Grill The Fire Expert: Choosing Residential Notification Appliances

Oct. 27, 2008

Q: There are a lot of different types of notification appliances for residential fire alarm systems. How do I know if I am using the right audible appliance for the panel I am installing?

A: Fire alarm control panels (FACP) for use in residential occupancies are made to meet a different standard than commercial fire alarm panels. UL985, the Standard for Household Fire Warning System Units, delineates all the electrical features, operation, safety functions and other requirements needed to meet the residential rules in NFPA 72. When UL evaluates these units, all of the panel’s devices and accessories are assembled according to the installation instructions the manufacturer submits with the panel. Verifying the installation instructions are correct is part of the listing process.

If a siren driver is built into the FACP, for example, then the manufacturer would submit a speaker to be connected to the panel during testing. If the panel supplies voltage out during an alarm, then the siren/sounder submitted will be tested for proper operation under the conditions outlined by UL985 for the control unit. Household fire warning control units, modules, keypads, and similar devices are submitted to UL for rigorous testing. When a manufacturer’s installation instructions show a special installation method or particular device, then you can be sure UL tested it as a unit before allowing the control unit to display the UL Listed mark.

UL‘s Fire Protection Equipment Directory lists the companies whose products have been evaluated by UL and found to meet the UL requirements for a particular product or service. The primary fire alarm category is SYKJ “Signal for Fire Alarm Equipment and Services.” In this section, you will find the product category “Control Units and Accessories – Household System Type (UTOU).” Here it states that UL985 is the basic standard used to investigate products in this UTOU product category.
In UL Standard UL985, “Household Fire Warning System Units,” you will find a requirement for residential sounders in section 58.1:

“An alarm sounding appliance, either integral with the household control unit or intended to be connected separately, shall provide a sound output equivalent to that of an omnidirectional source with an A-weighted sound pressure level of at least 85 decibels at 10 feet…”
To meet this requirement, the manufacturer either has to have an integral 85dB sounder or provide one to be tested with the control unit that is wired separately, as an accessory.
In section 77.3 of UL985, it states:

“The following information shall appear on the installation wiring diagram for the applicable circuits to which field connections are made…
b) Alarm Indicating Circuits – The manufacturer, model number, method of connection, and maximum number of indicating devices that can be connected.”
This requirement means that you have UL’s assurance that the accessories shown in the control panel’s installation instructions have been approved for use with that panel. You can locate a list of these devices by looking in the UTOU (household) category of the UL.

Greg Kessinger, SET, CFPS, president of an alarm installing company since 1981, teaches NICET training classes to fire alarm system designers and installers and continuing education seminars for Ohio’s fire alarm inspectors. You can reach him at 888-910-2272; e-mail: [email protected]; or visit his website at