False alarms can be a nuisance and can be…well…alarming. When your fire protection system is working as it should, you should only have to think about it when inspection time rolls around. But when it’s not working correctly, you may experience one or more unwanted alarms or worse, a system activation.

Low Frequency Fire and Smoke Alarms | NFPA

What is a false alarm?

An false alarm is a fire alarm signal from a fire detection or fire alarm system which is not caused by a fire. Examples include:

Nobody likes nuisance alarms or unwanted system activations. One easy way to make them less likely is to stick to a regular inspection and maintenance schedule. But preventing all unwanted alarms and system activations is harder because there are a myriad of reasons systems can be triggered. 

If you’re looking for help with a faulty system or too many unwanted alarms, give us a call. We can help.

Keep reading to learn some of the common causes of unwanted alarms and activations.  

Common Causes of False Alarms

Many things can cause false alarms — most of which are preventable. The good news though is that systems are very dependable, and fire suppression systems seldom just go off without a reason. Assuming you’re inspecting and maintaining your system, you probably don’t have to worry about unexpected accidental activation. What you can’t bank on, however, is human error. Below, we’ve shared the common causes of unwanted alarms and activations.

Understanding the common causes of false alarms and unwanted activations may help building owners to take steps to prevent them from happening in the future.

  1. Failure to put your system on test mode before work is done at your facility that could create an alarm condition.
  2. Turning on HVAC systems for the first time of the season
    (heat in the fall, air conditioning in the spring).
  3. Improper placement of the smoke detector. For
    example, a smoke detector is located too close to a
    laundry room.
  4. Dirt or dust in the components. Failure to properly
    clean detectors.
  5. Component failure (especially in older systems).
  6. Incorrect detector choice for the location.
  7. Environmental factors like water and lightning strikes.
  8. Rodents chewing on wiring.
  9. Malice.

Common Causes of Unwanted System Activation

While unwanted system activations are much rarer than false alarms, they can and do still happen.  Some of the most common causes of unwanted activations of fire suppression systems include:

  1. Exhaust fan and filter issues. False activation of kitchen suppression systems can be caused by failure to turn on exhaust fans.
  2. Incorrect placement or mislabeling of the fire suppression manual pull stations.
  3. Carelessness during maintenance or cleaning.
  4. Accidental activation by occupants.
  5. Leaking pipes, pipes freezing and air leaks for wet, dry, and pre-action sprinkler systems.
  6. Power surges.
  7. Environmental factors. For example a pull station or other system component getting wet or a UV/IR detector activating due to a light condition.

Prevention is a key component of ensuring that your fire systems do not have an unwanted alarm or activation. Please check out our next article titled “10 ways to prevent an unwanted alarm or activation.” If you need help with a faulty system or false alarms, give us a call. We can help.

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