Conventional wisdom

Addressable rules, but conventional panels have their place
Saturday, December 1, 2007

BOISE, Idaho--Addressable fire panels are definitely the wave of the future, but conventional panels remain a healthy sector of the fire market according to those who make and those who install them. As evidence of this, Gamewell-FCI in November, and Fire-Lite Alarm last spring released new lines of conventional fire panels.
Fire-Lite Alarms' vice president of engineering Dirk Von Richthofen said Fire-Lite's addressable business is booming, but Fire-Lite made the decision a few years ago to maintain the conventional business and has upgraded its panels to comply with UL 864 ninth edition. "It's real revenue even if it's a small share of the market," he said.
The target application for a conventional system, he said, is a strip mall store where "you can see the entire store from front to back ... so there's little need for the addressable system." Fire-Lite's newest panels have been updated with some addressable-type features, he said, such as a built-in LCD display with keypad that makes it "even easier to program and set up and apply descriptive tests to the conventional input zone ... so you can put a label such as 'north hallway' on the panel." They're also System Sensor "I-3 compatible" as well, which means that the conventional panel now has the ability to alert the facilities person of the need for cleaning or replacement of parts.
Fire makes up about 90 percent of Matt Casey's business, Guardian Alarm Systems, here in Boise. Of that, he estimates that 75 percent of the fire panels he installs are conventional Fire-Lite systems. Casey has found a niche installing conventional panels in multi-family dwellings.
"This year we will do over 400 different styles of multi-family dwellings," he said. Casey's business takes full advantage of the fact that Idaho adopted NFPA 13R, which requires the installation of sprinkler systems. "The sprinkler systems are tied into the panels; the panels are low cost, you don't have to get into the [more complex installation of] addressable panels, and the maintenance on them is fabulous," he said. Casey also does the monitoring (through a third party), service and inspection of the systems he installs.
For Rob Hartz of Acorn Electric Inc., in Lisle, Ill., another Fire-Lite dealer, conventional systems only make up about 40 percent of his business, and it's strictly retrofit. "I don't put in [conventional systems] in brand new construction. I'm a big advocate of addressable systems," he said. But for the retrofit market where the customer wants to keep the same wiring, conventional systems fit the bill.