Fire and Life Safety – Getting a Certificate of Occupancy, Part 2: Gaining Approval

Fire and life safety are of the highest priority for building owners and contractors. In Part 1, we covered what to expect during the certificate of occupancy process. Part 2 offers tips for avoiding delays and earning approval.


1. Research fire alarm companies

Though the fire alarm installer typically works under the electrical contractor, both the general contractor and property manager have a say in which company is selected for the project. These terms are detailed in project specifications and grant decision makers the opportunity to research fire alarm installers and identify the best fit.

It’s important to verify that any fire alarm contractor is qualified and adheres to fire and safety design ethics. NICET certification is a good indicator. NICET stands for the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies. NICET is a global leader in certifying technology professionals who reliably apply engineering principles and practices for public safety.

It’s also a good idea to take a partnership approach with your preferred fire alarm installer. Have a conversation to understand the installer’s design and installation process and post-installation monitoring services.


2. Identify similar buildings

The general contractor might ask the fire alarm installer for reference buildings similar in size and occupancy to yours. Doing so helps the general contractor qualify a fire alarm contractor with relevant experience.

For example, each of these occupancy types has different fire and safety considerations:

  • Assembly, such as civic centers, sports arenas, movie theaters and places of worship
  • Business
  • Residential
  • Mercantile
  • Hazardous
  • Storage/warehouse
  • High-rise

3. Have a complete design scope

You’ll get more accurate bids with a complete design scope. If fire alarm contractors do not understand the full scope of work, low bids could turn costly when they discover additions after winning the contract.

Remember that fire alarm specifications are code-driven. The system cannot deviate from the code, or you will not receive a certificate of occupancy. It’s best to know everything that’s needed upfront.


4. Understand how different contractors bid

Keep in mind that low bids aren’t always the best bids. Some alarm installers realize the full scope of work but bid low because they plan to submit change orders and charge additional fees after the client awards them the project.

Conversely, alarm contractors who adhere to best practices account in their bids for the possibility of common problems. For example, a mechanical contractor might accidentally cut a cable or mount a device in front of a fire alarm, or a sprinkler contractor might add tamper valves that weren’t included in the original plans.

When evaluating fire alarm contractors, verify that bids cover the full scope of work and include built-in allowances for common problems to help avoid costly surprises.


5. Be wary of voluntary additions

Voluntary additions can result in costly deviations from the code.

For example, some occupancy types don’t require horns or strobes. Building owners might add horns and strobes anyway, which is considered a voluntary addition. If this happens mid-project, it could result in unbudgeted device expenses.

Experienced fire and life safety contractors know jurisdictions and their requirements, so they can identify such issues during the design phase and help avoid unexpected costs.


Next steps

The next step is to find a partner for your project. An experienced fire and life safety technology installer can help you navigate every step of the process and successfully obtain a certificate of occupancy.

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