How Do You Figure Out Your Commercial Fire Alarm System Cost?
The safety of your buildings is tremendously important. Investing in an adequate fire alarm system ensures the safety of your employees, of course. Remember that it also protects your valuable property and goods.
One of the best (and required by law!) ways to safeguard your commercial property is by installing a commercial fire alarm system. Like any investment, one absolutely critical question that often arises that you probably have is, "What is the typical commercial fire alarm system cost that I should expect?"
Commercial fire alarm system cost parameters encompass several factors. These include the costs of selection, installation, maintenance, support, and operating the system day-to-day.
Let's dive into each of these aspects to help you make an informed decision about the right fire alarm system for your business or agency.
Cost of Choosing a Commercial Fire Alarm System
The first cost you'll encounter in your project timeline is selecting the alarm system itself. At minimum, you’re looking at some time spent by your full-time technical staff to research options and make a decision.
This is why seasoned employees with a few decades of experience have usually found a trusted full-service vendor or third-party consultant. These outside resources have time and experience that you simply can’t devote with all of your other job responsibilities.
Whether by spending a lot of staff time, hiring a consultant directly, or using a full-service manufacturer who provides pre-sale design services (usually no cost if you don’t end up buying their equipment), you’re going to be paying something here.
Remember that the cost of getting this wrong is horrendous. Most or all of your budget will be gone. You’ll be stuck with a system you can’t use (or that is wastefully slow or inaccurate). So, save money in this category where you can, but don’t cut things too close to the bone in a way that costs you more later.
The Purchase Price of Your New System
The price of your alarm system itself varies widely depending on the type of system you choose. Simple, conventional fire alarm systems can start from even just a few hundred dollars, while more sophisticated, addressable systems that can identify the exact location of the fire can run into thousands.
Another obvious cost determinant is the size and complexity of your premises. Larger and more complex buildings require more comprehensive systems, leading to higher costs. You can get some limited economies of scale via quantity discounts, but you can essentially multiply the cost of a single building or floor by the number of these that you have in your building or campus.
Factors such as your local fire codes and regulations, the need for specific types of alarms, and whether you require a monitored or unmonitored system will also affect the price you pay.
Of all the price categories we’re walking through here, this one is the hardest to pin down because it varies so much. Still, the concepts above give you a starting point as you begin planning and doing compare-and-contrast research.
Your overall commercial fire alarm system cost also includes installation, which often depends on the labor rates in your area, the complexity of the installation, and the characteristics of your building. On average, you might expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 for installation in a small to medium-sized building. However, this cost can increase significantly for larger buildings or more complex installations.
Much as with your system itself, choosing a cut-rate installation company often leads to delays and expenses down the line. It’s certainly reasonable not to get gouged by an outrageous installation fee, but balancing that with a good reputation is key. One good resource is often your alarm system manufacturer, who has a clear interest in you ending up happy with your installed system.
Maintenance and Support Costs
The maintenance and support for your fire alarm system are recurring costs that will accumulate over time (never stopping during the life of your system). Regular inspections are necessary to ensure that the system is functioning correctly and also to meet regulatory requirements. These can commonly cost anywhere from $50 to $200 per inspection per fire panel (FACP), depending on the size of your system.
Support costs (which may eliminate “a la carte” maintenance expense) may include things like warranty or service agreement fees. It can also include emergency repair costs if something goes wrong with the system. These costs can vary, but expect to budget at least a few hundred dollars per year per fire panel for support and unexpected repairs. There are no guarantees that you’ll stay within this estimate, but having something set aside is an important preparatory step.
The operational costs include monthly or annual monitoring fees if you've chosen a monitored system, costs to replace batteries or other components, and potential fines for false alarms. Monitoring fees can range from $25 to $100 per month. Battery replacement typically costs around $30 per year, and false alarm fines can vary by location.
Estimating your commercial fire alarm system cost is multi-faceted, encompassing a range of both one-time and ongoing costs.
The Cost of Ensuring Compliance with NFPA 72
NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, is the standard for the design, installation, maintenance, and testing of fire alarm systems. Ensuring compliance with NFPA 72 is an implied component of your overall commercial fire alarm system cost. If you end up with a system that isn’t compliant, it doesn’t matter how much you spent on buying and installing it.
NFPA 72 compliance requires an investment during your design phase. Unless you have someone on staff already, you'll need to hire an experienced designer who is familiar with the code. Depending on the complexity of your project, this might cost $500 to $3,000 or much more. It will scale up as your system complexity increases.
Your overall purchasing and installation costs may increase due to the need to follow specific NFPA 72 provisions, such as requirements for alarm location, wiring, and backup power sources. This could add several hundred to several thousand dollars to the installation cost, depending on your building's size and complexity.
NFPA 72 also requires regular testing and inspection of fire alarm systems. A licensed inspector must perform these inspections, which could cost $100-$200 (as described earlier).
Finally, any non-compliance detected during inspections will need to be corrected, which can lead to additional costs. The price of corrective measures depends on the issues identified. It could be less than $1000, but a typical corrective change might cost you several thousand dollars to execute successfully execute.
Proprietary Fire Alarm Monitoring Equipment Costs
Investing in proprietary fire alarm monitoring equipment to monitor your own fire alarms is another potential cost to consider. This is a significant investment, but for larger businesses or those with multiple properties, it may prove more cost-effective over time.
Compare this option to paying ongoing monitoring service fees. Even if you don’t achieve ROI just in terms of dollars spent, establishing total control over your fire alarm monitoring can improve your response times.
The cost of proprietary fire alarm monitoring equipment can vary significantly, depending on the size and complexity of your system. A basic monitoring panel can start from under $1000, but for larger or more complex systems, the cost can easily reach tens of thousand of dollars. Obviously, this is more cost-effective as you can spread the cost across more fire panels and more initiating devices.
In addition to the equipment, there are also costs related to the setup and integration of the monitoring system with your fire alarm system, which can add several hundred to a few thousand dollars to the total cost.
Also, don't forget the ongoing costs associated with owning your own monitoring equipment. This includes maintenance and replacement parts, as well as staffing costs if you choose have dedicated personnel monitoring the system. These costs could add a few hundred or a few thousand dollars to your annual budget.
It’s Your Responsibility to Get This Right
While ensuring NFPA 72 compliance and investing in proprietary monitoring equipment add to the initial and ongoing commercial fire alarm system cost, they are critical components to think about during your planning phase.
They contribute significantly to your system's overall effectiveness, potentially saving lives and property in the event of a fire. Despite the costs, the investment in a quality fire alarm system and compliance with regulations provides peace of mind that you’ve fulfilled your obligations to your employees, visitors, and the general public.
You should make an honest effort to account for all of the factors in this article when budgeting for a new fire alarm system. While the upfront costs can be significant, the ongoing costs are equally important to consider. As I mentioned, you must also remember the staggering costs of a second system you must buy after a prior hasty purchase goes wrong.
Above all else, remember that a robust fire alarm system's cost pales in comparison to the potential cost of a devastating fire, both in terms of financial loss and human life.
Call Digitize for Assistance With Your Project
At Digitize, we’re manufacturers of proprietary fire alarm systems. That gives us a background on the broader fire alarm industry.
If you’re doing research, give us a call. We’ll point you in the right direction, even if you don’t need Digitize equipment.
Call us at 1-800-523-7232 or email email@example.com