Fire & Life Safety: Hotel/Motel Fire Alarms and Detection

Oct. 28, 2014
Get the most out of smoke and fire annunciation devices

The average new hotel or motel can be a fairly easy entry-level commercial fire alarm project for a properly licensed and insured company with limited fire alarm experience. Even though these projects can be larger than an average store or business, much of the installation is repetitive from floor to floor (note that buildings with more than seven floors are considered high rises and are thus not entry-level projects).

Hotel and motel fire alarm systems often need to incorporate safety control functions such as elevator recall, sprinkler system connections and sleeping room ADA-compliant visual appliances. While most commercial occupancies do not have provisions for smoke detection, hotels and motels have requirements for both smoke alarms and smoke detectors.

A common contract requirement for one of these jobs might read: “Activation of room system smoke sensor shall immediately and automatically sound an alarm (three pulse temporal pattern) within the room of incident and annunciate at the front desk.”

Smoke Alarms & Warning Systems

This annunciation of smoke alarms can be accomplished a couple of different ways. In new construction, an intelligent system of smoke detectors may be used to provide the required alarm and detection normally provided by single-station or multiple-station 120 VAC smoke alarms, even though the minimum — and most often provided arrangement — is to install a UL 217 smoke alarm in each guest room. How you meet code is up to you; and the AHJ will check that it has been met. Keep in mind that the code is not equipment-specific — the code language is based on results. Any listed equipment, installed per the manufacturer’s printed instructions, located as required by the adopted codes and standards, performing measurable/verifiable actions, will meet code. Plan approval will pave the way for you.

For new installations, the use of an intelligent, addressable fire alarm system could perform the local warning function traditionally provided by in-room smoke alarm(s). Intelligent systems can provide the occupant notification using a sounder base on the system smoke detectors installed in each guest room or suite. A sounder base located in that room, or all sounder bases located in the same suite, would address the requirement to cause a temporal-three signal when any of the smoke detectors in that unit activates.

This is the same operation as provided by a single-station smoke alarm or interconnected multiple-station smoke alarms, and is the function specified by the building and fire codes.

To satisfy the building owner’s requested annunciation of the in-room smoke alarms at the front desk (remember, NFPA 72 states the owner is also an AHJ), the in-room detectors could be programmed to cause a “supervisory signal” at the front desk, even though an “alarm signal” will be produced in that particular room or suite. Silent Knight’s SD505-6SB sounder base is able to be mapped to activate whenever the building’s fire alarm system activates, which eliminates the need for system sounders to be installed in each guest room/suite.

Attention fire chiefs reading this column: Ask your kids or their friends the first thing they do when they stay at a hotel/motel for a party or wedding? Don’t be surprised if they say “Take down the smoke alarms.” Using system-type smoke detectors in place of smoke alarms will have this all-too-common practice (yes, across the country) immediately exposed at the front desk. When 110 VAC smoke alarms are disconnected, nothing happens because there is no supervision of the smoke alarms.

Encourage system-type detection in all tenant sleeping areas, and reduce the risk associated with the malicious disabling of 110 VAC smoke alarms.

Trouble Signals

Q. An existing hotel wants to monitor the guest room smoke alarms (individual and interconnected 110 volt AC smoke alarms without relays of the same model) at the front desk. The facility has 12 two-bedroom guest suites with three detectors in each suite interconnected using a third conductor that causes all three to sound if any one of them senses smoke. The owner doesn’t want to change out every smoke alarm — how can I annunciate these existing guest room smoke alarms at the front desk when they activate?

This can be done a couple of ways. Keep in mind that this is not a function or feature required by the building or fire codes — it is an ancillary function that the hotel/motel owner wishes to incorporate into their building management model. Since it is not a regulated fire safety function, the supervision of wiring is not mandated.

The latest edition of NFPA 72 identifies these circuits as “Class E,” and the failure of the wiring path between the smoke alarm relay and the front desk will not cause a “trouble signal” if it should fail. Since any failure of this wiring will not cause the failure of a code-required life-safety function, a trouble signal is not required to be indicated. These annunciator systems are merely providing a “nice-to-know” function for the building owner. Existing smoke alarms can accomplish this using a listed relay made for this purpose.

If you are using smoke alarms, CO alarms, or heat alarms made by BRK or First Alert, or any of the more than 21 smoke alarms (including heat and CO alarms) manufactured by Kidde, then a UL-listed relay may be used for remote indication of individual guest rooms or suites whenever these alarms activate. Both relay modes require 120 volt AC input to operate, but since they are not required by code, standby power is also not required for these ancillary devices; however, hotels and motels are permitted by the IBC to eliminate the use of standby batteries in their smoke alarms if they connect the smoke alarms to an emergency power source. When the hotel/motel uses this emergency power option, the annunciation of guest room smoke alarms will also continue to operate during power outages.

If the hotel/motel owner will not provide an emergency power circuit for the smoke alarms, then consider using the Gentex 9000/9003 series smoke alarms. These models have built-in relays that will operate during loss of primary power. The Gentex model 9123 uses an auxiliary relay and also provides a temporal-three sounder. Guest rooms or suites that need more than one smoke alarm will, of course, require interconnection so that all the smoke alarms sound within the unit and remotely annunciate whenever any one of them activates. Note that interconnected smoke alarms are not required to have their temporal-three signals synchronized.

Greg Kessinger is SD&I’s resident fire alarm and codes expert and a regular contributor. Send him your fire & life safety questions at [email protected].