Fire Alarm Systems: Addressable, Conventional, or Hybrid?

alarm device for fire alarm systems in commercial building
Fire alarm systems help keep your building and its occupants safe. Do you know which type is right for your facility?

Fire alarm systems are required for most commercial buildings. They are essential for protecting lives and property from fires. Whether you’re building a new facility and need a new system installed or are looking to retrofit or upgrade your existing system, it’s important to know your options. Our fire safety specialists can help you determine which type is right based on the specifics of your facility and the local codes for your building. However, it helps to consider whether you want an addressable, conventional, or hybrid system. 

Are There Different Types of Fire Alarm Systems?

“Fire alarms are fire alarms, they’re all the same, right?” 

We get this question a lot, and you might think the same thing. After all, most of them look really similar. National codes require certain devices to look a certain way for easy identification for safety equipment. This way, even if you’ve never been inside a particular building before, you can still take necessary steps in case of a fire. Nevertheless, there are many different types of fire alarms to choose from. 

All fire alarm systems are essentially multiple separate devices interconnected together to monitor for signs of fires. Therefore, in this way they are all fundamentally the same. Most systems include devices such as smoke detectors, heat detectors, manual fire pulls, audible/visual alarms, as well as the control panel. The control panel is the “brain” of your fire alarm systems. It takes information from the sensors and detectors and interprets that information to initiate alarms in case of fire. The control panel often also connects to the fire suppression systems in Houston to begin controlling or extinguishing the fire. 

However, exactly how this process works and how the devices connect to the control panel vary based on the type of system. The two main options for fire alarms are conventional and addressable, though hybrid systems exist as well. 

Differences Between Fire Alarm Systems

Naturally, different types of fire alarm systems have different features, benefits, and drawbacks. It’s important to know these differences so you can make the right decisions about your building’s lifesafety solutions

Conventional Fire Alarms

Conventional fire alarms are a more traditional way to install fire alarms. These systems don’t differentiate the devices for signals to the control panel. This option is often best for smaller facilities where it would be easy to divide areas into zones and where it would be fairly quick to determine where the fire is after an alarm sounds. 

Wiring for these Systems

These systems require a significant amount of wiring. This is because each device is wired right to the control panel. This means these systems not only require a lot of conduit, but also quite a lot of labor to install. Also, because all devices connect to the control panel through a wire, there are often a limited number of devices you can connect to the building’s control panel. 

How Devices Communicate

As we mentioned, signals from each device goes to the control panel. In a conventional system, these communications generally come in the form of analog electrical signals. The electrical signals are continuous to the control panel in the normal state. However, if the device detects a certain amount of smoke or heat, or if someone uses the manual fire pull station, then that electrical signal changes. That change makes the control panel then initiate alarms and suppression systems. 

Pros & Cons

Conventional fire alarm systems have several advantages and disadvantages. One of the main benefits is that the devices for these systems generally cost much less than many other types of devices and control panels. They also require much less programming from your fire safety specialist. 

However, there are also some drawbacks. For instance, while the devices themselves are often cheaper than other types, installation can be costly. This is because these systems require much more wiring and manpower to physically wire each device to a control panel. Also, in these systems, you generally only know that there is a fire, or at most what zone the fire is in if you set up your conventional system by zone. You won’t be able to pinpoint which device initiated the alarm. 

Addressable Fire Alarm Systems

Addressable fire alarms are different from conventional systems, as they differentiate between devices in the system. Each device has its own “address” and therefore allows you to identify which device started the alarm. These are better for larger facilities where you could waste precious seconds trying to find the source of the fire without that information from the control panel. 

How to Wire These Fire Safety Systems

In contrast to conventional systems, addressable fire alarm systems are wired in a loop. Both ends of the loop connect to the control panel, with various devices connected along the loop. This uses less wiring and therefore is a little less labor-intensive to install. Also, because there are two connections to the control panel, these systems may be more reliable, as if one end becomes severed, the other end is still attached and communicating with the control panel. 

How Devices Communicate

In most addressable fire systems, each device communicates through digital binary codes instead of through electrical currents. Because each device “talks” through binary code like a computer, you can assign each device a name and differentiate each one in the system. So, the control panel is able to tell which device is detecting a fire. 

Pros & Cons

One of the main benefits of an addressable system in your building is that it helps you save time by telling you exactly where the fire is. Also, because there’s less wiring involved, they are often quicker and less costly to install. As we mentioned, they are also often more reliable than conventional systems and they work well for practically any building. 

However, one drawback is that the devices themselves typically cost more than conventional systems. In addition, these systems do require a lot of programming, such as naming each device and telling the panel where it’s located.

Hybrid Systems

Hybrid systems, also known as analog addressable fire alarms, are a hybrid between conventional and addressable fire alarms. They take features from both. For instance, most hybrid systems do feature the hardwired zone setup, but also offer some of the monitoring options as addressable systems. 

How to Wire These Systems

Each hybrid system is a little different, but most of them use the same zone-type wiring system as the conventional system. Each device is wired into zones and then connected straight to the control panel. 

How Devices Communicate

In most cases, hybrid fire alarms use analog-addressable technology. This means that the sensors and detectors themselves use analog systems to detect a fire. Then, the information is converted from analog to digital signals for the control panel to interpret. Because the detection signals are analog, the devices offer less information than a traditional addressable system, but still offer more than a conventional system.

Pros & Cons

It’s easy to think that a hybrid system gives you the best of both worlds and therefore is the best option. However, there are pros and cons for this system as well, so you need to determine if this one is right for your building’s lifesafety needs. Generally, the price point for the devices is less than the addressable but more than the conventional. You also get more information than a conventional system.

Like conventional systems, there’s more wiring involved. You will also need some programming from our team, though less than addressable options. 

Total Fire & Lifesafety Solutions from Wilson Fire Equipment

When you need fire, security, and lifesafety solutions for your commercial or industrial building, trust our team at Wilson Fire Equipment. Our goal is to help you protect your people and property through state-of-the-art safety systems. We have been providing superior service since 1916 and are confident we can meet your safety and security needs. If you need a new or updated system, reach out now for a free quote. For maintenance on an existing system, contact us for a service request