Battery Life and the Need for Routine Service Inspections

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From the desk of John Larkin, ESC Senior Partner.

The use of rechargeable batteries permeates every facet of society, from medical devices to alarm systems, from children toys to cell phones. Although the average life span of a battery is markedly longer today compared to a few decades ago, the fact is, batteries do have a life span that must be considered, especially where it comes to life-safety use, such as the fire alarm system you have in your facility. Although we’d like to assign a given number of years to the life expectancy of a battery, the fact is, there are several factors that make that effort impossible. For this reason alone, it’s important that you, as a person in a position of responsibility, understand the need for routine inspections.

Let’s first look at what the definition of “battery life expectancy” is: “Duration of a rechargeable battery, often stated in number of charge/discharge cycles, until it degrades irreversibly and cannot hold a useful charge” (

There are several factors that determine the ultimate lifespan of a rechargeable battery. The definition above presents one of the most important of those factors: number of charge/discharge cycles, also referred to as “cycle fade.” The fact is, no one can tell you how many times your fire alarm batteries will discharge and then be charged over the course of time. If your facility is located in an area that rarely sees power outages, if the power grid also rarely sees high-voltage spikes and other anomalies, then your batteries will last longer than those that reside in geographic areas where storms and other factors adversely affect quality of power to the fire alarm panel.

Another factor involved in the lifespan of your fire alarm batteries is called calendar fade: “Battery performance deteriorates over time whether the battery is used or not. This is known as ‘calendar fade’.” Calendar fade and cycle fade are entirely different in that calendar fade also pertains to batteries that are not in use.

Trickle life is “The service life of a battery is in the trickle use. Usually, the trickle life is the time expressed in years before the dischargeable time of the battery decreases to a half of the initial value.”

Environmental factors, such as temperature, in combination with time can cause the chemicals and other characteristics of your fire security system batteries to simply die a slow but sure death. For example, as a general rule, the 5-year warranted Gel Cell batteries you purchased with your new fire alarm system three years ago now contain about half of their rated capacity. Consider what this means to the performance of your fire and burglar alarm systems during a prolonged power outage.

One way you can help prolong your fire alarm batteries is to make sure the fire alarm panel is located in a well ventilated room where the temperature remains low enough to sustain operation of the batteries for as long as possible. In a word, heat kills rechargeable fire alarm batteries, and it’s certainly not good for the operation and longevity of fire alarm panels either. The other way to assure battery operability is to have your alarm systems inspected once a year.

To assure continued operability of your fire alarm system, national fire code requires that your batteries be inspected and tested according to Table as contained in NFPA 72, 2013 Edition. As you can see by the table shown at the end of this article, code calls for this annually for some and semiannually for others. You need to inquire of your fire alarm company as Get a Quoteto which battery type you have in your fire and security alarm systems so you can assure that inspection and testing occurs as prescribed as the ultimate responsibility for this lies with you, not your fire alarm company (see “Whose Responsibility is it to Notify Me About Fire Alarm Inspections?” viewable at

Electronic Systems Consultants LLC (ESC) stands ready to test and inspect your fire and burglar alarm systems on a yearly basis. If you do them together, at the same time, we can save you money. During our routine inspection and testing we not only check your batteries, but we’ll double check the operation of every device in use, which is required by NFPA 72. All smoke detectors, manual fire pulls, duct-type smoke detectors, horn strobes and strobe-only notification alarm circuit devices, and any other little thing will be examined and tested so you continue to meet local, state, and national code requirements. ESC also will provide you with documentation of our inspections and testing so you will have it on file when the local or state authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) asks to review it.

Set an AppointmentWhether ESC installed your fire, camera, access control, or security system when it was new, we stand ready to assist you today! ESC is a full service fire and security company. We carry MBE (Minority Business Enterprise) certification by the State of Ohio, and all our technicians are trained and certified by the State of Ohio as well as all relevant equipment manufacturers. Please call us at 614-754-1393, email us at, or use our Contact Us utilities to outline your situation and ask for help. Go to:

John Larkin, ESC Senior Partner