Specification issues

Issues with Engineering Specifications to watch for.

Here is a list of some of the issues we have had with engineering specifications.  It is important to note that without a clear scope of work that should include a specification it is difficult to get proposals that give you what you want. When you hire an engineer is is prudent to go through their specifications to look for the following items. When an electrical engineer is hired normally you are trusting them to provide you with what you need. 

1. Often specifications include outdated model numbers that no longer can be obtained. Often there are outdated references to code that no longer apply. Some engineers do a great job of staying on top of the different industries and others have a hard time because it is difficult to be experts in so many different areas. 

2. Some specifications include items that are required on the job but not shown on the plans. The American Society of Professional Estimators explains that you should always bid what is shown on the plans so all bidders are bidding the same counts. I strive to put notes in my proposals listing that I have included extra equipment that is required in the specifications. On small jobs I have had engineers require more extra equipment than is on the entire project. sometimes extra equipment such as heat detectors are required when there are no heat detectors on the job. 

Extra Materials for a large job are wise but sometimes if there are counts listed like 10 smokes, 10 heats, 10 Horn/Strobes the amount of extra equipment can exceed the cost of the system equipment. 

3. Many engineers use their boiler plate specifications and often you will find reference to a school district requirement or other company requirement that has nothing to do with the  project you are bidding. It saves time to use boiler plate specifications. I try to include notes on my proposals although there is  point where contractors don't have time to read extensive notes and they most often will chose the low bid and often it does not include everything that is required in the specification. 

4. Some specifications will require extensive testing and list that NFPA 72 guidelines need to be followed for ongoing testing. For a Fire Alarm company to provide this type of testing the owner needs to sign a maintenance agreement. The first fire alarm test is normally included and sometimes another one at the end of the first year. The State Law only requires one test per year on fire alarm systems. Some insurance companies require more. 

Often the engineering specifications will just insert all of the NFPA 72 testing criteria which requires not just the acceptance testing but also periodic testing much more frequent than the mandatory annual testing. We always provide the first acceptance test and tag but often we will add in another complete test a year later depending on your specification. Some owners use the installing company and others use different companies for their annual testing and some don’t do it at all until the AHJ comes to ask for it.

5. Training, often a specification will require 4 hours of training or sometimes more. This can add to the cost of a project although when required we include it. 

6. Reference to old wiring configuration that no longer apply in current code are included. Some specifications will require class A wiring on projects that are not required to be wired class A by code or the fire marshal. Class A wiring requires you go out and then back to the panel using a different wire path so many feet apart so if the wire is cut the system will keep working. Personally I like class A although class B addressable systems will alert you immediately to an issue but you will lose communication to any devices or appliances after the wire cut. There are only about 3 states in the US that still require class A configuration. In Utah the State Fire Marshal still requires class A on schools, restrooms, state buildings and daycares but it is not a code requirement but some jurisdictions still want class A in their city.  

7. Sometimes a specification will require you to install monitor modules or damper connections in a building and have a note to coordinate with the other divisions to verify how many will be needed. In order to propose the fire alarm contractors need to have some sort of baseline. Often one flow and one tamper are shown and on a large building sometimes you will have many more items that need to be monitored that are not shown on the plans. We cannot guess and bid dates sometimes do not give you time to coordinate and ask other divisions about their equipment. Bidding what is shown on the plans is what most contractors do and later they find out that 3 flow switches, 6 tampers switches, 1 PIV, 1 low air need to be monitored, so if we include them we often lose the bid. 

8. A specification from a prominent Electrical Engineer here in the Valley requires a fire alarm battery nominal life expectancy: 10 Years minimum (There are some smoke alarms not fire alarm systems that have 10 year batteries) Normally fire alarm gel cell 12 volt batteries last anywhere from 2 to 5 years depending on the environment but I called manufactures and I cannot find any of them that will give me a 10 year nominal life fire alarm battery. I sent an RFI on this specific job to the Engineer but I have not hear back from them. Quite some time ago I sent RFIs about this same thing and it is still in the specification.


9. Many of the Electrical Engineer Specifications still require SYSTEM PRINTERS on both large and small jobs . These are the old DOT MATRIX printers and since they are being phased out they are quite expensive and normally don’t hold up very long in the rooms they are installed in that are close the fire panels, most owners don’t keep them in a dust free environment so they end up jamming and most owners don’t change the cartridges or the paper and when they are supervised they end up putting a trouble on the panel and later become unplugged. The panels keep an extensive history and the UL listed Central Stations also keep history. On a very large building I can still see using a DOT MATRIX printer if it meets the customers’ needs but on most jobs it is not prudent or practical  to install these old type printers.

10. Many Fire Alarm Specifications still require replaceable LAMPS on the Strobes and horn/strobes. These are sealed and normally not replaceable so we would need to provide an entire appliance not just the LAMP.  Note: Items such smoke detectors, heat detectors and CO detectors are devices, any strobe or horn/strobe is an appliance. Just FYI. 

11. Often the mechanical division will include DUCT DETECTORS and the FIRE ALARM Specification will include DUCT DETECTORS and we get on site only to find we need to give a deduct for them and only provide monitor modules. Sometimes this is a lack of coordination although most of the time the DUCT DETECTORS that the HVAC companies provide are not smart  devices or addressable. 

12. Many estimators  do their best to read and follow fire alarm specifications and sometimes they are older or boiler plate and require things that are not applicable to the specific project so many estimators  will  send out RFI sheets to clarify. On a building where code requires low frequency horns and low frequency horn/strobes in the ADA rooms we include a note on our bid even when these items are not in the specification or on the plans. 

13. Many Engineers leave all the PULL stations off the job because code says you can eliminate pulls on a fully sprinkled building but IBC/IFC clearly point out that you can eliminate all but  ONE. There are other criteria depending on the occupancy. I just had one with 20 pull stations on a fully sprinkled building and I assume that the Engineer put them in for a reason but when the contractor is looking for value engineering that can be one place to begin in occupancies that do not require them.

14. This article is not meant to be critical of Electrical Engineers or critical of fire alarm specifications. We run into these same type of issues on camera specifications even more then that technology and the model numbers change every 6 months or so. It is difficult for us to stay on top of each of our items which include Intrusion systems, Fire Alarm, Cameras, Access control, Area of Refuge or emergency communications and intercom. Our hope is that some corrections can be made to the boiler plate specifications to correct old or outdated information and that we can continue to help and work with the engineers to improve specifications as technology changes. 

When you have any comments or corrections please contact Larry Love at Peak Alarm Larry@peakalarm.com (801) 428 1384