Where Do Fire Alarm Control Units Need to be Located?

A question that we receive from time to time involves the location of fire alarm control units (FACU). This question typically comes in as someone asking if NFPA 72, Fire Alarm and Signaling Code specifies the location of where these need to be located.

The short answer is that no, NFPA 72 does not specify where a fire alarm control unit needs to be installed. The code simply states that the system must be installed in accordance with the plans, specifications, and standards approved by the authority having jurisdiction.

And there you have it. If I was writing this on a Friday afternoon, I could call this a complete blog and move on. But since I'm writing this earlier in the week (to post on Friday morning) and have a had a fair amount of coffee, let's check out some of the other considerations here. 

99HB18 Ex 16-6 (002)

One of the places where a specific location could be required is through a building code or life safety code. The best example of this would be in high-rise buildings, where the codes will require the fire alarm control unit to be located in the emergency control center. For almost all other buildings however, NFPA 1, Fire Code, NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code will say that the unit must be installed at a convenient location acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction. “Convenient” is always a fun word to agree upon.

As we can see between NFPA 72 as well as the building, fire, and life safety codes much of the final determination is left to the AHJ. Many jurisdictions adopt their own specific language and incorporate it into their building codes upon adoption or include supplementary information through resources or other means often available on their websites. Many jurisdictions will specify that the FACU must be located near the main entrance or it will require approval if located elsewhere. In many cases, where the FACU is not located near the main entrance, AHJs will require annunciator panels near the main entrance and/or other entry points based on expected fire department response points so that when responding to an alarm they can quickly assess what the fire alarm system is indicating including the zone or specific location the alarm is originating from.

Another thing to consider for the location of the FACU is that if it is not located in a continuously occupied area then early warning fire detection needs to be provided at the FACU. This needs to be done by means of an automatic smoke detector or an automatic heat detector where ambient conditions prohibit the installation of an automatic smoke detector. A new requirement for the 2019 edition of NFPA 72 also specifies the maximum and minimum mounting heights for control equipment as 6 ft (1.8m) and 15 in. (375 mm), respectively.

So, as you can see there is no definitive answer as to where a fire alarm control unit needs to be installed. For the most part, NFPA 72 and the other applicable codes leave that determination to the AHJ. Designers should be aware of any specific criteria within certain jurisdictions and, as always, getting buy-in from the AHJ as early as possible can prevent headaches at the plan review stage.

Have you seen any jurisdictions with rather unique criteria for control unit locations? What is the most interesting location for a FACU you have ever seen?

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Jonathan Hart
Technical Lead, Principal Engineer at NFPA

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