Wired or Wireless Fire Alarms: What to Choose?
Should you get a wired or a wireless fire alarm system installed? Both have pros and cons, so choosing the right one might be a bit of a challenge. To help you make an informed decision, the fire alarm experts, here at Evacuator Alarms, have put together this comprehensive comparison article featuring all the important advantages and disadvantages of each fire alarm type. Let’s dive in!
Wired vs Wireless Fire Alarms: How do they work?
The main difference between the wired and the wireless fire alarm systems is the way they are set up.
Wired fire alarms systems send signals between the control panel of the system and the individual fire detection devices (manual call points, smoke detectors, heat detectors, CO detectors) via a network of cables and wires. Based on the level of detail sent to the control panel, the wired fire alarm system can be either conventional or addressable.
- Conventional fire alarm systems have information about the zone of the building where the fire alarm was triggered
- Addressable fire alarm systems gather more detailed data, including the device that was used to trigger the alarm and the exact location where it happened
Because of the better accuracy of the information provided, addressable fire alarms systems are now the preferred solution. They make it easier for the responding fire services to address the issue quickly and adequately.
Wired fire alarms systems use special radio frequencies to transmit the same information to the control panel without having to rely on any cables or wires. The units are powered by batteries and need no mains connection. A transmitter or a receiver is installed to send the information long-distance from any connected device to the main panel, so the system can have addressable functionality.
Choosing between wired vs wireless fire alarm systems
We used six different factors to do the comparison between wired and wireless fire alarms, covering the key decision-making elements including cost, maintenance, installation and more. Find out how it went!
Like everything new, wireless fire alarms are more expensive than the traditional hardwired fire alarm systems. This is because the technology used in wireless alarm systems is more complex, making the price go up when it comes to buying the units, to start with. However, installation is more expensive for hardwired systems because it requires more labour time.
A comparison to do with the maintenance costs really depends on the type of issue you are faced with. Spare parts for hardwired alarms are less expensive and easier to find. Plus, you don’t have to worry about buying replacement batteries. However, if your wired fire alarm goes out of order and needs to be replaced or repaired, this may require breaking walls to get to the cables and that is an expensive project.
Ease of Installation
When it comes to ease of installation, wireless fire alarms are the unequivocal winner. The wireless detection devices need no cables, so only the control panel will have to be connected to the mains system. This means that wireless fire alarms can be installed pretty much anywhere with minimal labour required. As we said above, this makes installation cheaper and it’s faster too.
The problem with hardwired alarm systems is that if you want to install them in an already completed building that’s in use, you might need to have some of the walls broken down (partially at least) to get the cables in the right places. This will take time and cost money. If you are planning to install a fire alarm system in a new build, however, hardwired alarms can be implemented in the original design, eliminating this problem.
Hardwired alarms are mains-powered, so the only time you would have to worry about them not working is if there is a power outage. Even then, most weird fire alarms have backup generators, so they will reboot even when the main electricity source is out.
Probably the biggest concern most users have when considering using wireless fire alarms is reliability. Wireless alarm systems depend on wireless coverage to communicate with the control panel and if that’s not available, the system would be ineffective. If the signal is weak, the units could drain their battery faster as they would be constantly searching for the signal (much like your mobile phone when you can’t connect to the network). This causes concerns when it comes to battery life and replacements.
That being said, in terms of fire detection, wireless fire alarms are just as reliable as hardwired alarms, so if you arrange for regular maintenance, the battery shouldn’t be a problem. To avoid coverage issues, it’s best to have an assessment done by a fire safety specialist to see whether wireless is a viable option for you at all.
According to the BS 5839 fire safety standard, all fire alarms, whether they are wired or wireless, should be inspected by a trained professional every six months. Also, fire alarms tests must be done every week by the fire marshal and a fire evacuation drill – annually. In that aspect, the demand for regular maintenance is the same for both types.
However, wireless fire alarms have one disadvantage – in addition to the above, their batteries must be replaced regularly. Usually, you can expect a fire alarm system’s battery to last between 3 – 5 years. Whether this maintenance cost is something you need to think about or not is dependent on what you need the alarm for. If you need only a temporary fire alarm for a construction site, for example, this should not be a problem for you.
If you are interested in interior design, you’ll have another reason to love wireless fire alarms. Without unsightly cables hanging about, they simply look better, neater and fit more easily in any space you have to work with, whether it’s an office, school or a residential building.
Inadvertently, the installation requirements of a hardwired fire alarm system can also affect the appearance of the building as well. Drilling holes into walls will require some additional work to improve the finish of the wall, such as plastering or dry lining, as well as repainting. Those are all procedures that come with their own stylistic challenges, so going wireless saves you a lot of hassle in this aspect.
One of the best things about a wireless fire alarm system is that it can be moved, extended or amended as needed. Yes, that’s right – you can just add new units or move the existing units around as your building plan evolves. This makes wireless alarms a sensible choice for construction sites and other temporary projects.
Hardwired alarms are a nightmare to move or replace, as it requires completely rewiring the system. It’s a complicated and time-consuming process. If you have to go through with it, it will likely cause disruptions to your business, as well, as you may need to pause your day-to-day activities to allow for the work to be completed.
So, a wired or wireless fire alarm – which one is better? As much as we’d like to give you a simple, straightforward answer, that’s not possible. Both types have their pros and cons and these have to be weighed depending on the specific requirements of your building. This is why it’s important to always consult with a fire alarm specialist before committing to either option. Need help? Speak to one of our West Midlands-based fire safety experts here, at Evacuator Site Alarms, on 0330 135 5337 – we’ll advise you on the best solutions and get the entire installation process sorted out for you.