Commercial fire alarm systems
A fire alarm is a vital part of a business security system - read on to learn more about them, and discover the best alarms on the market
What measures are in place to protect your business from a fire?
While this is a scenario that you may not want to think about, it’s essential to prepare for such an event in order to protect your premises, property, and staff, as part of your business security plan.
While you may already know that you need a fire alarm for your business, you may wonder: which providers and systems are the best?. Similarly, what options are available to you to help protect your business against fire? And how much are these systems likely to cost?
We’ll provide the key information you need to know to help you learn more about fire alarms for your small business, including recommendations for providers, as well as tips on how to choose and budget for a fire alarm system.
The best fire alarms at a glance
|Fire alarm||Best for||Price|
|Verisure||Monitoring service||Prices available on request|
|Secom||Bespoke design||Prices available on request|
|ADT||Multiple detection – carbon monoxide, heat, smoke||Prices available on request|
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How do fire alarms work?
Essentially, fire alarms can be mains powered (using your business electricity connection) or battery powered. It’s also possible to opt for fire alarms that use a combination of power sources (so both mains and battery powered), with the batteries offering a secondary form of power.
If the alarm is battery powered, assess how accessible it is – can the battery be changed easily, or is it sealed in, and so doesn’t need to be replaced?
In addition, check the battery’s life expectancy – some batteries may last for 10 years, while others may have a longer life.
Why is a fire alarm panel important?
The central component of a fire alarm is the fire alarm panel, which all devices and elements of the system connect to and communicate with.
A fire alarm panel works by zone capacity. Its complexity is determined by the amount of zones (areas) of your premises it can cover.
There are three types of fire alarm panel. These are:
- Conventional – the most basic type; it can show which zone the fire was in, and connects the call points and detectors – although the sounders have to be connected on their own circuit
- Two wire – a mid-point between the basic and more advanced types, a two wire panel operates in much the same way as a conventional panel. The key difference is that the sounders can also be included on the same circuit connection
- Addressable – the most advanced option; this type of panel can connect all devices on the fire alarm system through the same connection. It can also identify where exactly in the zone the alarm was activated, e.g. the kitchen or the meeting room
The control panel – like the alarm and other components – can be battery powered, enabling it to operate wirelessly.
Also, think about how the panel will be accessed – in person, or remotely as well? If you spend a lot of time away from your premises, or if it’s left unattended for long periods of time (overnight, for example), then remote access may be especially useful.
What are the different types of fire alarm sounders?
A fire alarm sounder plays a noise or message to alert people when a fire alarm has been activated.
There are several different types of sounders. Similar to alarms, sounders are available in the following formats:
- Two wire
Some may have additional functions, such as voice sounders that offer alerts through sound and voice messages.
Another example is escape lights on fire alarm devices, which offer an alternative form of lighting during evacuation.
In addition, vibrating pads or strobe lights are available to notify people with visual or hearing impairments.
Types of fire alarms
In this section, we examine the different types of smoke and fire alarm systems that are available.
There are several different types of smoke alarms. These include:
- Ionisation – an inexpensive option that can detect small size smoke particles in fast flaming fires
- Optical – offered at a higher price point, this type of alarm can detect larger smoke particles in slower fires
- Heat alarms – these are specifically designed to activate upon an increase in temperature in a small area, such as a commercial kitchen in a restaurant or cafe, (depending on the size of the area, multiple alarms may be required to adequately cover it)
- Combined – smoke alarms that offer multiple functions are also available, such as combined optical smoke and heat alarms, as well as combined smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
Some types of fire alarm systems may offer additional features, such as emergency lights, while others can also detect carbon monoxide as well as smoke (as mentioned above).
If you’re fitting a fire alarm near a kitchen, you may want to consider one that is toast proof.
When researching smoke alarms, you’re likely to come across many devices labelled as ‘85 dBA’. This refers to the level of sound they omit – dBA stands for A-weighted decibels. Standard decibels measure sound, whereas A-weighted decibels are adjusted to factor in different sound frequencies.
There are three main types of fire alarm systems. These are:
Conventional fire alarms
With this type of alarm, the property is divided into zones. When the alarm is activated, it will only alert you to the zone the activation has occurred in. Therefore, this type of alarm is most likely suited to small premises, or those with a low risk of fire.
Conventional fire alarms differ from addressable systems as they offer a less precise indication of where an alarm was activated. For this reason, conventional fire alarms are often the cheaper option.
Addressable fire alarms
A system with addressable fire alarms means that each device has an ‘address’, making it possible to pinpoint exactly where it was activated. For this precision, you can expect to pay more for an addressable system.
Since it can offer a greater level of accuracy for locating activations than conventional fire alarms, this type of fire alarm is probably best suited to bigger premises. Plus, those businesses with a higher fire risk – food businesses, for example, or those working with chemicals (such as construction companies, hairdressers, or beauty salons) – could also benefit.
Wireless fire alarms
In wireless fire alarms, the control panel, sensors and other devices are connected via radio. They work in a similar way as an addressable system, only without the wires. The different components of wireless fire alarm systems communicate via channels and antennae.
They’re particularly suitable for businesses that might not want visible wires on their premises – a luxury retailer, for example.
Wireless fire alarm systems offer flexibility, and can be configured with different combinations of devices. Plus, they can more easily accommodate the needs of a building – such as retaining historic details, or brand design – than wired systems Wireless fire alarm systems can also be expanded easily.
Wireless fire alarms tend to be more expensive than their conventional counterparts, although some addressable systems are also offered at a similarly higher price point.
Fire alarm features
In this section, we take a closer look at the different features that make up a fire alarm.
Fire alarm panel
As mentioned above, the control panel is at the centre of a fire alarm system. It connects all the elements of the system, and allows them to communicate. Panels can be addressable, conventional, or two-wire.
The detectors are how a system knows if smoke or heat is present in the air, and if a signal should be raised. Some detectors may work for specific purposes, whereas others can measure smoke, heat, or sometimes gas as well.
Some devices may be accessed remotely, such as via an app. This can be ideal if you need to check on your premises and system overnight or while you’re overseas, or for any other reason that your property may be unoccupied.
Fire alarms use alerting devices to signal when an alarm has been activated, either through sounders, flashing lights, or both. These devices are hugely important – if the alarm is raised, then people on your premises need to be alerted as quickly as possible.
Certain types of fire alarm systems have call points, where people can raise the alarm if necessary.
While fire alarms tend to be connected via the mains electricity supply, battery power features can be used in the event of a power failure.
The best commercial fire alarms
Here we profile some of the top fire alarms suitable for business use.
Verisure: Best for monitoring services
In addition to its popular intruder alarm products, Verisure offers smoke alarms and detectors. These devices work by detecting if smoke is present in the air, and if so, sending a signal to Verisure’s Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), where it’s evaluated to determine the appropriate response.
The alarms are connected in a series, with warnings and signals sent at the same time to alert people when the alarm is activated. Verisure’s smoke detector is battery powered, and works with wireless connectivity.
|- Signals are evaluated by the Verisure ARC|
- Detectors are connected in a series
- Battery powered
|- The detectors might be too basic for premises that require a more complex fire system
Because of the evaluation process (which happens before the alarm goes off), we think that the Verisure fire alarm is the best for monitoring services. In turn, it’s best suited to businesses that need their fire alarms to be monitored closely.
Prices are available on request.
Secom: Best for bespoke design
Secom designs fire alarm systems that are specific to individual business requirements. You can expect it to take into account your business size and risk assessment process, as well as external factors like insurance and local authority requirements.
In general, Secom can offer a smaller premises a fire system that splits the property into zones.
Secom is registered with the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB), and is also fully registered with the British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE) scheme SP203.
|- Fire system tailored to your specific business needs|
- SSAIB and BAFE registered provider
|- Custom solutions could prove more costly than other options|
As Secom will work with each business to design a fire system that matches their unique requirements, we think Secom is the best for bespoke design. So, if your business has more complex fire safety requirements, or other unique features that need to be taken into consideration, Secom fire alarms could offer an ideal solution.
Prices are available on request.
ADT: Best for multiple detection
ADT offers fire and smoke detection with advanced technology to help detect different types of fires as quickly as possible. ADT fire alarms also offer prevention of false and unwanted alarms, will all alarms monitored 24/7 at the ADT Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC).
The ADT fire alarm sensors can measure carbon monoxide, smoke, and heat, offering a way to protect your property against fire and toxic gas. Furthermore, with the ADT Smart Business App, you can control your alarm remotely.
|- ADT ARC offers 24/7 monitoring|
- Sensors can measure carbon monoxide, smoke, and heat
- ADT Smart Business App functions as a remote control
|- Limited information available about the devices|
As the sensors can detect signs of fire and gas, we think ADT fire alarms are best for multiple detection, which may be ideal for businesses that require a multi-purpose alarm as part of their fire strategy.
Prices available on request.
Tips for choosing the right fire alarm for you
Here, we offer some top tips to help you to select the best fire alarms for your business.
- Make sure you pick the right type of alarm for the purpose and location you require it to cover
- Consider if the system offers accessible features, e.g. sensors that vibrate or flash for people with hearing impairments
- Think about if the fire alarm can be integrated with other aspects of your business security, such as intruder alarms, and how easily it can do this
- Ensure that your alarm meets the necessary standards, such as British Standards and those from the European Union. Also, check that providers are approved by industry bodies, like the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) and the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB)
- Consult the experts, such as the fire service, the building manager of your premises (if you have one), and alarm system providers, to gather as much information as possible
For more information about other types of alarms, read our guide to commercial alarm systems for small businesses.
Fire alarm installation
Depending on your business’ requirements, you may be able to install a fire alarm yourself, or you may need to hire a professional to do it.
If you run a business from home, then you may prefer to opt for the ‘DIY’ approach, while if you own a bigger business with a commercial premises, this is likely to require professional installation.
If you rent a coworking space or a serviced office, it’s wise to check with the provider what fire alarms they have in place.
Some types of fire alarms that may need to be installed by a professional (i.e. a qualified electrician or engineer) include:
- Fire alarms that connect with intruder alarms
- Wireless fire alarms
- Fire alarms with radio compatibility
- Mains-powered fire alarms
If you opt for professional installation, the number of fire alarms your business needs (just one, or more?) will often form part of the service provided by a fire protection company.
Conversely, if you fit the alarms yourself, you’ll need to decide how many you need – in either case, it depends on the size of the area to be covered, as well as the legal regulations concerning your specific type of business and premises.
Some benefits of hiring a company for professional installation include the expertise they offer, as well as guarantees and call out services that potentially may be available, which can help to offer extra security and peace of mind.
On the other hand, the cost- and time-saving benefits of installing a fire alarm system yourself may be appealing (if relevant) for some small businesses.
Regarding the fire alarms themselves, you should check that they meet British Standards (variations of the BS 5839 – the UK regulatory standard for fire alarms systems for buildings, for example) and European (recognised by the ‘CE’ symbol) marks of approval.
Alarms tend to be fitted on the ceiling, although some may be able to be wall-mounted. Fire alarms should be screwed into place – they shouldn’t be glued, as if the glue gets into the alarm, it could break it and render it ineffective.
Once the fire alarm has been installed in your premises, there are other areas of fire protection you could consider as part of protecting your small business. For example:
- Fire suppression equipment, e.g. sprinklers
- Fire training, e.g. to become a fire warden or marshal
Fire alarm installation costs
When working out how much a fire alarm system installation will cost, there are several factors to consider, including:
- Size of system
As a very rough guide, you could expect to pay somewhere in the region of £2,000-£5,000+ for a commercial fire alarm installation. Naturally, this depends on the size and complexity of the system, as well as the type of business you run.
Fire alarm maintenance
It’s a legal requirement that your fire alarm system is maintained. Fire alarms should be serviced in accordance with BS 5839, which involves twice-yearly inspections and certifications. Fire alarm maintenance will involve testing your fire alarm system to ensure that it’s working correctly – this is a vital part of ensuring it can protect your property and staff against potential fires.
Fire alarm maintenance costs
How much it will cost to maintain your fire alarm system will depend on the size of the system, with maintenance prices often offered in accordance with the number of devices.
You could expect to pay anywhere from £125 to £200+ for a service visit for a system with up to 20 devices. Note that you may have to pay VAT on top of this, if applicable.
Read our alarm system costs article for more information.
Next steps: Compare commercial fire alarms
From reading this article, you’ve learned more about fire alarms for small business, including how they work, the features to look for, and what to take into consideration when choosing a provider and planning your budget.
Or, for more information based on your specific business needs, fill in the form at the top of the page to compare quotes for business security now.