Basic Rules for Panel Care

Here’s a quick list of rules for those who own control units. These are delicate electronic devices that are generally designed to be hung, wired, and programmed once in their lifespan, and only tested periodically. They aren’t designed to take abuse, and are easy to destroy.

  1. Never, never, NEVER, under any circumstances, power your panel up on battery power alone, without first applying AC power. This is bad for the charger/power supply circuit, and WILL eventually cause damage. It may seem harmless if done once or twice, but that’s all it could take. Is it worth the risk? Get yourself a power cord and do it right.

    a. Plug the panel in without the batteries connected.
    b. Wait for the panel to start and the software to load (if applicable).
    c. Wait for the “AC power indicator” to illuminate, and for the system to indicate a battery trouble.
    d. Carefully connect the batteries, observing polarity. The battery trouble should clear.
    For resound systems, set the trouble silence switch back to the normal position.

I did this once on a 4002, hooked the batteries back up before the AC power, and sure enough, I blew several fuses on the board. Just took one shot. I think powering up my 4004 on batteries before AC is what killed the charger. When powering down, disconnect the batteries first, then the AC power.

  1. Don’t buy, power up, or try to wire a panel unless you have and understand the diagrams and technical manuals. There are a few great resources online for diagrams and technical documents for control units. Don’t “tinker” with the zone connections if you’re unsure of what you’re doing. Some systems have auxiliary outputs for the zones next to the zone loop terminals. Accidentally backfeeding panel voltage into a zone, just once, could destroy it. I destroyed both of my Miniscan 112s by “tinkering” with the supervisory zone terminals, only to find out after looking at the manual, that the supervisory connections are normally closed, unlike the zones. Why buy a panel, only to find out you need certain devices, or an external programmer that you don’t have access to? Why buy a 12-volt 5110XM panel and a number of 24-volt signals, without knowing the difference? (Yes, there’s a reference to someone here.)

  2. If you have a card-based system (Simplex likes to do this), NEVER disconnect or insert cards with power applied to the panel. Always power the system down, plug the cards in, then power it back up. This applies to monitor cards, signal cards, suppression/disconnect cards, whatever you have. A tech killed a 4005 by inserting a zone monitor card with the panel powered up. Only had to do it once. If you have a 2001, which is a modular system, hold in the reset button when removing and inserting cards. if you have a 4207/4208, you can usually turn the reset keyswitch to kill power to the system.

  3. Only strip enough wire for what you need. Modern systems have clamp-style screw terminals so that open-end spade connectors or hooked ends of wire (not preferred) aren’t necessary. You only need to strip about 1/8" of insulation from the wire. When you insert the wire into the terminal clamp, no copper should be showing, insulation should go underneath the clamp a little bit. Bare copper here is an excellent spot for a short circuit. When you strip the outer insulation from the cable, be very careful not to nick the insulation on the inside wires – it’s VERY easy to do. The best way is to use an oversized hole in a pair of wire strippers, use the strippers to make a “ring” around the cable without actually piercing the insulation, and pull it off with your hands. Then pull back the foil shield (if it’s there) and trim it off. If you can’t pull the insulation off, grip it with the strippers in a new spot that isn’t cut, and gently pull. The hole for 10 AWG wire works excellent for removing the outer insulation from 18/2 fire alarm cable. To prevent a ground fault, wrap the area where you cut the foil in electrical tape.

  4. Use strain reliefs and bushings in panel knockout holes. the inner edges of those knockouts can be jagged and are good spots for short circuits and ground faults. If you’re using EMT conduit, ream the inside edge with a file or the handle of a pair of pliers (an old electrician trick, works great) so that you don’t feel any sharp or jagged edges. Use a setscrew fitting and a plastic threaded bushing for conduit that terminates in open air. For conduit that terminates in the panel or junction boxes, use a plastic threaded bushing inside the panel or j-box for the remainder of the fitting threads.

  5. If your panel is used, carefully clean it out before setting it up. A lot of times, panels are surface-mounted to walls, and holes are cut in the back of the panel for wires. When this is done, there’s a small jagged metal disc left behind, and a bunch of metal shavings, somewhere in the world. They may be in a junkyard in Phoenix, Arizona, or they may be in a scrap metal yard in Tennessee, or they may be on the floor in a dusty electrical room where the panel was once hung. Or, they could still be in your panel, touching the circuit board somewhere. They could have been in the bottom of the panel when it was hung, but in shipping, could have been shaken around and lodged between the board and chassis. It takes a minute to look.

  6. Just a recommendation, but not critical: use good batteries. Panels aren’t meant to charge old, worn, or defective batteries. Batteries that have sat while discharged are usually damaged because of battery sulfation. Because batteries in series are charged at the same amperage, you should use two batteries from the same manufacturing date and lot (indicated by a stamp on the battery). An older battery will have a different internal resistance than a newer battery, and one of the two may demand more charging current. If a higher charging current is forced into the other battery, you could destroy it, it could corrode and leak… or whatever. and be careful, that’s a very corrosive acid in there. Periodically check the batteries for leaking and corrosion (corrosion indicates acid leakage. panel batteries are sealed and should NOT corrode - if the terminals corrode, it’s physically damaged and must be replaced). Check the charging voltage periodically. As a general rule, 26 to 28 volts is good. For a 12-volt system, 13.5 to 14.5 volts is good.

  7. And finally… just be careful. Always power the system down when making connections to the panel. you may know that you’re hooking up to the right zone terminals, but, you could still do something - touch a wire somewhere it shouldn’t touch, like a circuit board, or you could drop something, or your screwdriver could slip and make a connection you didn’t want. Check and double-check your connections before powering up. Know what the amperage rating of your signal circuits are, and make sure you don’t exceed that. Understand that just a brief short can kill the panel, and the magical blue smoke means you’re out of luck.

Good tips. Hopefully this will cut down on the stories people post of how they accidentally damaged their panel…

Thank you for posting that. I’ve been considering getting a panel soon, and I was actually about to make a post asking about safety precautions and how to install batteries.

this kinda reminds me of a problem with my MS-2. there’s these little things sticking up under the zone terminals and the NAC terminal, and one of the ones on the NAC terminal is loose. is this really bad? i have Fire-Lite’s number on speed-dial, so i could call them to fix it if i need them to pick it up and fix it.

Could you post a picture of what youre talking about?

not for another week

THANK you Dan… About time somebody brought these up!!!

Most of these I’ve learned the hard way… and have humorous stories to go along with them that I will not go into depth about. One example is my old security panel… I tried booting the panel from the battery one time. The connectors sure sparked, but the thing didn’t blow its battery fuse. I lucked out I guess…

Also, about the knockout thing- electrical tape works great to protect your wires by wrapping them in it. I learned that from the NFBAA handbook (and talking with some techs), and know first hand- it really does work great. Use it in addition to strain relief and all your standard protection. Also use it if you are going through a wall or ceiling, or studs or floor/ceiling joists.

[quote] Why buy a 12-volt 5110XM panel and a number of 24-volt signals, without knowing the difference? (Yes, there's a reference to someone here.) [/quote]

lol… Its terrible to be laughing, but something like that kind of needs it.

yes, electrical tape works wonders for protection. wrap your cables in it when going through knockouts, at places where staples or nylon clamps are used, etc. Try to avoid sharp corners when running cables.

When I have one or more cables coming together at a location (like at a smoke detector), I tape the two cables together at the end of the sheathing (not the end of the actual wire, just where the outer jacket is stripped) for a few inches, and coming out of the taped bundle is 2 reds and 2 blacks. I leave about 12 to 16 inches of extra cable in the j-box or space just above the detector, if it’s open in a ceiling, I roll it up and tape the roll in one or two spots. if it’s above a detector, I’ll leave about four extra feet above the device in the ceiling, neatly rolled up. it may only be my home system, but I’ll sure appreciate leaving that much extra if I ever need to move the device.

Another great tip:

If you get a notification appliance, which has been listed as used (off eBay etc) or a foreign alarm that you are unsure, test it with a separate power supply before connecting it to your panel as it may short out or destroy your panel. This has happened to me when I got a Wheelock AS, which was listed as used. I connected it to my panel, without hesitation, and before I knew it, my panel was smoking. Even though the bell output was protected by a fuse, it’s still shorted out and damaged my panel. I was up for a $500 replacement part due to a shoddy Wheelock AS. Luckily, they found a spare panel, which was lying around. So I got that and salvaged the part which which was needed out of that panel.

Which is also a great reason to never buy used fire alarm equipment that you intend to use for life safety. You have no idea what condition its in, even if it appears new. It could be shorted on the inside, which might have been your problem, samburner3.

You may have let the positive and negative wires come to close together (you may have also not noticed it before you powered the panel up). That will short out and destroy your panel.

Luckily, they found a spare panel, which was lying around. So I got that and salvaged the part which which was needed out of that panel.

did the panel you found work?If so how did you manage to find a panel?

Great now you got a panel

Here is another tip:
Be careful when tightening the screws on a screw terminal. The terminal blocks are attached to the panel’s circuit board by the conductors, if you put too much force, you could break the terminal block off. Be extra careful when inserting or removing the keyboard or USB connector. Those tend to be tight, and break off.

That’s a good tip hears one of my own. Make sure you are perfectly grounded before you touch any of the electronics in the panel because most of them are shock sensitive.

I’m guilty of not doing that.


A few more tips for us collectors. Some of these have already been touched on, but I’m elaborating on them from personal experience.

  • Replace batteries about every 3-5 years. If your batteries feel unusually warm or cause a “low battery” trouble, it’s time to replace. Nasty things can happen when old batteries are used for too long. Check the minimum amp hour rating specified by the panel. 7AH is usually fine.

  • If an end-of-line resistor is hot to the touch, you probably need to use one with a higher wattage. Resistors are designed to expend heat, so some amount of warmth is to be expected. However, if it’s so hot that you can’t hold your finger on it for a few seconds, the resistor is being overpowered by the current and may eventually crack. You can always use a higher wattage than what is specified, but don’t go lower.

  • When you unpack a new or used panel, make sure it’s clear of any debris as Mangum Alert mentioned. However, you also want to inspect all parts to make sure nothing has been bent out of place or broken off during shipping. Many of the parts in my Honeywell FS90 came unscrewed during shipping, and one of the zone cards got toasted upon power up due to two transistors that were bent and touching each other. Luckily I have duplicate cards, but it’s especially important to watch out for small components on non-modular systems. Not only can they render the whole panel useless if damaged or missing, but they can cause greater damage to other components if power is applied to an incorrect configuration.

  • This should go without saying, but NEVER intentionally or accidentally wire DC notification appliances (or anything for that matter) in series! This is what toasted a NAC on my old MS-5UD.

  • This should also go without saying, but NEVER connect more than one circuit to a relay. If you have two zones from two different panels connected to one set of relay terminals, power from both zones will backfeed into one another.

  • When wiring speakers to a voice evac panel, make sure the voltage is compatible. Most VECP’s can output 25V or 70V RMS, but you’ll need to set it ahead of time.

  • Before connecting a 2-wire detector to your panel, make sure it’s compatible. Common sense should suffice - System Sensor is obviously compatible with Fire-Lite, Notifier, etc, while Simplex is compatible with Simplex. Be cautious with older detectors, and never mix brands on the same 2-wire circuit even if they are both compatible with the panel. These two sites will help:
    System Sensor | Honeywell Building Technologies

  • When installing TrueAlarm bases, make sure the protective backing is on. If not, the circuit board may touch the box and cause a ground fault.

  • When in doubt, use thicker gauge wire, especially for 120VAC connections. If you are powering multiple panels from the same source, there’s a lot of current being drawn through the cable that ultimately goes to the outlet. Estimate the total amperage that is being drawn by your panel(s), and use this site to decide what gauge wire to use for power transmission: American Wire Gauge Chart and AWG Electrical Current Load Limits table with ampacities, wire sizes, skin depth frequencies and wire breaking strength

I don’t have a wristband grounder. Am I able to just wrap the grounding wire that comes with the hot and neutral in AC power? I don’t really touch anything on the circuit board besides the screw terminals, and obviously, the keypad.

no then your fine if you take out the board thats when you need to ground your self.