September 15, 2023

Fire Detection Proposal for Residential Energy Storage Systems

SEAC's Storage Fire Detection Working Group has proposed changes to the 2027 edition of the International Fire Code.
Mark Rodriguez, chair of the SEAC Storage Fire Detection working group, presenting at SEAC's general meeting in August 2023.

At SEAC’s general meeting in August 2023, Mark Rodriguez, a senior jurisdiction specialist at Sunrun and chair of the Storage Fire Detection working group, summarized ongoing discussions about the need to revise fire codes that were written with the purpose of notifying building occupants in case of a fire and give occupants time to get away.

Rodriguez highlighted concerns about the fire detection provisions in the 2023 edition of the NFPA 855 standard for the installation of stationary energy storage systems and the 2021 edition of the International Fire Code (IFC). These fire code provisions do not define conditioned and unconditioned space.

Though the codes reference interconnection of fire safety devices, such as smoke alarms and heat detectors, Rodriguez also said that in practice it can be hard to find compatible products that interconnect with one another.

Rodriguez shared some proposed changes for the 2027 IFC and described a set of commercial fire safety products that attempts to address the fire codes as written. SEAC members representing the fire safety community called out the need to educate building occupants about fire safety hazards and ESS, questioning if heat detectors might increase risks, as we will discuss below.

Proposed Changes for 2027 IFC

The current code language addressing fire detection for ESS in NFPA 855 and 2021 IFC is concise. See Rodriguez’s presentation slide for relevant sections from both fire codes.

In the commercial market, heat detectors and smoke alarms are generally listed for conditioned spaces or unconditioned space. But as you can see in the code language, there is no specific mention of those terms. One proposed change replaces references to specific rooms and areas, such as dwelling units and basements, with references to conditioned and unconditioned spaces.

Another proposed change aims to satisfy the intent of the code by allowing other means of sounding an alarm within the habitable portion of the dwelling if fire detection systems are not interconnected. The proposal also refers to fire detection system installation requirements in NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signal Code.

See the presentation slides below for marked-up code changes in the 2027 IFC proposal and a clean copy of the proposal.

“We were aiming at satisfying the intent of the code,” Rodriguez said. “If you think about this part of the code, it’s to provide notification that there’s a thermal event going on to allow the occupants time to egress.”

Commercial Fire Detection Solution

For compliance with the current code, Rodriguez noted an open dialogue with Resideo Technologies, a publicly traded supplier of security systems, home automation systems, and fire detection systems that spun off from the multinational conglomerate Honeywell International in 2018. Rodriguez also pointed to Resideo’s PROSiXHEATV ProSeries Wireless Heat Detector paired with its PROSIXSMOKEV ProSeries Wireless Smoke Detector, and its PROA7 ProSeries 7 Inch All-In-One Panel as a solution.

The system is battery-powered, wirelessly interconnected, wall mountable, and has a maximum operating temperature of 120° C. The system has been approved for the California State Fire Marshal’s building materials list. The detector can be mounted on the ceiling or the wall if local ordinances permit.

Unresolved Fire Safety Concerns

In previous SEAC meetings, some members have noted fire testing on ESS that shows no detectable rise in heat until after combustion has already occurred. The implication is that, if the fire codes are supposed to give building occupants time to get away in the event of a fire, devices that sound only after fire has begun might be ineffective.

Sean DeCrane, the International Association of Fire Fighter’s director of fire fighter health and safety operational services, said typically if a smoke alarm goes off, you investigate the cause. If alarms go off after deflagration and building occupants go looking for the cause, the occupants could be putting themselves at greater risk.

DeCrane said building occupants would have to be educated about the ESS fire risks, which are different from fire risks that might occur in the kitchen or when household furniture catches fire.

The discussion yielded a general agreement that there is no perfect fire safety solution for ESS, as there is no perfect solution for any scenario leading to fire hazard. There is also a need for greater clarity in the code. As a case in point, Jeff Spies, president of Planet Plan Sets, noted that under today’s fire codes, you can park an electric vehicle with lithium-ion batteries in a garage without a smoke alarm or a heat detector, but you cannot mount stationary ESS without these fire detection devices.

Join the Discussion

To participate in the ongoing discussion about proposed changes to the 2027 IFC and ESS fire detection, join the Storage Fire Detection working group. To find out about upcoming meetings and get on the mailing list for the working group, send SEAC an email using [email protected].