Are Fire Alarm Strobes Required in the City of Chicago?


The Chicago Building Code (CBC) defines which buildings are required to have fire alarm systems and is specific about how these systems are to be put together.  What comes to a surprise to those that design and/or install these systems is, among other things, what is included and not included regarding notification of an alarm condition.  One common method of notification that is not included for Class I fire alarm systems is visual indicators, usually strobes.

Most life safety designers/installers assume that audible and visual indicating devices are joined at the hip for publicly accessible areas and place them as a combined device.  However, the CBC only requires fire alarm audible notification for buildings that require Class I systems (CBC Chapter 15-16-1280).  A Class I system is a type of fire alarm system required in schools, daycare facilities, single room occupancies (SROs), dormitories, institutional occupancies and non-high rise hotels (CBC Chapter 15-16-110).  Visual indicators may be used to supplement the audible signal, but may not be used in lieu of audible signals, even in facilities for the hearing impaired.  This often causes confusion regarding whether strobes should be installed in a Chicago Class I fire alarm system.  Although designers of record must keep their designs efficient, not including strobes just because the CBC doesn’t require them may not be serving the best interests of their client.  In order to avoid having to go back into finished areas and change orders, they should find out if the building owner has other considerations that may require strobes (insurance requirements, ADA applicability, etc.).  For example, if the facility receives federal reimbursement of any kind, ADA requirements will probably need to be met if they want to keep receiving those reimbursements, mandating the installation of strobes.  If other concerns drive the installation of strobes, they should be spaced and installed per NFPA 72 Chapter 18, but a combined audio/visual in Chicago must be mounted at 96″ above finished floor.  When the question of whether strobes should be installed in a required Chicago fire alarm system arises, it’s important to remember that the installation of strobes in a Chicago Class I system is driven by requirements other than the Chicago Building Code.

Affiliated Fire Systems has been installing Class I systems in Chicago since 1983.  Contact us to get more information on how to efficiently remain code compliant with your project.

Gene Rowe

About Gene Rowe

Gene Rowe serves as the Director of Business Development for Affiliated Customer Service. He brings twenty three years of fire alarm and emergency voice systems experience to the table with both an operational and marketing viewpoint. A US Army veteran, NICET certified, an executive board member of the IL-AFAA and a member of the NFPA, he began his career establishing operational expertise as a technician, developed graphic skills with CAD design as a general engineer, gained a ‘big picture’ mindset by moving to project management and finally a marketing perspective directing business development efforts. By interfacing with a broad range of diverse organizations such as the AFAA, CAA, AIA, CEA and the IFIA, he combines concerns of the owner, designer of record, contractor, distributor and approving authority to bring a unique perspective to Affiliated.

An avid marathon runner, he resides in west suburban Chicago with his wife and two sons. He's served the community as a Cub Scout Leader, as well as coaching multiple levels of travel and park district basketball and baseball teams. Professionally, he serves as the Treasurer and is on the Board of Directors for the Illinois chapter of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (IL-AFAA).


  1. Hi Gene,

    thanks for the article. I have an important question. Is there a requirement for commercial buildings that do not have a fire sprinkler system, need to have it retrofitted? what are the requirements to necessitate it in the first place, and if so, what exactly needs to be done? I am considering a building about 40000 square feet building that is 4 stories tall for this question.

    thank you,

    • Hi Shaq,

      I’ll assume the building is in the city of Chicago. Sounds like you have (4) 10,000 square foot floors of a business occupancy. If that’s the case, then per Table 5, Chapter 13-48-080 of the Chicago Building Code (CBC), as long as your building doesn’t utilize type III-C construction (defined here: CBC Construction Types), it doesn’t generally require sprinklers. I say generally because, as always, there are “special requirements” found in the CBC. I’ve looked these over in CBC Chapter 15-16-020 & 030 (CBC Sprinkler Requirements) and as long as you’re not using a basement level for storage, don’t have paint shops paper baling or similar shops with a similar degree of combustibility, don’t have an enclosed garage with a capacity of more than 3 vehicles, not using the building an exhibition area or are not changing the occupancy type to a nursing home, institutional, educational or SRO, then per the CBC, you’re not required to have sprinklers . Your insurance company may offer you incentives to add sprinklers, so it might be worth it to see if the rate reduction would pay for the installation within an acceptable time frame.

      Of course, if the building is not in Chicago, it’s a whole different story and the above wouldn’t apply. I hope I’ve answered your question adequately. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need additional information.

      Gene Rowe
      Affiliated Fire Systems, Downers Grove, IL

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