Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is your high end homes fire system working?

Three Million Dollar plus + Homes.
With Fire and Security Systems Worth .03 cents

I normally do not do residential work but occasionally get a call from a desperate home owner and even alarm company owner to try and resolve issues with an advanced Fire and Security system in a home. The problem is that these bigger homes need a commercial grade panel which can handle all the zones and points of protection.
While most alarm installers can handle the lower end fire/burg panels normally used for residential work, when it comes to big homes these panels are totally inadequate for them so you need to go into a high end panel which are normally used for commercial work. The problem is these higher end panels have many features and technologies in them the average installer has never seen and does not understand. Now this should not be a problem the panels come with full documentation and there are classes available for free for installers to learn how to install these panels. But unfortunately alarm company’s do not spend the time required to produce good installers and techs and as a result most of there people are mediocre in skill sets which often results in tragedy. How ever every once in a while myself and other master trouble shooting technicians get there before the tragedy is allowed to occur.
The problem starts with the alarm salesman who does not understand what he is selling or designing with a high end home.
High end home owners want more advanced fire protection than 120 volt ac smokes with back up 9 volt batteries which provide very good protection but are limited because they are not supervised to warn of troubles and not capable of alerting the authorities to a fire. When you own a million dollar home you want the fire dept there now not later and with in 4 minutes a fire can get totally out of control. When you own a million plus home it is not filled with Second hand furniture so besides your loved ones often valuable antiques and collections are also put at risk.
So home owners instead of the normal 120 ac smokes will have installed commercial grade smoke detectors which are supervised by a main panel with back up power and reports to a central station any problem in the system it is immediately reported to central so a tech can be dispatched to find out what is wrong. Well that’s the way it is suppose to work but too many times it does not and there have been many cases where million dollar plus homes and very valuable collections have been destroyed and no fire signal was ever activated or sent. Which has resulted in home owners and there insurance carriers filing major lawsuits against alarm company’s often winning big dollar amounts.
Ok so your saying to your self are homes not suppose to be inspected and permits issued etc . by the local authority how can these homes be built and never inspected and tested by the local authority? That’s a very good question and the answer is many times inspectors will issue a temporary occupancy permit to allow a high end home owner to move in and the inspector is suppose to make sure all safety systems are in and working before issuing the permit and then they are suppose to come back with in 30 days for a follow up but in the 3 houses I have worked on 2 in PA. 1 in OH this was not the case .
The systems in all 3 houses I worked on where in over 1-2 years and never worked properly leaving the home owner with no protection in a house so big a fire could start and not be known about till it is too late to call 911.
Especially when you are not going to use the 120 volt ac powered smokes then you must follow completely NFPA 72 rules for the fire system to meet state codes here in Pa and OH
This includes using red jacketed Fire cable but all 3 homes I worked in the installers used standard burg wire.
The smoke detectors used should either have individual sounders in them which all come on at once or there needs to be supervised sounders in a general area loud enough to be heard all thru the home 15 decibels above ambient noise.
In all 3 cases this never happened as well.

Case No 1# A large Million plus home in a well known resort community in Fayette county Pa.
Home owner contracts with a mid regional Pa. alarm company to install a complex fire and burg system. In addition the home is sprinklered because this is a replacement home
The first home burned to the ground.
The home owner moves in sprinkler accidentally freezes and activates alarm never goes off.
First problem panel is programmed wrong. And wrong loop type was used alarm never sounds and never trips to central station after examining the rest of system I find all of the 4 wire smoke detectors not wired correctly for proper supervision with end of line power relays and resistors . The result there are 6 fire alarm zones and none are correct.
I take fire system wiring off the panel and put in a separate residential fire panel with supervised sounders and with a cellular back up system as phone lines are out more than there on in this are especially in winter. By separating the systems I am now assured a signal will get thru. And none of the bad things the installers did on burg side will affect it.
Shortly after I did this work a few months later in my local paper I saw this company who installed this system was in fact being sued for a fire in another million dollar home on other side of state I wonder why?
One of the big problems is the installers and techs installed this system but never once uploaded it with a lap top or other computer to check all the programming or they instantly would have found the problem. It is suicide to not have your techs or people at service side to not have computer upload capability to be able to look and know you properly programmed a panel mistakes can be easily made and just as easily corrected when you use the software provided for free by the manufacturer.

Case No 2# Marshal Twp Pa. in this high end community. This installer was actually jailed for all the bad work he was doing but not for bad work but for being a con artist who took money and never finished.
In this home the installer tried hooking up 120 volt ac smokes to a 12 volt DC fire /burg panel. The smokes worked when you pushed buttons but it seemed like once a month the home owner was changing 9 volt batteries and burg end of system was never finished.
Needless to say 120 volt smokes are for 120 volts AC not Dc.
I took all of these smokes down and put in smokes with sounders which all come on at once and are properly wired and supervised, as this house is so big a general sounder would never be heard. This is also a problem is installers putting in these sounder smokes with out the proper reversing relay to sound them all which I have written about in a previous article. When I went up to talk to fire marshal to show him what I found he was familiar with the situation and individual involved and the township was after him for not filing permits etc. like I said he was eventually arrested and did time for being a con artist.
Case No 3#
An alarm company owner called me because he had a special client whose business he did and has a very high end home in the Ohio river valley area.
His installers are very good at installing the lower end panels but they where stumped by the high end panel they installed. Could I come over and help them out. Sure I said and he made sure one of his best installers was with me so he could follow me and learn the panel as well as the software as they where just getting up to speed with it.
Well his installer was very good and we started by uploading the panels memory to see why the wireless key fobs would not work. This is usually a programming issue. Well there where some really big problems first the fobs where all programmed wrong and the wrong receiver was installed easy enough fix.
But then we saw that both fire loops where disabled in the programming a very big problem. So we reactivated the loops and everything starts going off loop 1 the smokes are in alarm and loop 2 the heat detectors are in trouble.
We check the smokes first and find that the installers had mistaken the addressable smoke detectors as being usable on a 2 wire loop wrong. The dipswitches should have clued them off they where addressable or a simple look at instructions or call to tech support
With the model number would have solved the problem but NO instead just turn them off. This is exactly what they did needless to say both have been terminated by there employer for this. To correct this we put the wiring on the correct terminals for addressable devices and terminated the fire loop for smokes with a resistor as it was not needed for this application. Then we looked at the heat loop and found 2 problems first they had both a resistor in series and a second in parallel in a fore loop you only need one paralleled on the end so we took the resistor out and still had problems. Ok what’s going on? After putting my meter on resistance and reading the loop I was seeing 10,000 ohms instead of 2000. We found the end device and in fact the wrong resistor was on the loop these 10 K resistors do not even come with the panel where they got them who knows? But before we left everything was checked out and tested and we made sure the panel was sending its test signal every 30 days as NFPA 72 requires.
When it comes to big multi million dollar homes you would think an alarm company would want to do above average work for the customer but as you can see this is clearly not the case. These high end panels should not even be sold to those who can not install them you should have to be certified or some other means be able to show you can properly install them and while a couple manufacturers do this most do not, so you have a total mess when it comes to those who own high end homes.
What I find especially bothersome is in Ohio you can not do any kind of commercial Fire work with out a license so I never expected to find this problem in a high end residential home. Again I ask the question where wear the inspectors?

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