Why Are There New UL 268 and UL 217 Editions and How Does It Impact Me?
First, let us explore what UL 268 and UL 217 apply to:
UL 268 is the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Standard titled Smoke Detectors for Fire Alarm Systems and it applies to smoke detectors which are connected to a Fire Alarm Control Unit. These devices detect the presence of smoke and (via the building fire alarm system) sound the notification appliances to alert occupants of a smoke event. A related standard that is also undergoing revision is UL 217, Standard for Smoke Alarms, which applies to smoke alarms which are typically powered by 110/120V line voltage. This type of device is traditionally used in residential occupancies and contain both the smoke sensing element and the notification function (typically horn) internal to the smoke alarm device.
So Why Are the UL 268 and 217 Standards Being Revised?
UL announced that the new editions include criteria to reduce nuisance alarms and address differing smoke characteristics between fast moving and smoldering polyurethane foam fires. Research shows that smoke characteristics have changed, and escape times have reduced (from an average of seventeen minutes several decades ago, now down to three or four minutes), largely due to changes in materials used in furnishings and construction. The updates to UL 268 and 217 are intended to better address these changes (compared to the previous 2009 and 2015 editions, respectively).
Reducing nuisance alarms, thereby reducing the temptation to disconnect smoke alarms, is another objective of the updated editions. Based on a 2010 report by U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission smoke alarms were not operating or were intentionally disabled in almost half (46%) of home fires. Nuisance alarms are reported to be the leading reason behind residential occupants disabling their smoke alarms. Specifically, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the most commonly reported reason for occupants disabling a smoke alarm is nuisance alarms associated with cooking.
The new editions of UL 268 and 217 include more than 250 technical changes to the standards compared to the previous editions. The technical updates are consolidated into about 50 lab tests to verify the effectiveness of smoke detectors and smoke alarms.
Three of the new, more challenging, performance tests (Flaming Polyurethane Foam Test, Smoldering Polyurethane Foam Test and Cooking Nuisance Smoke Test) are targeted at: (1) reducing nuisance alarms from cooking; while (2) efficiently identifying smoke originating from new synthetic materials. The Cooking Nuisance Smoke Test includes broiling a frozen hamburger to initially produce light grey small smoke particles and then later produce larger particles representing those most commonly produced in kitchen fires. During this test, the smoke detector is subjected to the smoke and must alarm within a predetermined time after the smoke percentage reaches a minimum threshold; the detector must not alarm too quickly, or at too low a smoke percentage.
The other two tests that were added to the UL standards included the introduction of smoldering polyurethane foam fires and flaming polyurethane foam fires to more appropriately represent a fire that would be expected from modern furnishings. The Flaming Polyurethane Foam Test produce small black dense smoke particles and the Smoldering Polyurethane Foam Test produces medium brownish smoke particles. For both polyurethane tests, the smoke detectors must alarm within specific time limits and smoke densities.
Existing smoke detector/alarm designs which had been manufactured in accordance with the previous editions of the UL 268/UL 217 standards generally will not meet the more stringent requirements of the new editions. As such, manufacturers have needed to implement new technologies or combine existing technologies into their smoke detectors/alarms to satisfy the new UL requirements.
What is The Impact to Existing Smoke Detectors, Smoke Alarms and Facilities?
The new UL 268 7th Edition standard becomes effective on June 30, 2021 and the UL 217 8th Edition standard becomes effective on June 30, 2022. The effective dates of these two standards does not trigger an automatic replacement of all smoke devices; only that those devices manufactured after this date must be compliant with the new editions of the standards to receive the UL Listing. It is important to note that devices already manufactured prior to the effective date can still be sold with the UL listing received when manufactured. Many manufacturers have already begun selling the new edition compliant devices and have information on their websites.
It is recommended that owners who maintain fire alarm systems which utilize smoke detectors in their buildings consult with their service providers to review how the implementation of these new smoke detectors will impact their existing systems. Some manufacturers have made announcements regarding new UL Listed compliant devices requiring panel upgrades or in some instances replacement of all devices due to compatibility requirements which could be a significant impact.
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