There are many types of fire alarm systems, and each type has a control panel that communicates with the field units – the smoke detectors or pull stations. The fire alarm panel acts as the brains of the system. However, how the brain sends signals to the field units varies from system to system.
Each type of fire alarm system operates differently from the others, and each has its own pros and cons. This post will discuss the differences between four major fire alarm systems: conventional, addressable, intelligent, and wireless.
Conventional Fire Alarm Systems
The conventional fire alarm system is the first system that came to the market. It is commonly found in commercial buildings.
The wiring of the conventional fire alarm system is the first significant aspect of it that’s unique. A conventional fire alarm system uses a dedicated circuit for each field device. What does that mean?
Having a dedicated circuit for each field device means too much wiring. The conventional fire alarm system requires a different wire for each device, and each wire runs back towards the fire alarm control panel.
A conventional fire alarm system has zones that contain multiple field devices each. If any of the devices on a circuit detects a fire, you will get an alarm from the control panel, leading you to the zone where the fire is located. However, the fire alarm system can’t tell you where the fire is explicitly situated because a zone can cover a wide area of a building.
You would have to go to the zone and look for the fire manually.
The conventional fire alarm system is highly affordable to purchase but is expensive to install. It is the most straightforward system, but its extensive wiring system is more complicated and more costly to install.
Addressable Fire Alarm Systems
The addressable fire alarm system is newer and more advanced compared to the conventional fire alarm system. An addressable fire alarm system is also commonly used in commercial buildings.
Unlike the conventional fire alarm system, the addressable fire alarm system uses one circuit for all field devices. The addressable fire alarm system has a more straightforward wiring system than the conventional fire alarm system.
The addressable fire alarm system does not use zones when detecting fires. You can assign a local address for each field device; the local address can be as simple as three digits. You can also program the location of each device with the unique address into the control panel.
So when a smoke detector picks up a sign of fire, the control panel will alarm you of the fire and where it is located. An example of an addressable fire alarm system warning may look something like this: “Alarm Smoke Detector Address 471 [the local address of the device] 3rd floor, left-wing, at room 307.”
In other words, the addressable fire alarm system warns you of a fire, what device detected the fire, and where the fire is located. The addressable fire alarm system shortens response time because you will not have to look for the fire manually.
From a functionality standpoint, the addressable fire alarm system is better than the conventional fire alarm system. It is more expensive to purchase, therefore. However, because the system requires less wiring than the conventional system, it costs less to install.
Intelligent Fire Alarm Systems
The intelligent fire alarm system is just another name for the addressable fire alarm system. It is intelligent because it can pinpoint the exact location of the fire or smoke. Furthermore, you can program each detector to either send an alarm or a supervisory signal.
All of the field devices in a conventional fire alarm system zone will report the same thing if any sign of fire is detected in that zone.
Wireless Fire Alarm Systems
The wireless fire alarm is the most modern among the systems we are discussing. Its application is not limited to commercial buildings; even residential buildings can use the wireless fire alarm system.
As the name implies, the wireless fire alarm system does not need wires. Instead, the devices of the system communicate with the control panel through a radio frequency. Although the earlier versions of the system gained a reputation for unreliability due to a limited power source and failing radio transmissions, modern technology made this system seamless.
Today, the wireless fire alarm system is as reliable as a wired fire alarm system.
The detection process of the wireless fire alarm system is similar to that of the addressable or intelligent fire alarm system. A wireless fire alarm system does not have zones. Each detector will communicate directly with the control panel if signs of fire are detected.
The biggest problem with wireless fire alarm systems is that they are solely dependent on batteries. Wired systems rely on external power sources, and if those are down, they can have a backup internal power source. A wireless fire alarm system can only sound the alarm for as long as its batteries allow it to.
Since the system does not require wires, it is the least expensive when it comes to installation. However, the hardware of the system is the most costly among the systems we discussed here.
Which Fire Alarm Systems are the Best?
So, which fire alarm system is the best for you? That depends on your needs. In terms of functionality, the wireless fire alarm system is the best. It analyzes its environment for signs of a fire and wirelessly alerts the people in the vicinity. However, it also has the most expensive hardware.
The conventional fire alarm system is the cheapest option when it comes to hardware. But its technology is not as precise as either the addressable and wireless systems.
The addressable or intelligent fire alarm system combines the best of both worlds. It features the precision of the wireless system and the power reliability of the conventional system. However, it is most suited for commercial buildings.