No smoke without fire

Martyn Walley of Aico looks at the benefits of interconnecting domestic smoke alarms with third-party safety systems and how best to achieve this.

Domestic smoke alarm systems used to be pretty much selfcontained affairs – you couldn’t add accessories to a system (there were none to add in any case), you couldn’t integrate them with other alarm systems, and you certainly couldn’t interconnect to third party equipment. To do that required a commercial Part 1 system, which is entirely unsuited to the vast majority of residential properties, not to mention expensive.

Smoke alarms have developed considerably over the years, from improved response times through to greater system flexibility. This latter aspect in particular has had a considerable impact for landlords, especially in social housing. Now there are a raft of valuable system add ons, such as alarm control switches and the ability to connect smoke alarms to other systems.

Integrating alarm systems

In what circumstances would you want to connect a domestic fire alarm system to what is essentially a commercial one? The answer: when that Part 1 panel-based fire alarm system is fitted in the communal areas of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and apartment blocks. In this instance the individual apartments would be fitted with a BS5839 Part 6 domestic smoke alarm system. If this is triggered, it will only sound within that individual flat.

To maximise safety and ensure the communal alarm can be heard within each property, it is beneficial to integrate the two alarm systems so that the Part 1 communal system will activate all alarms throughout the entire building if a fire is detected, but does not allow individual flats’ alarms to activate those in the communal areas or within other tenant’s homes.

In case of emergency

Telecare/Warden Call Systems are commonplace in dwellings for vulnerable people and are an important tool to let people live independently in a safe environment, but in most situations they are not connected with the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in the property. If a fire was to start or there was a CO leak, the alarms would activate but external assistance would not be sought, and this could be fatal.

The ability to integrate these different systems means that if an alarm goes off, an emergency signal can be transmitted directly to the Warden Call system and on to the Alarm Receiving Centre if used. Assistance to evacuate the property, if necessary, can then be provided quickly for maximum safety and peace of mind. Sprinkler systems are another solution that are becoming more commonplace in domestic properties.

In Wales, they are a legal requirement in all new build homes. Connecting the smoke alarm system to the sprinkler system offers clear benefits: if the sprinklers activate, an alarm can be triggered throughout the property providing occupants with plenty of time to evacuate.

Pain-free connection

It’s not always a straightforward process to connect smoke alarms with third-party systems. In fact, remarkably few can genuinely claim to do so. Most will only be able to achieve this through the use of relays, which will work but, as they haven’t been specifically designed for this purpose, may limit what you can do and how you do it.

Instead of utilising an existing product and adapting it to work adequately, Aico has approached the challenge by researching what customers really want to achieve from integrating alarms with third party systems and developed a specific solution that accommodates those needs.

This has led to the introduction of our Ei414 Fire/CO Alarm Interface, which provides a dedicated connection between Aico smoke and CO alarms and third-party safety systems. The connection to the other system can be made wirelessly with radio frequency (RF) or via hard wiring directly between the two devices. The Ei414 Fire/CO Alarm Interface itself features Aico’s award winning RadioLINK RF technology. It can be powered directly from the mains or from a 12-24V DC supply and has built-in tamper-proof rechargeable lithium cells which will power the device in the event of any mains failure.

Added safety

Fire/CO Alarm Interfaces have already been successfully used in many applications and are proving particularly useful in the social housing sector. Fife Council, for example, is undergoing a programme to install 30,000 Ei414 Fire/CO Alarm Interfaces throughout its housing stock.

Previously it had been using different components, which did not ‘talk’ to each other, resulting in a potential safety issue. The Interface overcomes this, directly interacting with the different systems fitted within the properties to ensure the safety of the council’s tenants.

The council initially intended to use the interface in sheltered housing properties, connected to warden call systems, but has found it so flexible and easy to use that it has since made the decision to extend its use to its entire housing stock. The RHP Group, a registered housing provider in south west London, is also using an alarm interface to ensure the communal BS5839 Part 1 Fire Alarm system in the common circulation areas in HMOs can be heard within each flat.

RHP has achieved this by installing an Aico Ei164e Heat Alarm in the hallway of each flat, which interconnects to the existing Part 6 alarm system within the flat. These heat alarms are also interconnected to an Aico Ei414 Fire/CO Alarm Interface, which in turn is connected to the communal alarm system in the common parts.

Interconnecting domestic smoke alarms systems with other safety systems remains a relatively new development, but one that is rapidly taking traction. The social housing sector in particular has been quick to see the benefits and make the most of this relatively low-cost added safety measure.

Private housebuilders and developers are also showing an interest, especially for interconnecting to sprinkler systems. For those involved in installing or specifying fire alarm systems in domestic properties, ensuring you use good quality alarms that provide such flexible solutions provides a genuine opportunity to add value to that system and to your work.

Martyn Walley is national technical manager at Aico.

This feature was published in the May 2017 issue of Housing Management & Maintenance magazine.
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