Life Safety Relies on Code Adoption

Life Safety Relies on Code Adoption

This piece was originally published in the May 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Richard Roberts, Industry Affairs Manager, Honeywell  Security and Fire

The public is safer as a result of the 2015 editions of the International Fire Code (IFC), International Building Code (IBC), and International Building Code (IRC). Collectively known as the I-Codes, they protect the public by incorporating the latest advancements in technology and techniques. They are updated every three years to align with new technologies and techniques.

One significant change helps first responders quickly identify the exact location of an activated initiating device during an emergency and reduce unwanted alarm activations by pinpointing the problematic device. The change replaces the traditional fire alarm system zone requirement with a point identification requirement.

Previously, the IFC and IBC required each floor of a building to constitute one fire alarm zone, and additional fire alarm zones were required if the floor area exceeded 22,500 square feet. The 2015 code now requires all new fire alarm systems to identify the specific type of initiating device, its address, location, and floor level, as well as indicating whether the initiating device is in alarm, trouble, or supervisory condition.

Smaller fire alarm systems are exempted from the point identification requirement, provided that the building is less than 22,500 square feet, the system has only manual pull stations, the system has only water flow switches, special initiating devices do not support individual device identification, or fire alarm systems or devices are replacing existing equipment.

This new requirement should result in more addressable fire alarm systems being installed.

Minimizing Unwanted Alarms

Several changes were made in an effort to reduce unwanted smoke detection activations from normal cooking activities and steam from bathrooms. There are new requirements for the specific placement of smoke alarms or smoke detectors in close proximity to fixed cooking appliances and in close proximity to bathrooms containing a bathtub or shower.

New requirements for the placement of smoke alarms or smoke detectors specify distances to cooking appliances and bathrooms containing a bathtub or shower. Illustrations courtesy of Honeywell Security and Fire

Smoke alarms or detectors are prohibited from being installed less than 10 feet from a fixed cooking appliance. This 10 foot area of exclusion is shaded in gray in the figure above. For smoke detection that is installed between 10 feet and 20 feet from a fixed cooking appliance, the IFC, IBC, and IRC require the device to be equipped with an alarm-silencing means or use photoelectric technology.

The smoke alarm or detector is represented by the red dot in the figure below. Even though the requirement does not specifically call out ionization technology, ionization alarms or detectors are only permitted to be installed between 10 and 20 feet of a cooking appliance if they have an alarm silencing means, more commonly referred to as a hush button. Photoelectric detectors are not required to have a hush button. The new requirement also prohibits smoke alarms and detectors from being installed less than three feet from the door to a bathroom with a shower or bath tub.

There is an exception to the 10-foot area of exclusion. In many small living spaces, it may not be possible to place a smoke alarm or detector greater than 10 feet from a fixed cooking appliance. For example, the code requires smoke detection to be installed outside each bedroom. However, if the door to the bedroom is less than 10 feet from a fixed cooking appliance, it is not possible to maintain the 10-foot area of exclusion. For these applications, the code permits a photoelectric alarm to be installed up to six feet from a fixed cooking appliance.

Photoelectric devices may be installed up to six feet from a fixed cooking appliance.

Unwanted alarms are the leading cause of occupants disabling their smoke alarms, and roughly 20 percent of all smoke alarms installed in United States homes have been disabled. That percentage may be greater in high-risk areas, such as inner cities and rural communities. Cooking activities such as pan frying, baking, and sautéing are the leading cause of nuisance alarms. While both ionization and photoelectric devices are subject to nuisance alarms from normal cooking activities, ionization technology is more likely to generate nuisance alarms when installed too close to a cooking appliance. That’s why proper installation is critical.

Carbon Monoxide Protection

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,[1] each year more than 400 persons die and more than 20,000 are injured every year in the U.S. from accidental carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

There have been at least 19 incidents of high levels of CO at schools since 2007,[2] and perhaps as many as 60, according to an informal NEMA survey based on publicly available media reports. Only California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York have laws requiring CO detection in K-12 schools.

One of the most effective ways to reduce the incidence of CO poisoning is to ensure that detection devices are installed in places where people live, work, sleep, and study.

To protect students and faculty from serious injury or possibly death from unintentional non-fire-related CO exposure, the I-Codes require all new K-12 schools to install CO detection. This new requirement is consistent with the CO requirements that were added to the 2012 edition of the IFC/IBC for new hotels, apartment buildings, dormitories, nursing homes, and hospitals.

Protecting the Public

Another change protects people in restaurants, bars, banquet halls, night clubs, and cafeterias from asphyxiation from carbon dioxide (CO2) dispensing equipment. A CO2 leak will displace oxygen and has caused death from asphyxiation. Chapter 5307 of the IFC requires either a mechanical ventilation system or an emergency alarm system to be installed in rooms containing beverage dispensing equipment with more than 100 pounds of CO2.

It is essential that jurisdictions adopt the 2015 model fire and building codes, as the consequential changes will enhance public life safety.


[1] Unintentional Non-Fire-Related Carbon Monoxide Exposures—United States, 2001–2003. CDC. January 21, 2005 / 54(02);36-39

[2] “Schools lack alarms to warn of deadly carbon monoxide,” USA TODAY, Dec. 5, 2012


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