Fire Code Compliance & Requirements in Massachusetts

March 29, 2022 9:57 am

Whether you want to safeguard your business property or home, having the right fire alarm systems will help you get the job done.

Both commercial properties and home residences in Massachusetts must follow fire alarm laws. If you are a commercial building or homeowner in Massachusetts, you may have a few questions about the state’s fire alarm code compliance and system requirements.

Are smoke alarms required in commercial buildings in Massachusetts? If so, where are commercial smoke detectors required in a business building? What about the rules for fire detectors in the home? When do I need an inspection? Who performs it?

To answer your questions and help you navigate fire code compliance, we have compiled this beginner’s guide to code compliance and Massachusetts fire alarm system requirements for commercial and residential buildings.

Business Fire Alarm Requirements in MA

To protect the lives of your employees and customers and to protect your property, your commercial building security should include a fire alarm system. A fire alarm system protects your commercial building, and you may also be required by your state to include a functional fire system in your business to stay operational. As such, every commercial building owner will face the question of whether they need to install a fire alarm system.

Massachusetts Fire Code for Commercial Buildings

What are the fire alarm requirements for offices and other commercial buildings? The State Fire Code has been in effect since January 1, 2018. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Fire Safety Code, 527 CMR, outlines the minimum requirements that commercial buildings must meet for fire safety, along with permits or licenses you may need to obtain depending on what materials will be present in your commercial building.

Are Smoke Alarms Required in Commercial Buildings for MA Fire Code Compliance?

Commercial buildings should include smoke detectors. In 2018, the U.S. recorded more than 103,000 nonresidential building fires. These fires resulted in 85 deaths, more than 1,000 injuries, and more than $2.6 billion lost. Nonresidential building fires have increased by 26% since 2009, along with a 30% increase in deaths and a 15% increase in injuries. Fires in nonresidential buildings are a worsening problem, which is why implementing a fire alarm system and following smoke detector requirements for commercial buildings is so important.

For every 1,000 fires in Massachusetts in 2018, there were 11.1 injuries and 1.8 deaths. Approximately 89% of fire-related deaths occurred in structures — either residential or nonresidential buildings — and about 81% of injuries occurred in structures.

What Causes Commercial Building Fires?

Why might a fire start in your commercial building? The following are possible causes of nonresidential fires:

  • Cooking
  • Carelessness or unintentional fires
  • Intentional fires
  • Electrical malfunction
  • Heating
  • Open flame
  • Equipment malfunction
  • Smoking

Unintentional and intentional fires in nonresidential buildings have both increased since 2009, along with non-residential building fires caused by cooking. A fire can start in your commercial building in various ways, making complete prevention difficult. This is why a fire alarm system is so integral to the safety of a nonresidential property and its occupants.

Related Article: How to Prevent Fires in the Workplace

Massachusetts Sprinkler Code

In Massachusetts, an automatic sprinkler system used for fire protection is an underground or overhead piping system that includes a suitable water supply in case of an emergency. The system is activated when it detects heat from a fire. Water is then discharged over the area where the fire is located.

Automatic Sprinkler Systems

Automatic sprinkler systems in Massachusetts are monitored by approved supervising stations. A supervising station is a facility that will receive a signal from your system and where personnel is always present to respond to signals.

Automatic sprinkler systems should be included in all new and some existing buildings, including”

  • Certain high-rise buildings that were constructed before 1975
  • Some non-residential structures that are more than 7,500 square feet
  • Boarding or lodging houses that board or lodge at least six people
  • Bars, dance halls, discotheques, and nightclubs that have a capacity of at least 100 people

Exceptions for the MA Sprinkler Code

Exceptions for the Massachusetts sprinkler code include:

  • Limited area systems that have fewer than 20 sprinklers
  • Machine rooms of elevator pits, elevator hoistways or traction/drum hydraulic elevators
  • Transformer vaults that contain an alternative suppression system
  • Areas used exclusively for telecommunications equipment as long as these areas have an automatic smoke detection system
  • Rooms or areas that are protected with a smoke detection system that will respond to invisible or visible particles of combustion

In buildings where approved automatic sprinkler systems are required, a system should be installed throughout each story where the area of the floor is more than 1,500 square feet.

Business Smoke Alarm Regulations & Requirements

Smoke alarms for commercial buildings are subject to regulations and requirements. What are the commercial building smoke detector requirements in Massachusetts? The owner of a building is responsible for the maintenance and care of a fire protection system, including the devices and equipment, to protect the welfare and safety of occupants. No other person is permitted to disconnect, shut off, obstruct, destroy or remove any part of the fire alarm system without first obtaining a written permit.

If installations of the fire protection system are interrupted due to repairs or another necessary reason, the building owner should inform the local fire department immediately and ensure that restoration of the system is completed as soon as possible.

Where Are Smoke Detectors Required in Commercial Buildings for Massachusetts Fire Code Compliance?

Business fire alarm requirements also specify where smoke detectors should be placed. The goal is to detect fires as early as possible to trigger a response and reduce the number of false alarms. When installing a smoke detector in your commercial building, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Place detectors away from moisture and smoke systems: To prevent false alarms, smoke detectors should be installed a minimum of 10 feet away from moisture and smoke systems like ovens and showers.
  • Install smoke detectors in each separate hallway and room: Smoke detectors should be installed in every separate hallway and room with an audible alarm system.
  • Ensure indicators are visible for detectors higher than 10 feet: For smoke detectors placed on a wall higher than 10 feet, the detector should include an indicator that is visible to responding personnel.
  • Replace batteries regularly: Replace batteries in smoke detectors at least once yearly. Refer to the instructions from the manufacturer for more specific maintenance details.
  • Ensure smoke can reach detectors in stairways: Smoke detectors in stairways should be located so that ceilings and walls will not prevent smoke from reaching the detectors.

Follow these guidelines to ensure that your smoke detectors function as effectively as possible in your commercial building.

Massachusetts Smoke Detector Laws for Businesses by Occupancy

A building’s type of occupancy is determined legally by local code officials. Building codes for fire alarm systems vary by state, and they may also vary by county. Several building types can fall under the classification of business. Commercial buildings are treated the same under code requirements, with the largest differences in code depending on a building’s purpose and potential hazards.

Building types fall into these categories:

If you are unsure about how your commercial building or portions of the building should be classified, then you should reach out to a local code official who can confirm the occupancy classification.

Home Smoke Detector Requirements in MA

Much like commercial buildings, homes also need smoke detectors. Having them in hallways and living spaces — such as bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens — helps keep your family safe. Whether you’re building a home or remodeling an older one, you should know the different requirements for house smoke alarms.

Home Smoke Detector Replacement in MA

A fire can happen at any time of day or night, whether you’re home or away. A smoke detector helps warn you and your family members of a potential fire as early as possible.

As of 2010, Massachusetts law requires that your smoke detectors are inspected during renovation or if you’re selling the property. You will need hardwired smoke alarms with battery backups in new or remodeled homes.

You should always follow home fire alarm laws in MA, regardless of whether you plan to remodel or sell your home soon. Doing so helps protect you, your family, and your property from fire risks and damage.

Smoke Detector Requirements for Residential Buildings

If you own a residential building, you will need to:

  • Install alarms: Buy either photoelectric or combination detectors. If you use a combination detector, you should place it 20 feet away from kitchens and bathrooms. Photoelectric alarms are suitable for any location.
  • Assess your fire alarm system: Your fire alarm system needs to consist of photoelectric or combination detectors. Otherwise, you should change them. They also should have sealed, non-replaceable 10-year batteries.
  • Replace alarms every 10 years: Smoke detectors usually have a lifespan of around a decade. If yours are nearing that mark or are malfunctioning, or you aren’t sure when they were installed, it’s a good idea to replace them. You can check your devices’ manufacture and expiration dates to see how far along you are.

If it is time for you to replace your fire alarms, you must ensure compliance with Massachusetts law. You should also follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper installation and replacement. The law dictates you must:

  • Choose a photoelectric or combination system.
  • Have new alarms with silence buttons that you can easily access.
  • Install alarms on every livable level, including basements and attics.
  • Replace all additional battery-operated alarms that exceed the 10-year lifespan limit.
  • Have alarms in all common areas for households with two or more residents.

Additional Suggestions

Homeowners should also consider installing non-obligatory alarms. You can easily buy and install battery-operated ones if you want more detectors than the law requires. These options are allowed to have replaceable batteries since they aren’t mandated. These extra alarms can also be whichever type you choose, such as photoelectric, ionization or combination.

Another suggestion is to ensure you install the proper carbon monoxide (CO) detectors, as Massachusetts law also requires these alarms in every home. You will need a detector on each completed level in your home, and they must be within 10 feet of every bedroom door.

Remember that state laws are the bare minimum for smoke and CO detectors. You can do more than the requirements to ensure maximum protection for your family and property. For example, you could have a company monitor your smoke alarms so that they can alert you when they go off and dispatch emergency services.

Related Article: Where to Place Smoke Detectors in Your Home

Preparing Your Home for a Smoke Detector Inspection

A fire marshal or other local authority will inspect your fire alarm and carbon monoxide systems. They will give you a verified certification if you’ve passed, and you can sell or remodel your home. This certification is valid for two months. To start preparing for a smoke detector inspection, you should:

  • Determine when your home was built and the latest renovations permit issue date. You can contact your local building department if you’re unsure of these dates.
  • Use these dates to consult this comprehensive PDF guide concerning Massachusetts carbon monoxide and smoke guidelines to determine the requirements for your home’s CO and smoke alarms.
  • Make a list of the location of every fire alarm and CO detector in your residence.
  • Find the age of each detector by checking the manufacturing date, making sure to replace any alarms you remove during this process. If there is no date listed on your alarm, assume it is expired and replace it.
  • Once you understand the fire alarm requirements for your home, ensure you follow them and replace any alarms that don’t meet the guidelines.
  • If the primary alarms in your home are battery-operated and over 10 years old, you need to replace them. Use 10-year, sealed, non-rechargeable, non-replaceable battery-powered photoelectric alarms.
  • Test your fire and CO alarms before calling the fire department to schedule an inspection.

Components of a Fire Alarm System

While installing a quality fire alarm system and ensuring that your system meets Massachusetts’ commercial property fire alarm regulations can be challenging, understanding how your fire alarm system operates doesn’t need to be. The following are components of a fire alarm system for your commercial building:

1. Hand Pulls

Hand pulls may be one of the most familiar components of a fire alarm system. These devices are easy both to recognize and use. An occupant in your commercial building can trigger an alarm by pulling the handle down in a fire or another emergency. When this alarm signal is sent to the fire panel, the sirens and strobes will activate.

While smoke can take minutes to reach a detector, hand pulls can be activated as soon as someone spots an emergency. These devices improve evacuation speed and reaction times of emergency services. You can select from different sizes and shapes and include an optional cover for your commercial building.

2. Smoke Detectors

One of the essential components of a fire alarm system is its smoke detectors. These devices detect smoke and alert the occupants of the building to the presence of the smoke. Two of the most common smoke detectors are photoelectric smoke detectors and ionization smoke detectors.

  • Photoelectric smoke detectors: These detectors tend to be more responsive to smoldering fires. Photoelectric smoke detectors aim at a light source at an angle. When smoke enters the area, the light will be reflected onto the sensor, which will then trigger the alarm. Because smoldering fires tend to be harder to detect, these smoke detectors can prevent more fatalities.
  • Ionization smoke detectors: These detectors tend to be more responsive to flaming fires. Ionization smoke detectors use small radioactive sources to charge the air in the system. The two electrically charged plates charge the air, which creates a current between the plates. The alarm is activated when smoke disrupts the flow of the ions and the current.

Local building codes may specify how many smoke detectors you need and where they should be located. When you work with us at Lexington Alarm Systems, we can help you maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of your smoke detectors to provide the optimal level of protection from your property and occupants.

3. Horns and Strobes

Detection is not the only important part of the equation when it comes to a fire alarm system. You also need devices that will alert every occupant in your building about the danger. Horns are the sound part of a fire alarm system, and strobes are the visual part of an alarm system. Horns audibly warn everyone in the building of the emergency, while strobes flash in bursts to warn occupants of the emergency visually.

While some businesses may opt to implement only one of the other, horns and strobes are more effective when used together. Strobes and horns are mounted throughout a commercial building and activate when a fire panel receives an alarm from another part of the system. Building codes require that these devices are mounted where your building’s occupants can easily see or hear them regardless of how far away they are from the device. By placing these devices throughout your building to ensure everyone will be notified of an emergency, you could potentially save more lives.

4. Temperature Sensors

Another frequently used component of a fire alarm system is temperature sensors. These devices can detect high or low temperatures, which will alert you if temperatures fall below or rise above a certain level. These sensors tend to be used in areas like freezers or IT rooms, where a stable temperature is crucial. When the equipment or product is expensive and valuable to the business, temperature sensors are solid investments.

Temperature sensors can also be used in areas where you would not be able to place conventional smoke detectors like bathrooms or kitchens. Additionally, heat detectors can detect fires that don’t give off much smoke, which provides another layer of protection for your property and its occupants.

5. Voice Evacuation

While horns and strobes effectively cue occupants about immediate dangers, occupants may not feel a sense of urgency after frequent fire drills and false alarms. A blaring alarm may also cause a chaotic evacuation in a large facility. This is why voice evacuation is important for an effective and efficient fire alarm system.

Voice evacuation will deliver prerecorded messages throughout your commercial building and guide occupants out of the facility via the safest possible route. Voice evacuation systems are quite versatile, allowing you to include recordings for various situations, such as fires, gas leaks, severe weather and active shooters. This component will make evacuation from your building more organized, which means your building’s occupants will be able to exit safely.

Voice evacuation is so effective that some experts in the industry believe this component may entirely replace horns and strobes as this technology becomes more streamlined.

For an effective fire alarm in a commercial building, you may want to consider implementing these components.

Contact Lexington Alarm Systems for Fire Alarm Systems Today

Are you looking to incorporate a new fire alarm system into your commercial building or upgrade your existing system? Lexington Alarm Systems can provide you with the right system that complies with the Massachusetts fire code.

Our priority is our customers’ safety. When an alarm alerts our monitoring center, we reach out to you and to the appropriate authorities for help. Our center is 5-diamond certified and UL-listed and we respond to an alarm in less than eight seconds. We can protect your commercial building effectively to give you the peace of mind you need.

Request a quote today or contact us at Lexington Alarm Systems for a free security consultation. Our sales team will reach out to talk to you about your security needs, walk your property and develop a quote.


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