Fire Alarm System Upgrade

Q: I am doing a renovation project in our hospital and the area of renovation is 50% of the total building area. Part of the renovation scope is a fire alarm system upgrade. Is there any code or standard requirement that the fire alarm devices in the remaining 50% of existing building should be upgraded also before it can be occupied? 

A: Your question involves the fire alarm system in the existing area of the building which is not being renovated, and asks if the fire alarm system in that remaining 50% of the existing building should be upgraded as well, before the building can be occupied.

First let me say that this is a question that does not have a direct answer, from either the Life Safety Code (2000 edition), or the NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm Code (1999 edition). When there is not a direct reference to a question in the codes or standards, then the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) must be consulted for their interpretation. This means you need to contact the AHJs who have authority over the design of your fire alarm system and ask them how they interpret the issue. A hospital typically has 5 or 6 different AHJs that should be consulted:

  • State health department or agency on public health
  • State fire marshal
  • Local fire department
  • Local building authority
  • Insurance company

Having said that, it appears to me that you may not have to replace the devices in the existing area of the building that is not under renovation. Section 1-2.3 of NFPA 72 (1999 edition) says this: “Unless otherwise noted, it is not intended that the provisions of this document be applied to facilities, equipment, structures, or installations that were existing or approved for construction or installation prior to the effective date of the document. EXCEPTION: Those cases where it is determined by the authority having jurisdiction that the existing situation involves a distinct hazard to life or property.”

So, as long as the existing devices are still in good working order and do not pose a hazard to life or property, it appears to me that you do not have to upgrade them in your project. However, as I said, it really doesn’t matter what I think: All that matters is what the AHJ say. So, please consult with them for direction.