Ongoing monitoring, evaluation, and maintenance are essential to ensuring that your building is operating as intended. If you ignore your facility’s electrical and fire safety systems, there is a chance that you may miss a serious problem. Most accidents are preventable, but only if you and your building’s occupants are aware of safety hazards and if safety technology is tested and maintained. The technologies and systems outlined in this Toolkit need to be continuously tested and inspected. You should develop a scheduled plan of when to test your building’s electrical and fire safety systems. Below are some specific guidelines for tested the safety systems in your building.

Maintaining Fire Alarm Systems

The following information is a small portion of NEMA’s published document, Guide for Proper Use of System Smoke Detectors, for you to use as a guide for testing and maintaining your buildings fire alarm systems.

Smoke detectors are designed to be as maintenance-free as possible. However, dust, dirt, and other foreign matter can accumulate inside a detector’s sensing elements and change its sensitivity. They can become either more sensitive, which may cause unwanted alarms, or less sensitive, which could reduce the amount of warning time given in case of a fire. Both are undesirable. Therefore, detectors should be tested periodically and maintained at regular intervals. Follow closely the written manufacturer’s instructions and specific recommended practices for maintenance and testing. Also refer to NFPA 90A, NFPA 101, and NFPA 72.

Notify the proper authorities that the smoke detector is undergoing maintenance, and therefore the system will temporarily be out of service.

Caution: Disable the zone or system undergoing maintenance to prevent unwanted alarms and possible dispatch of fire service personnel.

Detectors should be visually inspected at installation and at least twice a year to ensure that each detector remains in good physical condition and that there are no changes that would affect detector performance (such as building modifications, occupancy hazards, tampering, and environmental effects).

Use a high power vacuum cleaner and remove dust from the detector by placing the nozzle as close as possible to the openings in the outside housing. A nozzle with a brush attachment will assist in dust removal. Some detectors can be removed or disassembled for more thorough cleaning (refer to manufacturer’s recommended cleaning procedure for details). Compressed air or other methods as recommended by the manufacturer may be used as well in order to remove dust/debris from the detector.

Test each detector’s sensitivity per the manufacturer’s recommended procedure within one year of installation and every alternate year thereafter, or per the current edition of NFPA 72.

  • Calibrated test method
  • Manufacturer’s calibrated sensitivity test instrument
  • Listed control equipment arranged for the purpose
  • Smoke detector/control unit arrangement whereby the detector causes a signal at the control unit when its sensitivity is outside its listed sensitivity range
  • Other calibrated sensitivity test methods approved by the Authority Having

Detectors listed as field adjustable may be adjusted within the listed and marked sensitivity range, cleaned, and recalibrated, or replaced. Detectors found to have a sensitivity of 0.25 percent per foot obscuration or more outside the listed and marked sensitivity range should be cleaned and recalibrated or replaced.

The detectors should be tested in place to ensure:

  • Operation of the sensing chamber
  • An alarm response by the control unit. Testing with smoke or listed aerosol approved by the manufacturer are acceptable test methods to ensure functionality of the detector and control unit. Other methods approved by the manufacturer that ensure operation of the sensing chamber are permitted.

Be sure to follow the written manufacturer’s instructions and recommendation on test gas, aerosol, or smoke

Restore the zone or system to normal operating condition at the completion of testing.
Notify all persons notified at the beginning of the test that testing has been completed, and the system is operational again.

To read a more complete guide with technical guidance on proper practices for fire alarm systems, you may consult the full document here.

Maintaining Carbon Monoxide Detection Systems

The following information was adapted from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association’s Applications Guide for Carbon Monoxide Alarms and Detectors for you to use as a guide for testing and maintaining your carbon monoxide detection systems.

CO Alarm and Detector Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance
Single- and multiple-station CO alarms and CO detectors are required to operate within identical sensitivity parameters, but the inspection, testing, and maintenance requirements differ significantly. This is due to the additional system components that are utilized with CO detectors.

CO devices are designed to be as maintenance-free as possible. However, the sensing cell has a limited lifespan. Therefore, all CO detectors and CO alarms listed to ANSI/UL 2075 or ANSI/UL 2034 are required to provide an end-of-life signal to notify that replacement is necessary.

To appropriately maintain your CO alarm and detection systems, follow these tips:

Single- and multiple-station CO alarms are required to be inspected and tested according to manufacturer’s instructions at a minimum of every month. NFPA 720 requires that a CO detector be visually inspected and functionally tested immediately after installation and semi-annually thereafter.

Functional testing requirements apply to system detectors installed after January 1, 2012. At that time, CO tests will be required at initial acceptance and then annually by introduction of CO into the sensing chamber or element. An electronic check utilizing magnets or substituting analog values in lieu of CO, will not comply with this requirement.

To prevent an unnecessary response and possible dispatch of emergency services, prior to any testing or maintenance, notify the proper authorities that the CO-detection system is undergoing maintenance.

NFPA 72 and NFPA 720 require reacceptance testing to be performed when system devices or accessories are added or deleted from the detection system. Reacceptance testing will also apply when modifications to control equipment hardware or software are made.

To see a more specific guide with technical guidance on proper practices for carbon monoxide alarm systems you may consult the full document here


Overall this “Safety” section of the Building Owner’s Toolkit should provide you with valuable insight into the best practices of protecting the individuals who occupy your facility each and every day. This guide was contributed to and reviewed by experts and professionals throughout the manufacturing industry for the benefit of you the commercial building owner. For more information about the information included in this section of the Toolkit, please use the Contact Us form to submit specific questions or comments.