for you automatically. This is accomplished by attaching a product description and/or model number to the symbols you use when you layout each fire alarm system. When you are finished creating your drawing, the software will be able to print a schedule, listing the quantities of each piece of equipment used in the drawing by referencing the symbols you used. The drawback is that you will have to create a separate drawing symbol for each possibility. The possibilities include all combinations of strobe light candela ratings, each horn type, each type of speaker, etc. multiplied by each manufacturer of equipment you specify. This must be done for both wall and ceiling models, where appropriate. While the symbol for a horn-strobe will look the same on the drawing, you may have 30 of them to choose from in your inventory of symbols, based on their BOM descriptions (which you create). For example, when you select an outdoor-rated, 75-candela weatherproof horn-strobe, then drag and drop it onto the outside wall of the building floor plan, the software will silently add a quantity of “one” followed by its make/model number and your own description (which will include the required gasketed back-box), into the BOM you create when you’re finished with the layout.

If you plan to prepare your own fire alarm system drawings, you will need to own a good, flexible, easy-to-learn drawing program. Ask other company owners what they use, or check out the ones mentioned here. As always, the features being advertised will only benefit you if you are able to make use of them. Do your homework and buy a program that will save you time and money in the long run.



Greg Kessinger is SD&I’s longtime resident fire alarm and codes expert. His column is the longest, continually running contribution in the history of the magazine. Kessinger can be reached at