Is Your Fire Alarm Code-Compliant? New 2021 Fire Safety Ordinance In San Francisco

By July 1, 2021, owners of Group R-2 occupancy buildings — meaning any residential occupancy with sleeping areas — are required to upgrade fire alarm systems to pass the “Pillow Test.” The San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD), as of August 2016, requires that fire alarm systems be loud enough to wake sleeping residents. The “Pillow Test” is apart of the Fire Alarm Sleeping Area Requirements (SFFC Section 1103.7.6.1).

At Luminous Fire Alarm, we are your trusted fire alarm contractor. Understanding the time frames necessary to upgrade and test fire alarms and sprinkler systems can be confusing. Below we help you understand what this new “Pillow Test” ordinance is about.

The Danger Of Outdated Fire Alarm Systems

As reported by KQED, many fire alarms in older apartment houses were installed in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, owners of older buildings have not been required to upgrade their systems by the same standard for newer structures being built. According to data presented by fire officials during a Board of Supervisors committee hearing, about 83% of San Francisco’s residential and commercial buildings damaged by fire over the last 5 years did not have sprinkler systems.

The Pillow Test

The “pillow test” means that the central fire alarm system must be loud enough for all residents to hear it from their bedroom. The A-weighted scale (dBA) is used to measure the sound level. This new standard, summed up as the 75-decibel “pillow test,” must be measured at the pillow level. Specifically, (as mandated in SFFC Section 1103.7.6.1), 15 dB above the average ambient sound level or 5 dB above the maximum sound level, having a duration of at least 60 seconds, or a sound level of at least 75 dBA, whichever is greater.

Also note that if any barrier, such as a curtain, door, or retractable partition, is located between the fire alarm’s notification appliance and the pillow, the sound pressure level will be measured with the barrier placed between the appliance and the pillow.

Consult A Certified General Contractor

This July 1, 2021 “pillow test” requirement can also be triggered by the following:

  • If a permit to do work valued at $50,000 or more was pulled. Meaning some building owners will have to upgrade their fire alarm systems if they’re renovating units in the building.
  • And if buildings are sold or transferred after September 1, 2017, twelve months after the sale of the property, whichever occurs first.

However, permits for mandatory seismic retrofits are exempt, unless the building has an open attic area. In this case, you may also be required to install fire blocks, draft stops, and fire insulation in your building’s attic area. Be aware. This is highly technical work. It is advisable to consult with a general contractor who is knowledgeable about the new requirements to see whether or not you are required to install these features.

Luminous Fire Alarm

Luminous Fire Alarm is here to make it easy for you to meet new SF fire alarm ordinances. Smoke can be deadly, and fires destroy. We will get your property fully protected and code-compliant. As mentioned above, the deadline for completing this fire alarm systems upgrade is July 1, 2021.

Installing smoke detectors in your property is not enough to ensure your safety. Get complete peace of mind with a monitored fire alarm system that includes smoke detectors and notification devices all connected to a control panel to keep your property safe and secure. Give Luminous Fire Alarm a call today — 415.881.4402.