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Myth Buster # 1:

The Legend of the Red Junction Box.

BACKGROUND:   Lets face it.  Most of the high profile jobs in this country are installed by the major national fire alarm companies.  These being the hospitals, airports, skyscrapers, universities, etc.  The wiring for these projects are always installed in conduit because the labor intensive work is sub-contracted to the project's electrical contractor with the final hookup and programming provided by the fire alarm equipment manufacturer. 



The common use of electricians on these projects who use the wiring methods they are accustomed to, has meant that usually these systems have single conductor THHN-type wires installed in EMT conduit.   The potential problem became evident to anyone opening an electrical box that they were unable to distinguish the electrical service wire from the fire alarm wiring.  



The alarm industry admitted that this could be a problem and created a rule in the NEC.  This simple fix designed to prevent an un-informed individual from disturbing the fire alarm wiring when they assumed it was the electrical system they were working with.  The resulting rule was added the NEC: "Fire alarm circuits shall be identified at terminal and junction locations...".    The identity of the first person to paint a box red has been lost to history.

Consequently, most of the engineers preparing plans and specifications have since required that fire alarm junction boxes be painted red. 



Somehow, the common practice of engineers specifying that these boxes be painted red, has since lead to several other assumptions regarding codes and the fire alarm industry.

The first assumption is that this is written in the codes, somewhere.   (FACT:  There is no rule in the NEC or NFPA 72 or anywhere else, that junction boxes be painted red.)  

UPDATE!  A sharp technician has brought it to my attention that the federal government's Department of Defense (DOD) has a 'red box' requirement in it's building specs.  [The Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) system is prescribed by MIL-STD 3007 and provides planning, design, construction, sustainment, restoration, and modernization criteria, and applies to the Military Departments, the Defense Agencies, and the DoD Field Activities..."]  My thanks to Timothy Cook for taking the time to update me.   Tim cites the 2013 UFC 3-600-01, section 5-7.8, which reads "Identification. Paint all fire alarm junction boxes and covers red in unfinished areas (i.e., above ceilings, mechanical rooms, etc). In finished areas, conduit and junction boxes can be painted to match the room finish, the inside cover of the junction box must be identified as “Fire Alarm” and the conduit must have painted red bands ¾ - inch (20 mm) wide at 20 foot (6.0 m) intervals and on both sides of a floor, wall, or ceiling penetration." (The DOD also doesn't allow wire nuts or crimp-on connections, stranded conductors for SLCs and IDCs and not smaller than 16 awg., only addressable double-action manual pull boxes, et al.  -GK)

It isn't a rule, and not required by code, for several good reasons:


An un-informed individual, with little knowledge of his trade, will not know that red = fire alarm.  Red could mean "electricity - danger".  If they aren't qualified to be poking around in junction boxes, they sure won't know about this "un-written rule" regarding red boxes or red box covers!  Red paint just doesn't convey the message.


It's gotten out of hand:  Inspectors now assume that this is a rule and have actually required alarm companies to remove pull boxes, horns/strobes, etc. and paint the box red that they are attached to.  I kid you not.  (The fact that there's a pull box or horn-strobe attached to it should be indication enough that there's fire alarm wiring behind it, right?)  More embarrassing is that the fact there are many who also "require"  pull elbows to also be painted red.  It'd be funny if it weren't so sad.


It's gotten WAY out of hand.  Do you know that some cities have grown this myth and misunderstanding way out of proportion and have required that the conduit also be red?  It's true!  The higher cost of installation means that there will be less money spent by building owners on smoke detectors since their budget was over burdened with silly and wasteful conduit color requirements that do absolutely nothing to increase the safety of the occupants in any way.  In fact, this can be easily seen as decreasing safety by causing budget money to be wasted on non-life saving color schemes.  Reality:  we professionals in the alarm industry don't care where or how the conduit is run, even if its above the ceiling, embedded in concrete, in walls, shafts, chutes or hung exposed; we only need to locate the wires terminations, and these are always in boxes.


When FPL wiring in used in conduit there should be no need to "identify" junction boxes, one look at the wire is enough.


10% of men have some degree of color blindness.  It's true, its obvious by just looking at some of us.  ;-)


This is a waste of funds, time and energy.  It's messy.  It's ugly.  It isn't effective.  It's abused. 

CONSIDER THIS:   If you need to indicate that the wiring in a junction box is, in fact, limited energy fire alarm cable, then mark it in a way that everyone will understand. 

Place a label on each junction box (not mounting boxes) and list the type and quantity of circuit it contains.  Mark it so there is no misunderstanding of the 'unwritten rule' regarding red  junction boxes.  Service technicians that weren't present for the installation of the fire alarm system will also appreciate the information provided on each label.



This adhesive backed label:

bulletwas designed so that it would fit on all junction boxes including 4 inch square, octagon, and boxes as small as single gang outlet boxes.  Its actual size is 2 inches by 3.5 inches.
bulletuses blank white boxes for you to indicate both the number and the type of circuit the j-box contains.
bulletis more economical by saving you the time and mess of using an ineffective paint scheme that has no basis in code.
bulletdistinguishes your company from all the others.
bulletwill have you ready to comply in minutes if you are ever blindsided during a final inspection by some well meaning but misinformed AHJ.
bulletComplies with the letter, spirit and intent of the NEC.



"760.10 Fire Alarm Circuit Identification.
Fire alarm circuits shall be identified at terminal and junction locations in a manner that will prevent unintentional interference with the signaling circuit during testing and servicing."




UPDATE: A new myth has been suggested:

  Why are some cities "requiring" theatrical smoke machines be used to test Duct Detectors?


$70 vs. $700.


Some suggested answers were....


They don't know any better.


They have too much time on their hands.


It's not as boring as doing it the correct way.


They think the results are meaningful, even though there is no scientific basis (or UL approval) for using this method.


It's more fun than smoke bombs!


Then why not use smoke bombs and smoke generators?


Fake 'smoke' has no buoyancy and can settle in the ducts.


Wrong color.


Wrong particle size.


Can be filtered out before reaching the detector.


May become too diluted with clean air from other spaces.  (Duct detectors are not designed to detect a small fire - just large quantities of smoke.)


This only test if the ducts/fans are properly connected.


Timing such a non-scientific event serves no purpose and is subjective.


Not an alternate permitted by any manufacturer or UL.


This is not how the UL listing process tested the device, therefore, it is not the correct way of testing them. Period. No excuses!


Read more about it......


More about the proper testing of these devices.


FAQ from System Sensor


Research UL 268A, the standard for Duct Smoke Detectors on UL's website. (And good luck finding anything on this website!-GK)






Myth Buster # 2:

The Legend of the Red Anything.

BACKGROUND:   It is widely assumed that wire, j-boxes, horns, strobes, annunciators, fire alarm control panels and other such equipment is required to be red in color.  This isn't true.  FACT: The only thing required to be the color red in commercial fire alarm systems by NFPA 72, is "the circuit disconnect means".     However, it is not a good idea to paint a circuit breaker's handle with red paint, even fingernail polish advertised as one that won't "run, chip, crack or peel" because it still might get into the breaker and interfere with its operation.  (The manufacturer's instructions don't say you can paint them, do they?)


CONSIDER THIS:  Use a label to mark the circuit disconnect means.   The words "FIRE ALARM" will be seen with the door closed.  This will draw the user to the correct electrical supply panel.  The arrow will then be pointing to the correct breaker when the door is opened. 

This adhesive backed label:

bulletallows neat and safe compliance with the NFPA 72 rule that requires "the circuit disconnect means to have a red marking".   
bulletactual size is 1/2 inches by 3 3/16 inches.
bullet has been designed to have one arrow trimmed off on-site, depending if the breaker is to the right or left of the sticker.    (It can also be used with both arrows intact to indicate the path of fire alarm wiring, when necessary.)
bulletwill also allow your company to set the quality standard in your area.  The inspectors will take notice. 


Ok, so why are fire alarm manual pull boxes always red? 

Good eye!  These are not covered by the NEC or NFPA 72 because it is the jurisdiction of the building codes to determine their color and labeling.  Most have chosen "red in color".  However, New York for example,  requires a white diagonal stripe on their red manual boxes to indicate a local alarm.  NFPA 72 also requires city street boxes in municipal fire alarm systems to be red.  Only the latest (2010) edition of NFPA 72 has added this wording to conform with the Building Codes!

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Myth Buster # 3:

The primary telephone line used by your DACT must be dedicated to the fire alarm system.



The telephone company is notorious for 'fixing' our phone wiring for us when servicing our customer's phone lines.  They cause numerous problems when, due to ignorance on their part, they rewire the phone lines by returning them to the traditional parallel, home-run style. This makes it so there can be no line-seizure because another line is permitted to be wired parallel to the DACT line.



Some AHJs think that using a dedicated telephone line with a DACT is adding a level of safety.  The fact is, it makes the system less reliable.  There is no requirement in NFPA 72 for a dedicated phone line or lines.  While clearly a problem exists with the telephone company employee's training, it is sometimes seen as ours, since we supervise the phone service and deliver the bad news.



Business owners routinely cancel telephone lines that are not assigned to anyone in their company.  I KNOW THIS TO BE A FACT.  I have had at least one company in every class relate the same problem.  This is how it happens...Usually some bean counter in another city calls and cancels service on a line, and the telephone company complies, but leaves voltage on the line so the problem isn't noticed immediately.   With alternate 24 hour testing of the phone line, it may be almost 48 hours before a fail-to-test signal is registered at the central station.  Now the alarm system is impaired until the telephone company can arrange new service for the customer, resulting in days or weeks before the fire alarm system is fully functional.  This is the kind of "local requirement" that can occur when inspectors make up local 'requirements' for an industry they know little about.



First, don't allow a local AHJ to put your company, your employees, your customers and public, at risk.   I suggest that the DACT phone lines be placed on the primary lines used by the owner or another VIP.  This way, they will never be allowed to go un-repaired or out of service.  That's reliability.

Secondly, consider labels (not required by any code) for the DACT's  phone jacks.   A similar version of the following labels have been used effectively by my own company for years.  They are designed to fit on the RJ31X telephone interface jack, but they can also be placed at the demarcation box or punch-down block.   You an chose to be either 'naughty' or 'nice', depending on your limit of tolerance for these needless interruptions in your customers' alarm service.

These adhesive backed labels:

bulletprovide to-the-point, no nonsense protection for the important link between the fire alarm system and the fire department.
bulletare effective for burglary systems too.
bulletrefer to the fire code and fire marshal's rules forbidding tampering with any required fire protection, when choosing the "nice" version.
bulletshow a "naughty" version that gets the point across with a little humor.
bulletmay allow you to first ask your customer something other than "is someone  there working on your phone system right now?" when they call you complaining that there fire panel is beeping.
bulletare 1.75 inches by 1.75 inches.


     "Standard"           or       "Optional wording"


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