Dec 10, 2020
What is Fire Alarm Cable? The Main Types & Uses
Updated on June 1, 2023
When disaster strikes, the systems designed to respond must be up to the challenge. They can’t have cables that melt at the first sign of heat or experience interruption in tough conditions. That’s why fire alarm wire is built tough, from materials like copper that can be trusted during these critical moments. It can withstand the conditions of a fire and send information throughout the alarm system quickly and reliably, whether you’re using traditional or more advanced detectors and armored fire alarm cable.
What Are Fire Alarm Cables?
Fire alarm cables are multiconductor electronic cables with fire-rated protection. These products have multiple applications and variations that designate where a type of wire is installed. The National Electrical Code (NEC) published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is responsible for establishing regulations for installing power limited and non-power limited cable types. The standards also apply for non-electrical cables like those used in audio, visual and wired internet transmission.
Fire alarm cables can be used in a wide array of systems, ranging from conventional alarms to more complex addressable arrangements. They are a critical component in the protection of commercial facilities everywhere, connecting control panels, detectors, and alarms in one system.
These units are AC-powered, and the fire alarm cable is designed to ensure that if one alarm goes off, the others do too. The cable for fire alarm system is available as a shielded or unshielded cable, so you can choose the right kind based on the amount of electromagnetic interference (EMI).
Fire alarm cables are manufactured in riser and plenum styles. FPLR (Fire Power Limited Riser) comes in unshielded or shielded at a much lower cost than the plenum version. FPLR cable has the word “riser” in it because it’s used in fire alarms, signal monitors, and audio control circuits where the cable is rising only. FPLP (Fire Power Limited Plenum) cables are used in installations overhead in the plenum for fire protection reasons. Plenum cables withstand flame better than riser cables and need to be used in those applications.
Both riser fire alarm cables and plenum fire alarm cables come in shielded and unshielded versions which may be needed depending on the application. We also stock contractor-grade fire alarm cables in shielded, unshielded, riser and plenum, which only comes in a red jacket with solid copper conductors. Please call for pricing on our contractor-grade material.
1. What Is FPLR Cable?
Fire power limited riser (FPLR) cable is the cheapest of the bunch because it’s the most basic. When you don’t need a shield or plenum insulation, you go with a riser fire alarm cable that gets installed vertically, hence the name “riser.” These cables come in sizes 22 AWG through 12 AWG with two, four, six or eight possible conductors.
FRLR riser cables, including the shielded variety, must pass UL 1424 and UL 1666 tests for resistance to fire spread.
2. What Is FPLR Shielded Cable?
FPLR shielded fire alarm cables include an aluminum polyester foil shield over the conductors to protect against electromagnetic interference (EMI). A foil shield is the only type of shield offered in standard riser alarm cables. A drain wire is also used within these shielded cables to provide sufficient grounding and avoid interference. This additional EMI protection will cost a little more than its unshielded counterpart. If you need a braid shield or foil/braid shield, you will need to wait about 4 to 6 weeks and purchase about 20,000 feet.
3. What Is FPLP Cable?
Fire power limited plenum (FPLP) fire alarm cables are plenum rated for horizontal overhead installations. Plenum cables can be installed in the plenum, which is where the name came from. You’ll notice that plenum cables are much more expensive than riser cables because of the additional engineering and protection they offer. The plenum jacket is made from low-smoke plastics like PVC and limits fire spread throughout the ducting system. They’re both offered in similar sizes because the amount of copper, or current, doesn’t change when the insulation changes.
FPLP and its shielded variation must pass UL 1244 and 1666 tests.
Questions about shields on fire alarm cable? Read our blog post comparing and contrasting shielded and unshielded fire alarm cable.
4. What Is FPLP Shielded Cable?
FPLP shielded fire alarm cables also include an aluminum polyester foil shield over the conductors to block electromagnetic interference. Sometimes there are a few cables running next to each other in the plenum and need shielding to block interference between one another. However, if the cable is installed by itself, it shouldn’t need a shield.
5. What Is FPL Cable?
Fire power limited (FPL) cable is non-plenum rated and boasts less protection against fire. FPL cables are not suitable for installation in environmental air spaces like plenums, risers or ducts unless installed in a conduit.
Type FPL cables must pass UL tests 1424 and 1581.
What Are Non-Power Limited Cables?
The NEC lists different regulations for non-power limited cables regarding power sources. Power-limited fire alarm cables are rated for circuits powered by sources that comply with NEC 760-41, whereas non-power limited cables use sources complying with NEC sections 760-21 and 760-233.
There are two types of non-power limited cables used in fire alarm systems:
- Non-Power Limited Fire (NPLF): Similar to FPL since it is suitable only for general purposes like surface wiring, this variation has no plenum jacket. It’s excluded from installation in risers, plenums, ducts and other spaces unless a conduit is used for protection. NPFL cables undergo UL 1424 and UL 1581 testing.
- Non-Power Limited Fire Protective (NPLFP): These fire alarm cables are surrounded by a plenum jacket. Therefore, they have adequate fire and smoke mitigation for installation in environmental air spaces. These options must pass UL 1424 and UL 910.
How to Choose Fire Alarm Cable
When choosing the right cable for your application, you first need to understand and compare your options. Each type of cable is more suited for specific environments, and using the wrong one could be dangerous. When buying fire alarm cable, consider safety precautions and performance ratings such as fire resistance or its susceptibility to burning. Another characteristic to consider is the cable’s smoke propagation; the amount of smoke created from contact with fire. When selecting electrical cable for these critical fire, security and communications systems, you should refer to the NEC’s acceptable limits of burning and smoke emission. Consider also the extreme conditions your wiring layout could face and any applicable local fire and electrical codes.
That being said, these types of wires are suitable for more than fire alarms. Fire alarm cable can also be incorporated into systems used for security, closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance, public announcement systems or intercoms. These applications also include addressable fire alarm systems (FAS) with interconnected devices and a monitoring panel that provides a more precise location when a threat has been detected.
A fire alarm cable is a multi-conductor electronic cable. The variations are PVC, plenum, shielded, and unshielded which automatically puts this cable in at least four types of different applications. Standard ways of asking for it would be fire alarm cable, shielded fire alarm cable, FPLR cable, and FPLP cable which stands for Riser and Plenum.
FPLR is a riser fire alarm cable with a PVC jacket and solid copper conductors. This would be the cheaper version because it can’t be used in as many applications as the plenum cable. Common applications for both plenum and non-plenum cables are smoke alarms and detectors, voice communications, addressable fire alarm systems, microprocessor-controlled systems, pull boxes, burglar alarms, wiring of fire alarms, and fire protective circuits. It comes in American wire gauge (AWG) sizes 22 through 18 in as many conductors as our 12-in riser and plenum wires. It usually comes in a red-colored outer jacket.
FPLP is used in ducts and enclosed air spaces where fire can spread easily. The plenum jacket won’t allow the fire to spread throughout the entire air duct system creating an even bigger problem than the fire itself. Both the FPLR and FPLP come in a shielded and unshielded version, with shielding making the cable slightly more expensive.
Some of the fire alarm cable specification questions you want to ask yourself before buying any type of electronic wire and cable are:
- Will it be used indoors or outdoors?
- Does the jacket meet the temperature rating needed?
- Does it need a shield?
- Does it need to have fire protection?
All electronic cables and fire alarm cables are manufactured with solid copper conductors so they all carry current in the same way. The things you need to worry about having to do with the insulation and whether it has a high enough temperature rating to not melt in the insulation or if it needs outdoor weather protection. These things can puncture the insulation and short the connection by hitting the copper wire which could cost a lot of money to fix.
Whether you’re installing a conventional or addressable FAS or another alert or communication system, knowing the difference in cabling keeps you compliant and protects lives and property. Call us to talk about your application to be sure you have everything you need. We can also help make sure you’re not buying far more protection than you need so you don’t pay any more money than you have to.
Attributes of Fire Alarm Cable
First things first, fire alarm cable should be fire-resistant so that the cable doesn’t malfunction during a fire. Environmental conditions strongly come into play when engineers design a cable. The cable must be able to resist all that it comes in contact with or it’s deemed useless.
Other ways to differentiate your fire alarm wire include the following:
1. Riser and Plenum Rating
Use riser fire alarm cable when installations run vertically in the walls of a home or building. Use plenum fire alarm cable when installations run horizontally above in duct or plenum. Both of the ratings come with an option of a foil shield to block EMI. You’ll need to make sure you choose the correct cable for installations because if you don’t, you may fail inspection after all of your hard work. Using the right kind is critical for meeting building code requirements.
As mentioned, fire alarm cable is also known as FPLR and FPLP, which help standardize the buying process and make it easier to find what you need. Typically, people using these cables ask for FPLR or FPLP shielded or unshielded. And at that point, all you need to state is the quantity you need for your application. They’re commonly stocked in 1000′ pull boxes, but some suppliers will cut into the box if you ask.
3. Red Jacket
Fire alarm cables are manufactured with a red jacket unless otherwise specified. There are other color options available, but when a second or third electrician visits the same home for repairs, it’s easier for them to spot the fire alarm cables because of their red jacket. It improves the visibility of these important wires and ensures that anyone working with them knows what they are.
Buy Fire Alarm Cable Online From WesBell Electronics
WesBell Electronics carries several types of fire alarm cables. Our stock of multiconductor electronic cables is priced competitively, so you can save money and time moving your projects forward. Our team carries a wide selection organized by American Wire Gauge (AWG) size and conductor count, and we only partner with reputable manufacturers to verify compliance. If you need assistance with our inventory of fire alarm cables, our knowledgeable representatives are happy to advise you.
Before placing your order, consider our in-house services like cutting to length, stripping outer layers and preparing assemblies. We are an ISO 9001-certified company and ensure quality with every service we provide.
Shop for fire alarm wiring now and contact us with any questions about the right wire and cable for your application.