Smoke Detector Standards are Changing: Learn what it means for your business and bottom line

 In Be Ready, Industry

Smoke detectors have two critical functions, to warn people of a potential fire hazard and to save lives. To be effective, smoke detectors need to be installed correctly and detect smoke from common home and business products.

Smoke detectors have two critical functions, to warn people of a potential fire hazard and to save lives. To be effective, smoke detectors need to be installed correctly and detect smoke from common home and business products. To promote these two functions and save lives, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the world’s largest developers of safety standards for consumer products, develop new smoke detector standards and testing requirements. In the fire safety space, UL smoke detector standards drive new products and are critical to determining the cost and strategy for how facility managers maintain and update their fire safety systems – and these standards are significantly changing!

First announced in February of 2018, UL released two new smoke alarm and detector standards (UL 217 & UL 268) aimed at reducing false alarms, also known as nuisance alarms, and at detecting different smoke characteristics. These new standards we’re supposed to take effect on May 29th 2020, but this past December UL provided a 1 year extension until June 30th 2021. (read UL Code Extension Update). These new standards will push new smoke detectors to now be able to tell the difference between smoke from cooking or burning your food and other non-lethal sources from actual life-threatening smoke. These new UL standards and the resulting new much smarter smoke detectors are perhaps the most significant technological change suppliers and facility managers have seen in recent times. So how did this industry changing standard come about and what does it mean for you?

First, back in 2007, through a series of tests, UL determined that smoke detectors no longer worked like they were intended too. When first developed in the 1960s, smoke detectors were designed to detect smoke from combustibles such as wood, paper, and cloth. However, by the turn of the century the most common combustible products in a home and business became plastics, foams, and a range of artificial products. Wood has been replaced by glue and laminated wood products and paper and cloth replaced by rayon, nylon, and oil and plastic based products. Memory foam has also replaced dense cottons for stuffing in seating, pillows, and beds. All these new products burn quicker, hotter, and with a greater intensity reducing the time people have to evacuate a home or building from 10-15 minutes, to possibly just a few. Additionally, these new more synthetic products create toxic fumes that can overcome occupants before they have enough time to escape.

At the same time, data shows that most fire related deaths are caused by smoke detectors not working properly, typically from the removal of the battery. Occupants get tired of false alarms from cooking and take out the battery, making the detector useless when really needed. These false alarms are also costly to building owners and have taken their toll on fire departments that responded to nearly 2.5 million false alarms in 2014, according to NFPA analysis. This is almost twice the total number of reported fires.

The updated UL standards and new smart smoke detectors take aim at all these issues. These are a new line of smoke alarms that can determine what type of smoke it’s sensing and then make a judgment call on if that thing is a threat or not. The speed and accuracy of these new smart smoke detectors is unlike anything the industry has seen before and will significantly increase public safety and save lives.

So where do things stand today at the start of 2020? In short, things are moving quickly. From our research and industry sources we still expect the primary four system smoke detector manufacturers (Simplex, Siemens, Honeywell, and EST) to stay on track to meet the UL 217 & UL 268 standards in 2020. Many of them have already announced last purchase calls and their new UL compliment replacement products. So even with this year extension we don’t expect things to slow down or old products to come back. You can read more about which specific products have been discontinued and which new products are coming out – here.

While things are rapidly changing, one thing we know for certain is that current smoke detectors which do not meet the new UL 217 & UL 268 standards will continue to be discontinued until the new compliance deadline of June 2021. While this doesn’t mean your current installed system is not valid, it does mean that products you utilize today to support such a system will no longer be produced or available from the manufacturer. To support the end user of pre 2020/21 fire safety systems, here is a list of options on how to prepare for this important and drastic industry change:

  1. Design and budget for a complete retrofit of your fire alarm system to be compatible with UL compliant new smart smoke detectors – while this may solve the compatibility issues for years to come, this is also the most costly option.
  2. Start now to stock up on spare smoke detectors that work with your system before they are discontinued. While many of these products have already been discontinued you can still find them on the secondary market. Save More on Fire Alarm Parts stocks over 40,000 new and refurbished products, many of which have already been discontinued in preparation for this transition.
  3. Wait until after June 2021– which is likely what most facility managers will do – to react to the new standards and product limitations. Since many manufactures have already stopped production on many of these products, these pre UL 217 & UL 268 compliance products will only be available through secondary sellers who will have fixed and diminishing quantities. After 2020 we expect the cost of these products to significantly increase as supply and demand fundamentals take place. Buying products at this higher price will still be a less costly option compared to retrofitting for sometime. But also remember, if you chose to retrofit after 2021 expect a backlog on fire alarm contractors since they can at best retrofit 3-5% of their customers a year. With a potentially high retrofit demand you can also expect that cost to be higher than normal in the early 2020s.

This change in the UL code will save lives and is a significant change for manufactures and fire system managers. Over the coming months, we expect many more product announcements so follow us on FaceBook to get the latest updates and what it can mean for you, your business, and your bottom line.

Save More on Fire Alarm Parts, January 2020

This is an update to the blog “Significant changes to smoke detector standards: Learn what it means for you” which was posted October 2018

Articles/Notes –
From UL: To earn our certification, smoke alarms are evaluated to UL 217 (8th edition), Standard for Safety of Smoke Alarms, and smoke detectors are evaluated to UL 268 (7th edition), Standard for Safety of Smoke Detectors for Fire Alarm Systems. Manufacturers of smoke alarms and smoke detectors have until May 29, 2020, to meet the new requirements. The new and revised requirements in UL 217 and UL 268 represent the most significant changes to these Standards since their initial publication in 1976.