Historic Preservation - Technical Procedures

Guidelines For Installing Fire Alarms In Historic Buildings
Procedure code:
Preservation Notebook Series - Gsa
Fire Alarm & Smoke Detection Systems
Last Modified:
Guidelines For Installing Fire Alarms In Historic Buildings
Last Modified:


This procedure includes some general guidelines to follow when
installing fire alarm systems in historic buildings.  Special care
should be taken to avoid penetration into stone, unpainted wood,
unpainted metal, ceramic materials, ornamental plaster, decorative
painting, and other ornamental finishes.    

The following "rules of thumb" will aid in the careful placement of
fire alarm system hardware in ornamental wall finishes.

A.   Reuse existing holes for surface-mounted or recessed alarm
    pulls and bells/horns located in stone and other ornamental
    finishes.  This is accomplished by staging the installation as
    continuous fire protection:

    1.   Install the new system as completely as possible in areas
         where pull and alarm locations will not be reused prior
         to exchanging new pulls and horns for old pulls and
         alarms on ornamental surfaces.  Do not remove old
         hardware and install new until the new equipment has been
         tested successfully and approved by the Fire Protection
         Engineering Branch.

    2.   Interconnect the old and new fire alarm control panels so
         that pulls connected to either the existing or new system
         will activate all alarms while the new system is being

    3.   Retest the substantially completed new system prior to
         demolition of the existing system in areas where pulls
         and alarms will be reused.

B.   Reuse alarm and pull housings (backboxes), where possible,
    installing new pulls in place of existing pulls.  Reuse
    original ornamental grilles concealing bells in stone,
    unpainted wood, and other ornamental materials.

C.   Specify fabrication of new metal alarm pulls detailed as
    similarly as possible to the original pulls.  Where original
    plates do not exist, custom fabricate new metal cover plates
    for surface-mounted hardware, matching the building's original
    hardware in color and finish.

D.   When reuse of existing bells on ornamental surfaces is not
    possible, leave existing bells in place and install new bells
    or horns, in flat plaster if possible, at least five feet from
    the original hardware's location.

E.   Retention of abandoned pulls violates GSA fire safety
    standards concerned with possible confusion between defunct
    and active hardware during an emergency.  Exceptions are
    granted by the Fire Protection Engineering Branch, on a case
    by case basis only, when all evidence of the pull's original
    function is removed (e.g. filing off raised lettering, this is
    a last resort).  Avoid abandoning pulls in stone by reusing
    existing backboxes for new pull locations when at all

                         END OF SECTION
Last Reviewed 2012-02-24