Code compliant + satisfying standards

Code compliant + satisfying standards

In this vital article, Roy Savio Fernandes, SFPE with Jensen Hughes in Dubai, illustrates the changes adopted in the 2019 edition of NFPA 72 whilst considering occupant notification signals and standard updates from latest version of NFPA and explains the various requirements of fire alarm and detection systems in a hotel.

Hotel buildings across the globe are a symbol of a hospitality brand, a marvel of architecture and creativity. However, the unique design elements of these buildings create challenges to meet international building codes and fire and life safety standards. Time is of the essence when opening a new hotel and ensuring code compliant operation of a new fire detection and alarm system can be the difference between having extensive delays or hitting the targeted opening date.

A hotel is defined as a building or groups of buildings under the same management in which there are sleeping accommodations for more than 16 persons and primarily used by transients for lodging with or without meals (NFPA 5000, Section 

Most hotel and resort buildings have multiple occupancy types including assembly, mercantile, business and storage uses. Each of these occupancies have their own general requirements, means of egress requirements and associated protection requirements. Besides the prescriptive code and standard requirements, each hotel may also have to comply with the owner or operator’s brand standards which may exceed local code and standards.

A hotel’s fire alarm, detection and voice evacuation system requirements differ across various hotel brands, however they are all generally associated to an international standard depending on the geographic location of the property. As hotels and resorts have grown in size and complexity, hotel fire alarm, detection and voice evacuation systems have also evolved into intelligent, addressable, user-friendly and versatile systems. 

Fire alarm systems initiation 

A fire alarm system is typically an input-output system, where initiating devices serve as input signals and the notification appliances and control modules serve as output actions.

NFPA 5000 requires fire alarm systems to be initiated by manual means, automatic detection and extinguishing system operation. Manual pull stations are required to be installed in proximity of exit doors, at the hotel desk or other convenient central control point under continuous supervision by hotel staff (NFPA 5000, Section Local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) may require additional pull stations throughout the hotel property depending on the local building codes. 

Automatic detection is achieved by means of smoke detection, heat detection and automatic sprinkler system waterflow switch interfaces. Smoke alarms which represent a smoke detector with its associated sounder base are required in every guestroom and every living area and sleeping room within a guest suite. Smoke alarms must be installed in accordance with a standard, such as NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. 

The 2019 edition includes an update which states that smoke alarms shall not remain in service longer than 10 years from the date of manufacture unless otherwise provided by manufacturer’s published instructions (NFPA 72: Section 

In addition, the upcoming 2022 version of the standard indicates smoke alarms and smoke detectors installed between 6ft (1.8m) and 20ft (6.1m) along a horizontal flow path from a stationary or fixed cooking appliances shall be listed for resistance to common nuisance alarms from cooking. This requirement will be effective from January 1, 2022. (NFPA 72: Section

Additional automatic fire detectors may be installed at elevator lobbies, within hoistways, and inside associated machine rooms for elevator recall and elevator shutdown purposes. For smoke extraction or containment, smoke detectors are strategically installed to close dampers or shutdown air-handling units. To that effect, certain hotel standards may also require smoke detectors located at doors for the exclusive operation of automatic door release.

Another update on the 2019 edition involves early warning fire detection in areas that are not continuously occupied. Areas where control unit(s), notification appliance power extender(s), and supervising station transmitting equipment are located shall be provided with an automatic smoke detector or an automatic heat detector where ambient conditions prohibit installation of an automatic smoke detector (NFPA 72: Section 10.4.5)

Hotel and Resort brand standards usually require a carbon monoxide detector to be installed in all fuel-fired appliance areas, such as kitchens, car-park areas, etc. NFPA 5000, Section states that carbon monoxide alarms or carbon monoxide detectors will be provided in guestrooms or guest suites having a communicating attached garage, unless the garage is an open parking structure or is mechanically ventilated. This section also states that carbon monoxide (CO) alarms shall be provided in guestrooms or guest suites containing a permanently installed fuel-burning appliance or fuel-burning fireplace. 

NFPA 72, Section 17.12 states that CO detectors shall be installed in accordance with the following:

  • On the ceiling in the same room as permanently installed fuel-burning appliances, and
  • Centrally located on every habitable level in every HVAC zone of the building, and
  • Outside of each separate dwelling unit, guest room and guest suite sleeping area within 21ft (6.4m) of any door to a sleeping room, with the distance measured along a path of travel, and
  • Other locations where required by applicable laws, codes, or standards, or
  • A performance-based design in accordance with Section 17.3 of NFPA 72

The 2019 edition, Section 17.12.2 also states that CO detectors shall be listed in accordance with applicable standards, such as ANSI/UL 2075, Gas and Vapour Detectors and Sensors and shall be set to respond to the sensitivity limits specified in ANSI/UL 2034, Standard for Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms.

Furthermore, the 2019 edition also states that all CO detectors shall be located and mounted so that accidental operation will not be caused by jarring or vibration. The location of the CO detectors shall be based on an evaluation of potential ambient sources and flows of carbon monoxide, moisture, temperature, dust, or fumes and of electrical or mechanical influences to minimise nuisance alarms. (NFPA 72: Section 17.12.3 and 17.12.4)

Again specific hotel brand standards may require additional areas of detection coverage over and above the international standards. Such areas could include data centre rooms, high-ceiling atriums or architecturally designed unique ceilings. In such applications an alternative means of detection, such as air sampling type smoke detectors are available.

The 2019 edition of NFPA 72, Section now permits the use of an atmospheric contaminant filtration, provided it is listed for use with the detector, installed and maintained in accordance with the air sampling-type smoke detector manufacturer’s published instructions. In addition, software applications for the design of pipe networks shall be listed for use with the manufacturer’s equipment. If provided, test ports at the end of a pipe run installed in the pipe network solely for validating consistency in performance shall be included in design calculations.

The air sampling system is required to be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s published requirements and suitable for use in the environment in which they are installed. For protection of cabinets containing electrical equipment, the air sampling ports shall be located in the main airflow at the exhaust vents, downstream of the airflow distribution path, or in accordance with the manufacturer’s published instructions. (NFPA 72, Section

Hotels typically classify every floor as a zone. A sprinkler waterflow switch is installed in every such zone or floor. The hotel fire alarm system is required to interface with the sprinkler waterflow switch in a manner that activation of the fire alarm initiating module shall occur within 90 seconds of waterflow at the alarm initiating device when flow occurs that is equal to or greater than that from a single sprinkler of the smallest orifice size installed in the system. (NFPA 72, Section 17.13.2).

Occupant notification

Hotels and Resorts distinguish themselves from other occupancies as they attract individuals or guests globally, with different dialects and cultures. For this reason, notification appliances must be provided with clear and distinct messaging and match the latest international standards.

Occupant notification in hotels and resorts includes public areas and back-of-house (BOH) areas. Public areas prevalent with guests are required to have intelligible messages for voice evacuation. Public address systems with high-definition amplifiers and speakers could meet this intent. It is important however, to ensure that the interface between the hotel fire alarm system and the public-address system is installed in accordance with NFPA 72. BOH areas are predominantly staff occupied areas and due to structural and sound reverberations, intelligibility rather than audibility could be more preferred. 

NFPA 72, Section states that the proposed wording of pre-recorded automatic emergency messages shall be identified on the permit plans and be approved by the authority having jurisdiction prior to their programming into the emergency voice communications system. At a minimum, the proposed verbiage shall be in an official spoken language acceptable to the AHJ.

Hotel guestrooms containing single or multiple smoke alarms are required to operate such that any smoke alarm shall cause all smoke alarms within the dwelling unit, suite, or similar area to sound and shall not actuate the building fire alarm system, unless otherwise permitted by the AHJ (NFPA 5000, Section

Guestrooms and guest suites specifically required and equipped to accommodate hearing-impaired individuals shall be provided with a visible notification appliance. (NFPA 5000, Section

The 2019 edition of NFPA 72, Section states that the carbon monoxide signal shall be a four-pulse temporal pattern. This tone pattern differentiates the CO signal from the three-pulse distinctive evacuation signal tone pattern. Section states that CO detectors shall be permitted to transmit a supervisory signal when in accordance with the emergency response plan, evacuation plan, fire safety plan, or similar documentation. The boundaries of carbon monoxide alarm notification zones shall be coincident with the area where the alarm initiation originated and other signaling zones in accordance with the building’s emergency response plan.

Visible notification is also required in occupiable areas, including meeting spaces, ballrooms, guestroom corridors,
lobby areas, public toilets among other public and common areas. NFPA 72, Section states that the light pulse durations greater than 20 milliseconds, but not greater than 100 milliseconds, shall be permitted where the alerting capability of the visual notification appliance is demonstrated to be equal to or greater than visual notification appliances with a 20 millisecond pulse duration. 

Depending on the scale of the property, certain hotels and resorts prefer to have a front-end graphics workstation at the Fire Command Centre or Security Control room, which is manned 24 / 7 by trained personnel. The 2019 edition of NFPA 72, Section requires that such a building system information unit (BSIU) be listed to product safety standard ANSI/UL 60950, Information Technology Equipment – Part 1: General Requirements, or ANSI/UL 62368-1 Audio/Video, Information and Communication Technology Equipment – Part 1: Safety Requirements, or equivalent.

In addition, Section states that where BSIU provides control of the fire alarm system, the following requirements shall apply:

  • A fire alarm control unit (FACU) controlling the fire alarm system shall be located within the same room as the BSIU
  • The BSIU shall not be permitted to perform fire alarm system control features that cannot be accomplished by the FACU within the room. 
  • When the BSIU is not available to control the fire alarm system, the FACU within the room must be able to perform all the necessary controls of the fire alarm system without relying on the BSIU
  • The communication path from the FACU and the BSIU shall meet the requirements of Section through Section
  • The application software for the BSIU shall be listed to ANSI/UL 864, Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm System 

Hotels and Resorts continue to expand in every region. Each operator has different requirements that offer unique levels of fire and life safety protection. Fire detection and alarm system designers must be familiar with current International codes and standards, as well as specific hotel brand standards that are often revised and improved with each new release. Designers must work with hotel owners and operators to develop a comprehensive solution to implement these requirements in their design, resulting in a coordinated plan that will ensure timely commissioning and approvals for opening of the hotels.