New features of NFPA 72-2013

NFPA has released updates to NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. This codes and standards article identifies some of the significant changes in NFPA 72-2013 that you will want to be aware of.
By Raymond A. Grill, PE, FSFPE, LEED AP, Arup, Washington, D.C. March 21, 2013

This amber dual appliance is an addressable fire notification system that can be programmed through either software or hardware. Courtesy: SimplexGrinnellMany of you reading this may be thinking why you would be concerned about what’s in the 2013 edition of NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code when you haven’t even started using NFPA 72-2010 yet. There are a few jurisdictions that are applying the 2010 edition, and that will increase as jurisdictions adopt the 2012 edition of the International Building Code, which adopts the 2010 edition of NFPA 72. 

While the 2013 edition may not be adopted or applicable for some time, it provides state-of-the-art criteria for the design, installation, and maintenance of fire alarm systems and can be used as a tool to enhance the design, installation, and maintenance of fire alarm systems you are involved in. Learning the new code will also allow you to be prepared for the implementation of the new code requirements when they do become applicable for your projects. 

Most jurisdictions are willing to accept design criteria based on a newer edition of the code because it is the most recent code available. Before using a newer edition of a code that is not yet adopted, you should verify with the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) that it would accept the design criteria of the newer code if it were used in lieu of the currently adopted code. 

If you have seen the 2010 edition of NFPA 72, you will notice that there was a significant reorganization of the document. The new code structure has four basic sections: 

  1. Administrative chapters
  2. Support chapters
  3. System chapters
  4. Annexes providing explanatory material and informational references. 

This organizational change has been maintained in the 2013 edition. This article identifies some of the significant changes in NFPA 72-2013 that you will want to be aware of. 

New chapter 7: Documentation 

A new chapter 7, Documentation, includes all of the documentation requirements that were located in various chapters in the previous edition of the code. It also incorporates additional documentation requirements. At a minimum, the following information is required as part of the documentation for new systems and additions or alterations to existing systems.

  • Written narrative describing the system and its purpose
  • Riser diagram
  • Floor plans showing device and control equipment locations
  • Sequence of operation
  • Data sheets for equipment to be provided
  • Manufacturers’ published instructions and maintenance criteria
  • Battery calculations (if applicable) and emergency power information
  • Voltage drop calculations
  • Completed record of completion
  • Completed record of inspection and testing
  • Site-specific software
  • As-built record drawings
  • Periodic inspection, testing, and maintenance documentation
  • Retention and maintenance records. 

When shop drawings are required, the code now specifies the minimum information that is required to be provided on the shop drawings. In previous editions of the code, guidance was provided in the annex, but requirements for the content of shop drawings were not provided in the body of the code. Shop drawings are required to include specific information, which is spelled out in chapter 7. Here’s a summary:

  • Name of the owner and property information
  • Installer or contractor name
  • Protected premises location
  • Device legend and symbols
  • Issue and revision dates. 

The floor plans are to include the following information:

  • Floor or level identification
  • Compass reference
  • Graphic scale
  • Specific information regarding riser locations, space designations, devices, circuits, excessive ceiling heights, and ceiling geometry
  • Riser diagrams noting the system arrangement in building cross section, type and number of circuits, type and number of components on each floor, and number of conductors
  • Control unit diagrams noting the location of the equipment, fire alarm primary power disconnecting means, field wiring terminals and terminal identification, as well as circuits connected to field wiring terminals and circuit identification
  • Typical wiring diagrams for all devices
  • Narrative description or an input/output matrix and sequence of operation
  • System calculations (battery, voltage drop, and other required calculations). 

Record drawings consisting of current updated shop drawings reflecting the actual installation of all system equipment, components, and wiring also must be prepared. 

In NFPA 72-2010, there was a single system record of completion for the fire alarm system and supplementary forms for other systems. These supplementary forms also address documenting the power systems, notification appliance power panels, interfaced equipment, and mass notification systems. 

Chapter 10: Fundamentals 

Much of the material in chapter 10 has been reorganized. For example, the section titled “Installation and Design” has been moved from section 10.14 to a new section 10.4. The requirement for protection of control equipment has been inserted in section 10.4.4, which requires smoke detection to be provided at the location of each fire alarm control unit, notification appliance circuit power extender, and supervising station transmitter unless the equipment is in a constantly occupied area. 

The requirements for qualifications of inspection and testing personnel have been moved from chapter 14 into chapter 10 as well. The qualification requirements for all personnel have been expanded to also be applicable to personnel working with emergency communication systems. 

A reference has been added in section 10.6.7.2.1(8) regarding capacity of power supplies for two-way radio communications enhancement systems. This section refers you to section 24.5.2.5.5, which has new requirements for the power supplies for two-way radio communications enhancement systems. These requirements include two sources of power and require either 12 hours of capacity in storage batteries or 12 hours of capacity provided by an automatic starting engine driven generator plus 2 hours of battery capacity.

New paragraphs 10.7.5 and 10.7.6 allow carbon monoxide signals and pre-alarm signals to take precedence over supervisory and trouble signals. 

New sections 10.8 and 10.9 attempt to clarify the perceived confusion regarding different types of signals and the system response to those signals. Section 10.8 Detection and Signaling of Conditions and 10.9 Responses address alarm, pre-alarm, supervisory, and trouble signals and responses to those signals.

A new paragraph 10.10.3 requires audible alarm notification appliances for a carbon monoxide alarm system to produce signals that are distinctive from other signals from devices that may be serving the same area but are not part of the carbon monoxide, fire alarm, or emergency communication system. 

Chapter 12: Circuits and pathways 

A handheld device assists in emergency communication, and meets the layer 3 requirements of NFPA 72-2013 chapter 24. Courtesy: SiemensChapter 12 was introduced in NFPA 72-2010 and defines the classification of circuits and pathways based on performance characteristics. It also identifies the criteria for different levels of pathway survivability when pathways are required to survive exposure to fire based on other requirements of the code. 

A new requirement has been added in paragraph 12.2.4.2 mandating that transient protection be provided for all signaling system circuits entering or leaving a building. 

The performance characteristics for the various pathway designations have been expanded to further clarify the intent of the performance and resulting signals required under fault conditions. Language has also been added to differentiate expectations for performance for nonconductive circuits (i.e., wireless, fiber). 

The installation limitations for Class A and X circuits have been moved from chapter 23, Protected Premises, to chapter 12. These requirements identify separation of runs and limitations on using the same assembly for outgoing and return circuit runs. 

A new section 12.5 has been added to the chapter, which addresses shared pathways. This section puts level designations on life safety and non-life-safety data over common pathways. Segregation of data may be required depending on the type of data being transmitted. 

Chapter 14: Inspection, testing, and maintenance 

A new allowance has been added in paragraph 14.2.3.2. It allows the property owner to delegate the authority and responsibility for inspecting, testing, and maintaining the fire protection systems to the occupant of a building. This delegation of authority has to be documented in a lease, written use agreement, or management contract. A copy of the written agreement must be provided to the AHJ if requested. 

The visual inspection and testing frequency tables have been consolidated with the methods table. The methods for conducting the visual inspection and the physical testing have been provided in a new column adjacent to the frequency requirement for the specific component for ease of use

Chapter 17: Initiating devices 

Spacing for spot-type smoke detectors was expanded to allow for either a maximum of 30 ft nominal spacing between detectors or placement such that all points on the ceiling are within a distance of 0.7 times the nominal 30 ft spacing. The current and past versions of the code intended to allow placement such that all points on a ceiling are 0.7 times the 30 ft nominal spacing. The code now explicitly states this allowance in paragraph 17.7.3.2.3.1.

A new paragraph 17.7.6.3.3.1 explicitly requires that smoke detector spacing be reduced when the airflow rate in the area being protected is greater than 8 minutes per air change (7.5 air changes per hour). 

Chapter 18: Notification appliances 

Language has been added to the code (18.4.1.4.2 and 18.5.1.2) noting that audible signal and visual signal coverage are required only in occupiable areas. This clarifies the intent of the code. A definition of “occupiable” has also been added to chapter 3; it notes that an occupiable area is an area of a facility occupied by people on a regular basis.

Language has been added (18.4.1.4.1. 18.4.1.4.3, 18.5) that requires the designer to identify what areas will be provided with audible and visual signals, and the ambient and design sound pressure levels. 

The criteria for application of the distinctive evacuation signal (three-pulse temporal pattern) have been expanded. The signal was required and allowed only to be used when signaling occupants to evacuate the building. The three-pulse temporal signal is now also required to be used to provide a signal for occupants to relocate from a zone to another zone within the building. 

While the code has never required quantitative measurement of intelligibility, paragraph 18.4.10.4 was added to specifically indicate that it is not required. 

Table 18.5.5.4.1(a) addressing spacing and ratings of wall-mounted strobes has been revised by deleting the column that provided criteria for two lights per room installed on opposing walls. 

Reflecting the increased use of textual and graphical messages for emergency communication, a new section 18.9.4 addresses character and symbol requirements for these appliances and messages and includes a new table specifying minimum criteria.

Chapter 21: Emergency control function interfaces 

An exception was added to paragraph 21.3.3 that allows a waterflow switch, solely serving sprinklers at the bottom of an elevator pit, to actuate elevator recall. 

An entire section (21.6) has been added addressing occupant evacuation elevators and how the fire alarm system is required to interface with these elevator systems.

Chapter 23: Protected premises fire alarm systems 

A requirement was added in paragraph 23.6.1 that limits the maximum number of addressable devices that can be out of service due to a single fault on a pathway. This will require more diligence in system layout and the potential use of isolation modules to limit the number of devices that could be affected by a single fault. 

Chapter 24: Emergency communication systems 

A new concept has been added to chapter 24 that requires emergency communications used for mass notification systems to be categorized into layers. The categorization must be included in the design documentation of the systems. The code defines the layers as:

  • Layer 1: notification of occupants using in-building emergency communication systems
  • Layer 2: notification of people outside the building and controlled by authorized users (wide area signaling)
  • Layer 3: notification of people through personal devices (distributed recipient mass notification, i.e., text messaging)
  • Layer 4: notification of people by public means such as radio or television. 

Conclusion

This article highlights a number of changes in NFPA 72-2013 that can be incorporated into current designs. There are also a number of requirements that designers will want to be aware of so that when the 2013 edition becomes applicable to projects, it will be easier to incorporate the requirements into the designs.


Ray Grill is a principal with Arup. He has been a member of NFPA 72 Technical Committees for more than 29 years and currently serves as the chair of the Technical Committee on Notification Appliance. He is also member of the NFPA Technical Correlating Committee for Automatic Sprinkler Systems and serves on the Technical Committee on Building Services and Fire Protection Equipment for NFPA 101/5000. He is a member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board.