Automatic fire alarm systems

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Automatic Fire Alarm Systems

All properties, including residential, commercial, and industrial, are at the risk of fires due to a number of reasons such as electrical faults, flammable materials, negligence, and inadequate fire safety measures.

To minimise the risk and to contain the subsequent damage due to fires, it is very important to install a fire alarm system that can alert you at the earliest signs, give you ample time to evacuate safely, and prevent the fire from spreading any further.

As a business owner, having the right fire safety measures is not only an important part of safety but is also a legal requirement according to UK law.

Read on to find out the requirements for fire detection alarm systems in the UK, the difference between manual and automatic fire alarm systems, the different types of automatic fire alarm systems, and much more:


Fire safety is a serious matter in the UK with all business owners required to take all the necessary measures to minimise the risk to both life and property.

This includes installing fire detection and alarm systems, as governed by The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO), and carrying out a thorough fire risk assessment.

As a responsible person on a commercial or industrial property, whether you are the owner, employer, manager, or landlord, you must ensure fire safety on the premises and determine the fire risks, along with the individuals at risk.

Regarding fire safety equipment, there are British Standards for the design, installation, and maintenance of fire alarm systems, which is also an important factor to consider for business property owners.


All fire alarm initiating devices can be categorised into two main types: manual initiating devices and automatic fire alarm systems.

Manual initiating devices

Manual initiating devices, also referred to as manual pull stations must be manually activated by a person witnessing a fire emergency.

When activated, the control panel initiates the system and sets off an audible/visual alarm to notify all those on the premises of the hazard.

Automatic fire alarm systems

Automatic fire alarm systems, as the name suggests, are those systems that get triggered automatically by certain conditions including heat, smoke, and carbon monoxide levels in the air.

These systems come paired with different types of sensors and sound an audible and visual alarm when they pick up on changes in the environment that might be caused by a fire.


Automatic fire alarm and detection systems consist of several basic components that include:

  • Initiating devices
  • Notification devices
  • Control panel
  • Primary power supply
  • Backup power supply

Fire alarm initiating devices in automatic fire alarm systems automatically trigger the system in the event of a fire. They include devices such as heat, flame, and smoke detectors that send a signal to a central control panel to activate the system.

Fire notification devices are there to notify the occupants of a building when a fire is detected, and include devices such as bells, strobes, horns, and chimes, at times accompanied by a visual alert such as flashing lights.

The control panel is the central hub of the fire alarm system that acts as the brain of the system by monitoring and managing the initiating and notification devices.

When the initiating device is triggered, it sends a signal to the control panel that activates the notification devices. The status of the system is displayed on the control panel and you are allowed to see it and control it manually.

The primary power supply for most fire alarm systems is through your power supply company and the backup power supply is there in the event of a power failure. The latter is an important part of a fire alarm and detection system and includes batteries to ensure uninterrupted fire detection.

A few other important components include:

  • Sprinkler systems – to suppress or extinguish a fire,
  • Exit lighting – to illuminate the emergency exits and help people evacuate safely,
  • Voice communication – to give verbal commands to the building’s occupants and tell them what to do during an emergency,
  • Alarm monitoring – to alert the authorities when the fire alarm system is activated.


All fire alarm systems basically work on the same principle of a detector detecting heat, smoke, or gas in the air and the system sounding an alarm to warn others in the building that there may be a fire.

They may also incorporate professional monitoring services that send alerts to the fire and rescue services via a monitoring station.

Fire alarm systems can be broken down into three different categories: conventional, addressable, and wireless alarm systems.

Conventional fire alarm systems

A conventional fire alarm system has several detectors that are wired to the system’s control panel in zones.

A zone is referred to as a circuit that is wired on each floor or fire compartment of the building, and the control panel has a number of zone lamps indicating which zone the fire was detected in.

The accuracy of knowing the exact location of the fire depends on the number of zones a control panel has and the number of circuits being wired into the building. There may be several detectors in a single zone as well.

When a detector is activated, the control panel, which is wired to a minimum of two sounder circuits, identifies the circuit that contains the triggered detector and indicates the zone where the fire alarm originated from.

Conventional fire alarms are best suited for smaller properties, such as small offices and shops, and are less expensive to buy than other types of fire alarm systems.

Addressable fire alarm systems

An addressable fire alarm system is similar to a conventional system in the way that it works, except that the control panel can pinpoint exactly which detector has triggered the alarm and the exact area where the fire started.

The detection circuit is wired as a loop with up to 99 devices connected to each loop. The detectors have an address built in to pinpoint the exact location.

The address in each detector in the system is set by the control panel and is programmed to display the required information when a particular detector is activated, such as the location, device type, along with the specific action to be taken.

Best suited for large commercial premises and complex networked systems, addressable fire alarm systems are much more expensive and complicated than conventional systems, having a higher scope of control, intelligence, increased flexibility, and speed of identification.

Wireless fire alarm systems

Wireless fire alarm systems are a good alternative to traditional hardwired systems such as conventional and addressable fire alarm systems.

They make use of secure radio communication to connect the sensors and devices, such as the manual call points and the heat, smoke, and carbon monoxide detectors, with the control panel, and work in the same manner as wired systems without the need for extensive cabling.


Both conventional and addressable fire alarm systems work on the same basic principle, except that the former has detectors divided into zones whereas the latter has its own unique addresses.

In an addressable system, when a fire is detected, the detector’s address is displayed on the control panel telling you exactly which device has been activated. This helps in finding the exact location of the fire without wasting any time looking for it and extinguishing it as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, with a conventional fire alarm system, although there is no way of knowing the exact location of the fire, the zones that the wiring is divided in help give a general idea as to where the fire may be.

For instance, if you have a two-storey building, you could wire the first floor as ‘zone 1’ and the second floor as ‘zone 2’. This way, if a fire breaks out in zone 1, you’ll know that it’s somewhere on the first floor.

Wiring differences

When it comes to the way the systems are wired, addressable fire alarm systems connect all the devices and components using a loop, where one wire connects all the devices to the control panel and both ends of the loop connect to the control panel as well.

With a conventional system, each device is connected to the control panel using its own wire instead of a shared one, where one end of the wire will be touching the device and the other end will be touching the control panel.


A conventional fire alarm system, although less expensive to purchase, is more expensive to install since each device needs its own wire to be connected.

With an addressable system, since one looped wire connects several devices, it requires less wiring and man-hours to set up and install.


When comparing the two, addressable fire alarm systems are more reliable because the looped wire connects to the control panel at both ends. This makes sure that signals can still be sent to the control panel even if one end of the loop becomes severed.

Loop isolation modules are also used to separate the devices on the looped wire, which means that if one device gets disconnected, it won’t affect and disable the entire circuit. With a conventional system, though, if a wire becomes severed, the device gets disconnected.


When it comes to wired and wireless fire alarm systems, the main difference between them is the use or absence of wires to connect the components of the system and the control panel.

Wired fire alarm systems are cheaper to buy than their wireless counterparts, however, since there is wiring involved, you may have to pay extra for the wires, cables, and extra labour.

In addition to that, wired alarm systems are powered by the mains electricity and the likelihood of them losing power is much lower than wireless systems, which are usually battery-powered. Therefore, wired fire alarm systems are seen as more reliable in this sense.

Wired fire alarm systems are an older technology as compared to their modern wireless counterparts, making it easy to find and source spare parts in case of any damages or faults.

There is also no amount of interference between the devices and the main control panel, which is a serious issue in wireless systems.

That being said, when installing a wireless fire alarm system, you don’t have to worry about wires and cables affecting the appearance of your property. Because of that, they are best suited for buildings such as historical sites, hotels, churches, and homes, where the look of the building matters.

Wireless systems offer more flexibility and can be easily installed almost anywhere, and also easily removed. This makes it very easy to scale them up according to your needs and also incredibly easy to maintain.


For an accurate quotation, it is always best to get in touch with a professional installer. However, to give you a general idea, you can expect to pay anywhere from £50 for a single battery alarm to over £5000 for a fully integrated system.

How much your system will cost depends on several factors such as:


With so many different types of fire alarm systems, it can be a bit intimidating to choose the right one for your property, which is why it is always best to consult with experienced professionals who can assess your needs and help you choose the best system for your property.

Here are a few steps to help you make the right decision:

Conduct a fire risk assessment

The first step in choosing the right fire alarm system is to identify the risks within your building, which can best be assessed by conducting a thorough fire risk assessment of your property.

As part of a fire risk assessment, you must identify the fire hazards and the people at risk. Once that is done, you must evaluate, reduce, or remove the risks, and record your findings to prepare an emergency plan and provide the relevant fire safety training.

Consider the size and layout of your property

The size and layout of your property is an important consideration since that will determine whether a conventional fire alarm would be more suited to your needs or an addressable system. It will also help you choose between a wired and wireless fire alarm system.

Smaller properties are well suited to conventional fire alarm systems whereas large facilities require a more complex system and may do well with an addressable system.

Similarly, if your property is spread out over multiple buildings and you want to manage them all through a central control system without the use of cables and wires, a wireless fire alarm system may be a good choice for you.

Choosing the right devices

The main objective of a good fire alarm system is to detect the earliest signs of a fire and alert the building’s occupants of the potential danger.

Depending on your requirements, you may choose either heat sensors, smoke sensors, carbon monoxide detectors, or multiple detectors at the same time to detect the presence of a fire.

In addition to that, you may choose notification devices such as sirens, speakers, and flashing lights to notify the occupants of the threat. You may also install additional safety components such as fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, exit lighting, and automatic access control systems to help with the evacuation process.

You should also take into account individuals with special needs and mobility issues, and make special arrangements by making the emergency routes and exits wheelchair accessible.

Fire alarm monitoring

Whether or not you need professional fire alarm monitoring services will depend on the level of fire risk that you are facing, the type of property you have, and where it is located.

With a monitored fire alarm system, all the alerts are sent to an alarm receiving centre, manned by professionals trained to deal with such situations, and the fire and rescue services are dispatched depending on the situation.


Our experts at Calder Electrical have been working in the industry for over 40 years and can provide you with a comprehensive solution for your fire safety needs which includes professional installation and servicing.

We can survey your property and determine the best kind of system suitable for your needs, and one that complies with the current standards and regulations.

We also offer after-sales care and an ongoing maintenance package after the installation to ensure your fire alarm works in optimal condition providing you with a system that you can depend on.

We have a vast understanding of the regulations in force and can provide you with a high level of service to keep your system healthy and working all the time.

Contact us here or call us on 0800 612 3001 to speak with our team of experts right away!

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