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Retroactive Residential Fire Alarm Requirements Enforced in San Diego

In 2020, owners of some multifamily residences in San Diego began receiving notices titled “Retroactive Residential Fire Alarm Requirements.” The city sent these notices because it updated the local fire code to apply retroactively to certain buildings constructed before January 1, 1975. More specifically, the affected structures include:

  • Every apartment house 3 or more stories in height or containing more than 15 apartments
  • Every hotel or motel 3 or more stories in height or containing 20 or more guest rooms

There are exceptions—so not every property owner that meets the above requirements will need to act. For more information or questions, you can visit the City of San Diego Development Services web page.

So, what should you do if you need to update your fire alarm system? One option is working with a local, professional fire alarm contractor to design and install a compliant fire alarm system. Keep reading for some additional information to keep in mind if your building’s fire alarm system needs an update.

Because fire codes are enforced at the local level, the level of enforcement varies by city.

In California, the California Fire Code governs where and when a fire alarm system is installed. Then, NFPA 72®, the National Fire Alarm Code® developed by the National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA), provides details on how that system should be installed.

The California Fire Code sets the minimum standard for every occupancy in California. However, enforcement falls to local governments, so the level of enforcement can vary significantly. In this case, the City of San Diego amended the California Fire Code to retroactively enforce the code on multiple-story buildings that existed before January 1, 1975.

The local fire department usually handles local enforcement.

In many cities, including San Diego, the fire department is the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) that enforces fire codes.

The type of fire alarm system required in a building depends on building occupancy, the number of occupants, and whether sprinkler systems are required. If a building changes occupancy type, the property owner may be required to update the fire alarm system to meet the current fire codes.

According to the City of San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, owners must retrofit affected buildings with automatic or manually operated fire alarm systems that warn all occupants at the same time. And visual and audible notification is required throughout the building, in accordance with the current edition of the California Fire Code.

Fire code enforcement is because of concerns about occupant safety.

Californians know all too well the destruction a fire can cause. AHJs have become more concerned about multifamily residences and evaluating them quickly during a fire.

The best way to prevent injury is a fire alarm system with an early notification system so that residents know when they need to evacuate from the building.

In the case of San Diego, the city amended the code, and the fire department is enforcing the new requirements to keep occupants safe.

Have a professional fire alarm contractor upgrade your fire alarm to address any new requirements.

If your building needs a need or updated fire alarm system, you should contact a professional fire alarm provider familiar with state and local fire codes. You should reach out to reputable companies that have well-established relationships with the local authorities.

A fire alarm provider should offer the following services:

  • Fire alarm system design
  • Fire alarm system permitting
  • Fire alarm system installation
  • Regular system service and maintenance
  • Annual inspections and semi-annual inspections when required for specific devices

You should also consider companies that offer fire alarm monitoring, a service where a team of agents monitors your fire alarm system 24/7, and who can contact emergency services in the event of a fire alarm activation.

Designing, permitting, and installing a compliant fire alarm system can be a lengthy project. However, the City of San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and other departments give adequate time for installing a new fire alarm system once work begins. The “Retroactive Residential Fire Alarm Requirements” notice states that once an inspector sees that a professional fire alarm installer has initiated the permitting process, and a project number has been provided, they will sign off on the inspection. However, an implementation plan may be necessary in some circumstances.

Remember that price shouldn’t be the only priority when selecting a company to install your fire alarm system.

The price of the project will depend on building size and occupancy type. However, because fire codes are standard across one jurisdiction, quotes are based on similar parts and labor, no matter the company.

Be wary of any company that offers bids notably lower than competitors. They may not sufficiently understand the fire code and how to get your building in compliance.

To get the most out of your investment, and make the compliance process as easy as possible, hire a reputable, local fire alarm provider. Local experts are more likely to know how to get your building up to code and often have a close working relationship with the local AHJ. With a local fire alarm provider on your side, you can get in compliance, enjoy quick access to technical support, and schedule annual inspections to ensure the system works as it should.

If you need a fire system upgraded or installed, contact Bay Alarm for a quote.

We are a licensed C-10 fire alarm contractor that can design, permit, and install a fully compliant fire alarm system. We provide system service and maintenance when required. And we perform annual fire alarm inspections that ensure your system works properly. All our technicians are local, and we have positive working relationships with local fire departments and other AHJs.

At Bay Alarm, we know the fire codes and how to get your property in compliance.