Guidelines For Installing Fire Alarms In Historic Buildings

Procedure code:
Preservation Notebook Series - Gsa
Fire Alarm & Smoke Detection Systems
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.

  • 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 installed.
    3. Retest the substantially completed new system prior to demolition of the existing system in areas where pulls and alarms will be reused.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 possible.
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13