Ask the Technician
T K Asked:
Your advice and suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Our condo complex consists of three buildings; two have CFI FACP systems and the largest building has a Siemens FACP, together they comprise 320 residential units. The manufacturers have indicated they will no longer support these systems (spare parts); an independent outside review shows they still have a useful life of 20 years if properly maintained. Can you suggest how we can get the parts we may need in the future?
Douglas Krantz Answered:
No, I'm not sure where to get spare parts. Check with the people maintaining your system to see if they still have new parts on their shelf.
There are some other things to take into account, though. Choices made now affect what happens later.
The manufacturers of your fire alarm systems have indicated that they will no longer support the systems you have. In other words, if your systems don't detect fire, or don't notify residents of the fire, the manufactures have said "It's no longer our problem".
But then again, an independent outside review shows that you systems have a useful life of 20 years (if properly maintained).
The parts you refer to will come in three varieties.
- In factory sealed packages, new parts that were never used elsewhere. The manufacturer stood behind them when the parts were made.
- Refurbished by a third party, used parts that have been repaired or examined. The refurbishing company stands behind the parts, but not as well as the manufacturer did when the parts were originally made.
- Off the used-parts-market (Ebay, Craig's List, Etc.), used parts that no one will really stand behind.
If for some reason parts are not immediately available, a problem that you may not have considered is that these systems have to be replaced on an emergency basis. As time goes on, the possibility of emergency replacement changes from remote possibility, to high probability, and finally to certainty.
Emergency replacement fire alarm systems always cost a lot more:
- There's no real bidding process on this, you take whatever system you can get in an emergency.
- The fire alarm company replacing the system will be uncertain of hidden problems, so they charge extra just to cover the possible extra costs to them.
- Overtime labor costs will be incurred by the fire alarm company because the new system has to be installed so quickly, these costs get passed on.
- Fire walks and other expenses incurred by the Association will be added to system cost until the new fire alarm system is fully up and running.
In all of this, the home owners have to pay for the whole system immediately, without any real notice.
Degrade Over Time
Keep in mind that the parts being used in the fire alarm system degrade over time, and that parts just sitting on the shelf also degrade over time.
The useful life being referred to by the independent outside company comes with caveats or warnings: 20 years - - if.
- If properly maintained the fire alarm systems may last 20 years
- If lightning doesn't strike during that time the fire alarm systems may last 20 years
- If there's no water damage from burst pipes, the fire alarm systems may last 20 years
- If the spare parts last that long, the fire alarm systems may last 20 years
Over time, what I've seen is that these caveats take a huge toll. You can replace the fire alarm systems at a time that you choose, or you can replace them on an emergency basis. However, the fire alarm systems will have to be replaced - that's a given.
Even after obtaining spare parts, the wise choice is to plan on spending money for new fire alarm systems. Get three budgetary bids (let the companies know these bids are for budgetary planning and not for actual installation). Use these bids to see how much money you have to save up. Start saving money now and then replace the fire alarm systems when you choose to, not when the fire alarm systems choose.