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Life Expectancy Of Fire Alarm Systems

One of the most important systems that are quite often overlooked in a building is the Fire Detection and Alarm System (FDAS), yet it is critical in protecting both the building and occupants from smoke and fire. Unlike other systems the FDAS usually sits quietly monitoring its devices and ensuring that we all remain safe in whatever it is we are doing. It’s not until either someone activates a Manual Call Point (MCP) or a device detects heat or smoke that we are actually aware it’s even on!

Every year the fire and rescue service are called out to over 600,000 fires which result in over 800 deaths and 17,000 injuries, the majority of these could be prevented with properly installed and maintained fire detection and alarm systems. But what about equipment life expectancy, how is this detrimental to system performance?

Legislation and British Standards already determine which building should have a Fire Detection and Alarm System installed, they even provide guidance on maintenance intervals and what these inspections should consist of, but even the British Standard provides no guidance on when these systems should be replaced. In more recent years the FIA have provided a guidance document which clarifies the requirements of British Standards.

The reasoning behind why these recommendations are required is that all electronic components have an MTBF (Mean Time before Failure) figure associated with them. Along with years of experience by the manufacturers, this MTBF is used to determine actual life expectancy of system components. This life expectancy doesn’t mean that once this period has elapsed the product will cease to function, but means that it will become less reliable and more likely to become faulty, false activate, or not perform as per the original specification.

Think of it in this way, how many people own a computer? The answer is probably the majority of us, now how many of us have owned and used on a daily basis that same computer for over 10 years? The answer is probably not many of us, that’s because over a period of time system performance is reduced. This may be upgraded software or system failure, but that computer basically contains the same components as many modern day fire alarm systems!

Climate, usage and application can all have a detrimental effect on many components of a FDAS, for instance, the life of a battery. If the Fire Alarm Panel is located in a building which is quite remote and prone to mains failures, the system battery could be repeatedly completely drained, or even left discharged for periods of time, then this will have a detrimental effect on its overall life span and should be replaced more frequently. Electrolytic capacitors are contained in the majority of system components and, due to evaporation of the electrolyte, have a life expectancy of approximately 20 years under normal circumstances. In addition detectors also have other components that have an even shorter life span. CO detectors contain an electrochemical cell that is expected to have a life span of no more than 7 years, optical detection devices contain an LED that is used in the devices smoke chamber to detect light scatter. This LED will have reduced performance over time, and as such these devices should be replaced when over 14 years old.

Now what happens when these systems become old? The overall system performance will decrease and spares will be harder to source, so system down-time may be increased. The Fire and Rescue Service (FaRS) may be called out to an increased number of unwanted fire signals which could lead to an enforcement notice being issued. All this can quite easily be mitigated by ensuring that the system maintenance company are approved, and accredited to the relevant 3rd party accreditations.

Accreditations such as BAFE ensures that your service and maintenance provider meets the required level of competence to carry out work on these life safety systems, and by working with them you can ensure your systems remain as reliable as when they were originally designed and installed.

TIS can assist you with all of this by providing a system health and condition survey, which could highlight any potential system components which are reaching their end of life, allowing adequate budgets to be put in place.

Contact our service and maintenance team on 01623 425 805 to book in a system health and condition survey for a special introductory rate of £150.00.

29th March 2017

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