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Differences between Fire Alarms for Commercial and Residential Properties

Fires are a constant threat to businesses and homes and a lack of safety measures may result in substantial losses such as: 

  • material and financial losses, 
  • loss of emotional wellbeing 
  • and, more importantly, loss of life.

According to statistics, there were 237 fire-related fatalities and 7,021 non-fatal casualties in England in the year ending December 2019.  

Also, the British economy lost £1 billion in GDP and 5,000 full-time jobs through preventable fires in commercial warehouses over the last five years.

Security systems such as fire alarms are an essential part of fire safety in both commercial and residential properties, and, having them enable the occupants to be warned as soon as a fire breaks out to take necessary action.

Sometimes, people don’t even know there’s a fire on the premises until it’s too late. Fire alarms help detect such threats right in time for you to evacuate, helping save both your life and your property.

Other times, a fire might be caused by arson which is a serious, and unfortunately, frequent crime in the UK. Perhaps, even more, disturbing is the fact that in some cases arson is committed to cover up a crime, or in this case, a burglary. 

There have been recorded incidents where stolen possessions have been marked off as being burnt during a fire when in fact they were stolen and the crime was covered up by setting fire to destroy evidence and to divert the attention of the authorities.

There are different types of fire alarms used according to the type of premises and level of security required. A fire alarm suitable for a commercial setting might not work in a residential one and vice versa.

This is why understanding the scale and type of alarm systems is crucial in successfully implementing them.

Let’s look at the differences between fire alarms for commercial and residential properties and the laws governing their use:


  • Size and positioning 

Fire alarms installed in residential properties are generally small and not very complex. They consist of smoke and heat detectors that are installed strategically in a central location or near areas that have a high risk of fires, such as the kitchen.

In the case of apartments or blocks of flats, the detectors are fitted in each flat that should be interlinked so that in the event of the alarm being triggered, the rest of the building is also warned to keep them out of danger.

  • Types of fire alarms

The detectors come in two varieties; photoelectric and ionisation

Photoelectric smoke detectors work by shooting a light beam in a straight line to detect fires. In case of a fire, smoke causes a reduction in the LED light passing through, deflecting the light from the straight path into a sensor, resulting in the alarm going off. They are ideally used for smouldering fires and are great at detecting smoke coming out of burning fabric or furniture.

Ionization smoke detectors are quick to detect flaming fires and work using a small amount of radioactive material to ionize the air inside a chamber, resulting in conductivity. 

In the presence of a fire, smoke enters the chamber reducing the levels of conductivity, resulting in the system knowing there’s a flaming fire on the premises.  

Both types of detectors provide advantages that are crucial for residential fire safety. You cannot choose one since you can’t predict which type of fire, smouldering or flaming, might break out on your property.

Therefore, for best protection, it is recommended that both types of fire alarms be used. The good news is that in addition to individual detection systems, there are combination detectors available that provide the priceless benefits of both! 

  • Testing and maintenance

It is recommended to test residential fire alarms at least once a week. The process is pretty easy and straightforward, requiring no professional assistance.

It is done by pressing a test button which is fitted in most domestic fire alarms. The button will tell if the alarm is working as it should. That’s all there is to test your alarm.

As is with every piece of equipment, the fire alarm must be kept clean ensuring there are no unnecessary dust deposits or foreign objects that might make the system malfunction.

  • Monitoring services

Monitored fire alarms can be used in residential properties that need an extra layer of security where a professional monitoring centre will notify the fire department as soon as the alarm is triggered. 

More commonly, monitoring services are used by commercial properties that have a high-risk if fires. For residential properties, this is especially beneficial for when the owners are away, possible on vacation, and the property is uninhabited and unprotected.

  • Laws and regulations

It is not a legal requirement, though strongly advised, to install a fire alarm system in a residential property, except for landlords and tenants.

According to The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015, private sector landlords are required by the law to have at least one fire alarm installed on every storey of their rental property. 

They must also ensure that the fire alarms are all in working condition before a new tenant moves in. Once the initial testing is done by the landlord, it is the tenant’s responsibility to run regular tests to check if the alarm is working as it should.

The inability to comply with the aforementioned rules can result in heavy fines of up to £5,000.


  • Size and positioning

Fire alarms in commercial properties are generally much bigger and complex than the ones used in residential settings and need extensive planning along with a fire risk assessment executed before professional installation.

Commercial properties include all office buildings, industrial buildings such as warehouses and garages, and restaurants and retail stores including shopping malls and pubs.

Other commercial properties include theatres, hotels, and hospitals, to name a few.

Due to the varied nature of commercial properties, the nature of the fire alarm system used is determined by factors such as the size of the premises, the number of staff, type of business, etc.

Fire alarms need to provide full coverage to the main area and need to be spread out, depending on the size of the property, and interlinked via a central control panel so that the alarm can quickly pick up on smoke and alert the occupants of the danger.

  • Types of fire alarms

There are two main types of fire alarms used for commercial properties; conventional fire alarms and addressable fire alarms.

In a conventional fire alarm system, the property is divided into zones that give a rough idea as to where the fire has occurred. The precision of knowing where the fire started is controlled by the number of zones and circuits that have been wired within the building. 

When these components get activated, the control panel sounds an alarm such as a bell or other audible devices, alerting you to only the zone where the alarm was triggered, because of which the conventional fire alarm system is most suitable for businesses operating in a small area.

The addressable fire alarm system is the most modern type of fire alarm system. It has an “address” for each device that can pinpoint the exact location of the threat. When one of the system’s components is initiated, it shows the component’s address on the fire alarm panel.

Due to the high level of precision, they are more suited for businesses that operate in a larger area, or if they are at a higher risk of fires, such as restaurants, or businesses dealing with chemicals such as the beauty salon or paint shop.

Regardless of the type of fire alarm chosen, all the systems and components must be interlinked via a central control panel.

Activation points or call points are an additional component in commercial fire alarm systems. Their purpose is to enable occupants of a building to manually activate the alarm if they discover a fire. These are normally activated by breaking a glass which then sounds an alarm.

  • Testing and maintenance

Testing and maintenance protocols are stricter with commercial fire alarms and require professional testing and maintenance services.

Professional servicing of fire alarms must take place at least 2-3 times per year with experts thoroughly checking the system inside out to ensure it’s compliant with the regulations and is offering 100% protection.

Most security companies, like Calder Security, offer maintenance contracts for commercial fire alarms, which are an agreement between the security company and the burglar alarm owner, that discuss the duration of the contract, the price, and other details. 

  • Monitoring services

Fire alarm monitoring is a crucial aspect when it comes to commercial fire alarms. It works by a professional monitoring centre notifying the emergency services or named key holders in the event of an alarm trigger. This not only minimizes the gravity of the situation but can also reduce insurance premiums.

It is a great way to ensure that your business is safe from threats such as fire, especially when it’s unattended. If a fire breaks out at night when the building is empty, no one would even find out till the damage has already been done. 

According to statistics, a majority of commercial fires occur when buildings are unoccupied, happening out of hours, between 6 pm and 9 am. This leaves a lot to chance and increases the risk of the owners facing huge losses.

With fire alarm monitoring, the alarm won’t ever go unheard or unnoticed because dedicated experts will be monitoring the commercial property 24/7.

  • Laws and regulations

According to the current UK fire alarm regulations, it is a legal requirement for you to have a proper fire alarm system in place if any one of the following is true:

  • Your property is large, multi-storey, or close-plan,
  • You store high-risk and highly-flammable substances such as chemicals and paints,
  • You undertake high-risk activities that involve open fires, such as cooking, or
  • A fire would not be easily spotted if it broke out anywhere on the property.

The owner, employer, or anyone in charge of the commercial property is responsible for fire safety measures and their responsibilities include:

  • carrying out and reviewing a fire risk assessment of the property,
  • informing the staff or occupants about the risks identified,
  • putting in place and maintaining an appropriate fire safety system and relevant measures,
  • planning for an emergency by conducting fire drills and evacuation plans, and
  • training staff and other occupants on the actions to take along with providing detailed fire safety instructions and information.

The inability to do so might result in serious fines or even jail time for the people responsible.


Fire alarms run through different grades and categories as laid out by the British Standard BS 5839.

    • Grades

These are the updated six grades of fire alarms according to the BS 5839-6:2019 that detail the kind of equipment used in the system.

    • Grade A: Separate detectors and sounders with back-up power supply and central control equipment that conform to British Standards BS EN 54.
    • Grade C: Separate detectors, sounders, and central control equipment connected to a common power supply, comprising of the mains and standby supply.
    • Grade D1: One or more detectors, powered by the mains supply along with a tamper‑proof standby supply consisting of a battery or batteries.
    • Grade D2: One or more detectors, powered by the mains supply along with a standby supply consisting of replaceable battery or batteries.
    • Grade F1: One or more detectors powered by a tamper‑proof, replaceable primary battery or batteries.
    • Grade F2: One or more detectors powered by a replaceable primary battery or batteries.

Residential properties can use a low-grade system that does not have backup battery power and is not wired into a central control panel.

However, commercial properties require high-grade systems to comply with the UK fire alarm regulations.

    • Categories

There are three categories of fire alarm systems according to the British Standards; category M, L, and P.

  • Category M: The M here stands for manual and it constitutes all manual fire alarms where the alarm must be triggered by someone manually, for example, someone using an activation/call point to sound the alarm. These systems are fairly simple, not automated, and rely on humans to detect fire and trigger the alarm.
  • Category L: The L here stands for life protection, comprising of fire alarm systems geared towards protecting life. There are 5 levels in this category, L1–L5, with L1 offering the highest level of protection and early fire detection, and L5 offering enough to fulfil the basic safety requirements.
  • Category P: The P here stands for “Property”, comprising of fire alarm systems geared towards protecting property. There are two levels, P1 and P2, with P1 providing complete fire protection at the earliest possible sign and P2 with detectors for certain defined parts of a building.

A comprehensive fire risk assessment of your property along with the primary safety objectives will help determine which category is best suited for your property. 

You may consult with a professional to guide you properly. Our experts at Calder Security will be able to quickly assess your premises and provide recommendations on the type, grade, and level of system you require. Contact us right away! 


We provide a complete solution for your fire safety needs and can provide the best advice for you to choose the ideal system for your property.

  • We provide installation, maintenance, monitoring, and repair services for fire alarm systems.
  • We’ve been in the industry since 1976 and have extensive knowledge of all kinds of security systems.
  • We have SSAIB approved installers, contractors, and repairers.
  • All our systems comply with the British Standard BS 5839 and business insurance terms.
  • We only partner with trusted monitoring stations to ensure your properties are protected 24/7.
  • We use Dualcom and BT Redcare GSM, the best and most secure signalling service in the country.
  • We offer fast repairs should monitoring detect any faults with the system.
  • We offer a 24-hour call-out service for customers.
  • Maintenance contracts are offered for regular servicing.
  • We can also work on systems not installed and maintained by us.
  • We will remind you when service is due so that it’s one less thing for you to worry about.

Call us on 0800 612 9799 to talk to our security specialists right away and make your property safe from fires.

Photo by Jalen Hueser on Unsplash