Case study: Fire alarm devices for historic or heritage buildings

Wireless fire alarm devices can solve many of the unique problems that come with retrofitting historical and heritage buildings.

By Jarron Gass and Cristina Aragon-Vandenbent March 14, 2024
This older style panel has limited inputs, relays and programming capabilities, which require more space allocation. Courtesy: CDM Smith

A historic or heritage building would benefit from wireless fire alarm devices. The unique architectural and historical value of these buildings often creates significant challenges when it comes to installing fire alarm systems.

Wireless alarm benefits in historical buildings

Wireless alarms allow for engineers to work within the limitations of historical buildings that may come from the architecture, function or structure of older buildings. Specific benefits of wireless alarms in historical buildings include:

  • Preservation of architecture: Heritage buildings often have architectural designs and features that make traditional wiring for fire alarm systems difficult to complete without compromising the building’s aesthetics or historic fabric. Wireless devices eliminate the need for extensive wiring, preserving the historical integrity and aesthetics of the structure.

  • Ease of installation: Retrofitting a heritage building with a wired fire alarm system can be a complex and disruptive process. Wireless devices offer a more straightforward and less invasive installation process, which helps to lessen the impact on the building’s structure and minimizes disruptions to its daily operations, business or historical preservation activities.

  • Flexibility in placement: Heritage buildings may have restrictions on where devices can be installed to avoid damage to historical elements. Wireless fire alarm devices provide flexibility in placement, allowing for strategic positioning without the constraints imposed by wired systems.

  • Scalability: Wireless systems can be easily expanded or modified as needed, accommodating changes in the building’s use or layout without requiring extensive rewiring. This scalability is crucial for adapting fire safety measures to evolving needs while respecting the building’s historical significance.

  • Remote monitoring: Heritage buildings are often managed with meticulous care, requiring continuous monitoring for early fire detection. Wireless systems with remote monitoring capabilities enable building managers or preservationists to keep a close eye on the fire alarm system’s status, ensuring timely response to any potential threats.

  • Compliance with codes and regulations: Wireless fire alarm devices can be selected to comply with fire code regulations, while keeping the historical fabric and integrity of the facility intact. This ensures the facility or building meets the minimum acceptable safety standards and adheres to local and national preservation guidelines for these types of historical buildings.

Wireless fire alarm devices are an excellent solution for heritage buildings, offering a balance between modern fire safety requirements and the preservation of historical and architectural value. The adaptability, ease of installation and minimal impact on the building’s aesthetics make wireless systems a valuable choice for ensuring the safety of occupants and artifacts in these unique and culturally significant structures.

Author Bio: Jarron Gass, PE, CFPS, is a fire protection discipline leader at CDM Smith. He focuses on fire suppression and fire alarm design and analysis as well as water supply analysis. Cristina Aragon-Vandenbent is a certified fire alarm designer specializing in system integration.