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What’s the Difference Between Addressable and Conventional Fire Alarm Systems?

Unsure about addressable vs conventional fire alarms? Get expert advice to find the perfect system for your building's needs.

What’s the Difference Between Addressable and Conventional Fire Alarm Systems?

When it comes to the best safety and security solutions, it's all about prevention. Avoiding any damage to property and ensuring the safety of people on-site involves a reliable security system, and a fire alarm system is an essential part of every security network. No matter the location, scale, or use of the property, a top-notch fire alarm system will help keep employees and the property free from harm.

As you look for the best option for your location, understanding the difference between addressable and conventional fire alarm system options is a must to equip your space with the best technology. To help you make the right choice, our team at Forbel is breaking down the basics of the different fire alarm systems to guide your selection.

What Is a Conventional Fire Alarm System?

So, what is a conventional fire alarm system? A conventional fire alarm system relies on one or more circuits that are connected to sensors to signify a fire. With this system, each device has its own wire, which is then linked to the control panel. Due to the multiple connections from each device to the control panel, setting up a conventional alarm system is a bit more intricate of a process.

How Does a Conventional Fire Alarm System Work?

As explained previously, a conventional fire alarm system is a fire alarm choice in which each device is connected to the control panel by its own wire. With this system, devices are zoned, signaling the general location of fire from the device to the control panel. This can make pinpointing the exact location of a fire challenge, but it does provide a general idea of where it is to help guide you.

Pros and Cons of Conventional Fire Alarm Systems

While conventional fire alarm systems can be tricky to install, there are some key benefits to this alarm choice versus other fire safety systems. This may not be the most commonly chosen alarm system these days, but it is a tried-and-true option that suits a number of smaller locations. Many opt for this conventional fire alarm system because there are many pros.

Pros and Cons of Conventional Fire Alarm Systems

What Is an Addressable Fire Alarm System?

An addressable fire alarm system involves devices each connected to their own address. Unlike a conventional alarm system that relies on zones, addressable systems detect a fire which then shows up on the main control panel, sharing exactly what device detected it. This helps quickly extinguish a fire as you know immediately where it's located.

How Does an Addressable Fire Alarm System Work?

How does an addressable fire alarm system work exactly? Good question. Since each device or module is connected to the fire panel by its own wire, the system is able to use a binary code to send digital signals that share exactly where a fire is detected.

Unlike conventional systems, an addressable fire alarm system is incredibly scalable, making it the ideal solution for larger buildings or campuses. This is due to the fact that they can provide more specific information, making quickly finding a fire in a large location easier, ultimately minimizing potential damage.

Pros and Cons of Addressable Fire Alarm Systems

Addressable systems use a loop configuration that has all of the information from the various alarms. The panel assigns each device a specific code or number referred to as a device address, meaning you're able to determine exactly from where the fire is coming. As an overview, we've outlined some pros and cons of addressable fire alarm systems that can help you make your decision between the two options.

Pros and Cons of Addressable Fire Alarm Systems

Conventional vs. Addressable Fire Alarm Systems: What Is the Difference?

1. Wiring

One major way that conventional systems differ from addressable fire alarm systems is the wiring. Conventional systems have zones on them that act as radial circuits and each device has a different wire for connection. In an addressable system, the control panels communicate with several devices located in the field. Put another way, in an addressable system, there is less wiring; one wire connects all of the devices to the control panel. This means that addressable alarm systems use less wiring compared with conventional fire alarms as each has its own unique address and individual notification devices.

2. Location

With this basic difference, there are also different locations that can utilize each system. Typically, for a larger location, an addressable system is best. This is because it can provide that specific direction of where a fire has been detected, taking the guesswork out - an essential perk when working with a large location where a fire may not be immediately clear. In fact, addressable alarm systems allow you to set a specific address on the field device which is usually a three-digit number. This makes for easy identification when it comes to locating the fire and alerts you of the type of device that triggered the alarm. As you can imagine, this offers several advantages such as cutting down on the response time from the fire department and the customer. It also allows for devices that are programmed individually to give you information on what alarm went off.

In a conventional system, multiple devices are linked to the same zone which means smoke detectors in multiple locations could be tied to the same area. This makes it more difficult to pinpoint the exact location of the emergency, rather, it only lets you know what zone it's occurring in. This means that fire safety specialists will have to walk around the zone to determine the specific location of the problem.

3. Cost

However, these systems also differ in price. A conventional system might be less expensive as a whole but the cost of installation is usually higher. This is due to the extensive wiring involved in this system.

Addressable fire alarm system options are often more expensive than their conventional counterparts in terms of functionality. In many cases, the specific information the addressable system can share makes it well worth the cost. However, even though the up-front price for addressable fire alarm systems is higher, they cost less to install. An addressable system is also less likely to trigger false alarms which can be costly mistakes.

4. Functionality

Another difference between these two systems is how they function. Conventional fire alarm systems use analog technology and they are hardware-based. There are various zones that make up part of the larger control panel that relies on individual circuits for communication. This means that how much information the panel can receive is limited by how many devices it supports.

Addressable fire alarm systems, on the other hand, rely on communication that's transferred to the main control panel as binary code. This information is communicated through combinations of ones and zeros that are computed by “mini computers.” These systems provide the exact location of fire in the building.

5. Possibility of False Alarms

As we touched on above, false alarms can be expensive for fire departments and first responders as they utilize fuel, resources, time, and the potential for an injury to develop in the process. In a conventional system, it is always picking up dust and contaminants that can trigger these alarms when there isn't a real issue. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine if the conventional system is going off due to a real issue or because of a mishap until the first responders have arrived.

Addressable systems offer more reliability when it comes to false alarms because they can send the critical information directly to the control panel, helping to save time locating the fire in the building. The alarm panel is constantly monitoring the sensitivity level of the detectors to make sure devices aren't triggered accidentally.

6. Safety Considerations

Addressable systems offer a higher level of safety and security as they're able to specifically locate where the threat is. They work to combine notifications, trouble, and supervisory signals to vocalize instructions to building occupants in the case of a fire. Fewer false alarms also help to notify occupants that the issue is real and requires immediate action.

7. Reliability


As we've mentioned, addressable systems are seen as more reliable due to how it's wired; both ends of the connect to the control panel so even if one becomes damaged, the other can still be effective in reaching the control panel. On the other hand, conventional systems won't operate properly if a wire becomes damaged or severed.

8. Scalability

Another main difference between these two systems is how scalable they are. Addressable systems offer a significant amount of flexibility compared with their counterparts. Regardless of how many devices there are, an addressable system can handle it. Even if you need several hundred devices, an addressable system can handle this.

If you're looking for professional advice between the two systems and which one you should choose, it's clear by now that an addressable system offers additional benefits that conventional systems simply cannot offer. However, small buildings and those with restricted budgets might not be able to afford this type of system. Rest assured that our team is here to help you find the perfect solution.

Addressable vs. Conventional Fire Alarm Systems: A Comparison

Type of Fire Alarm Systems/Factors Addressable Fire Alarm System Conventional Fire Alarm System
Wiring Less wiring as one wire connects all circuits Radial circuits, each device has its own wire
Location Detection Specific location information is given to quickly spot the problem Multiple units linked to the same zone, more difficult to detect the problem
Cost More expensive as a whole, lower installation cost Less expensive as a whole, higher installation cost
Functionality Can quickly address and pinpoint a fire Only points out the zone of issue
False Alarms Closely monitors which reduces the risk of false alarm Always picking up dust and contaminants, higher chances of a false alarm
Safety Considerations Higher level of safety and communication due to both ends of the wire connecting the system Won't operate properly if a wire is damaged
Reliability Overall seen as a more reliable Can be troublesome if a wire is damaged
Scalability More scalability can handle many devices Not seen as a scalable solution

The Bottom Line

The decision between addressable and conventional fire alarm systems is pivotal in shaping the safety infrastructure of any property. Addressable fire alarm systems offer precise location, which is ideal for large or complex areas. Conversely, conventional systems, with their zone-based identification, might be more cost-effective for smaller settings despite their limitations.

At Forbel, we leverage our extensive expertise to bring you fire alarm solutions tailored to your and your property’s unique needs and constraints.

We understand the critical role of a fire alarm system in preventing damage and ensuring the safety of occupants, which is why we offer our security system design services across the Chicagoland area. Trust in our experience and commitment to safety as we help you create a protected and secure environment for all.

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Dzmitry Beliayeu
Dzmitry Beliayeu

Dzmitry Beliayeu is a commercial building security expert, technology consultant, and licensed alarm contractor

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