Why are Canada's regulations like this?

According to what I’ve read Canada does NOT require strobes in fire alarm systems, which frankly makes no sense to me as I’m sure they have just as many hearing-impaired people living in the country as the US, thus they SHOULD be required. I’ve also seen that apparently Canada is still VERY fond of using bells for fire alarm signals despite the US and most other countries using anything BUT bells in their fire alarm systems. All I have to ask is: why? Literally every other country in the world uses electronic horns (or sounders in Europe and elsewhere) or voice evacuation and requires strobes.

These are two common myths that are grounded in reality but no longer necessarily representative of current practices or of trends throughout the entire country.



Bells were historically common in Canada (longer than they were in most areas of the US) and many older installations with bells remain in service. However, in my area, bells have gradually dropped in popularity since the 1990s and are extremely rare in new installations today. It is possible that regional variations exist and that bells remained more common in certains areas through the 2000s and 2010s, but I suspect that their drop in popularity would generally be observable throughout most parts of the country as bells are simply not as versatile or practical as horns or horn/strobes. Similarly to what can be observed in the United States, voice evac systems are required in many Canadian applications and have been gaining in popularity over the last few decades, further reducing the relevance of bells.



In my area, the last new large-scale installation I’ve seen with bells is at a museum that opened in 2005. The bells in this building are paired with Genesis strobes (I have no idea why they didn’t just opt for Genesis horn/strobes). Oddly enough, most of the new installations featuring bells I’ve seen in the last 15 years are in small to mid-sized retail buildings (particularly supermarkets).



The situation regarding strobes is slightly more complex. The National Building Code dictates the minimum requirements that must be observed throughout the country, but each of the ten provinces and three territories can adopt more stringent requirements. This leads to variations from one jurisdiction to another; it is therefore inaccurate to say that “Canada does not require strobes” since strobe requirements are primarily dictated by each provincial/territorial jurisdiction rather than being specified nationally. In Ontario, for instance, strobe requirements are specified at section 3.2.4.19 of the Ontario Building Code:

Section 3.2.4.20 adds the following:

For reference, Group A occupancies are assembly occupancies, B occupancies are care and detention occupancies, C occupancies are residential occupancies, D occupancies are business and personal services occupancies (offices) and E occupancies are mercantile occupancies.



This means that in Ontario, strobes are required in most new buildings, although they are not necessarily required in each area of the building. If I’m not mistaken, the current requirements were adopted about five years ago. Indeed, I’ve seen very few new installations from the past few years that don’t use strobes. I’m not familiar with other provinces’ and territories’ requirements, but I recall reading that certain provinces (Alberta or Saskatchewan, perhaps?) have required a nearly-universal use of strobes since the 1990s.



An interesting fact about Ontario is that since 2015, smoke alarms with strobes are required in all new residential units, including single family homes (pursuant to paragraph 3.2.4.22(13) of the Ontario Building Code); I don’t know of any other jurisdictions that have such a requirement. In addition, section 3.2.4.19(4)(f) of the Ontario Building Code requires strobes in the living area of an apartment suite for the building’s fire alarm signals. Consequently, new apartment units in Ontario feature quite a few strobes!



Here’s a PowerPoint presentation I found that discusses strobe requirements in Canada and Ontario (with some rather interesting design choices for the slides). This slide compares the applicable codes and standards regarding strobes in Canada and in the United States:







I’m not a professional in the fire protection industry, so it’s entirely possible that I’m mistaken or missing something in my answers. In addition, my perspective is based on Ontario’s requirements and on my personal observations in my area; my comments therefore cannot be generalized to the entire country.

Ah, I see, to be honest my only real knowledge of Canada’s fire alarm systems comes from twoplyboy’s videos, which of course were shot years and years ago. In the majority of his videos (even the ones that are now private) the alarms are bells and usually there’s not a strobe to be seen anywhere either.



I’d say that bells are just about as good and effective as any other type of alarm except voice evac which of course can do more than bells, mechanical horns, or electronic horns can. (really the only drawbacks I’d say would be high current draw and possible necessary use of a separate strobe or a strobe plate) In the US you’ll usually only see them used as sprinkler bells, though I did have the fortune of going to a Walmart once that had, among other alarms including a Vibratone + VALS on the CEILING, at least two if not more Amseco bells inside the building! Definitely not a place I expected to see bells used, especially since these looked brand new. I’ve also seen a few other buildings with bells as the interior signals, though usually not all of them were bells.



If you ask me strobes should be federally required ANYWHERE an alarm is to be mounted, even if it’s in a place where a horn/strobe would be too noisy or otherwise unnecessary at least install a remote strobe. After all, you never know where in a building a hearing-impaired person might be when the alarm activates, and having that flashing strobe to let them know there’s a fire might save their life.



Also dang, you sure seem to be knowledgeable about the rules and regulations despite not being a technician or otherwise someone who works in the business.

Yeah, I would say that is all accurate. Also, along with the strobe requirements, most new apartment buildings get built with sprinkler systems instead of heat detectors.



I just did a newer 12 story apartment building today, that was built about a year or two ago. Hose Cabinets are no longer installed, only Fire extinguisher cabinets with a standpipe. Sprinkler heads are everywhere, eliminating the use of heat detectors. Detection for the fire alarm system is just smoke detectors in the halls and stairwells, and pulls at exits, and it was all addressable. The signals were alternating, as they would install a Horn/Strobe, then a Horn, then another H/S and then a Horn at the end of the hall (System Sensor HRAs). Units have a H/S in the common area, and a Horn in each bedroom. Only downside is the amount of boosters they have to use, there was 8 Boosters along with the main FACP.



I see a healthy mix of Bells, Horns and Horn/Strobes. Bells are very common in older apartments, like a 3 story walkup for example. Outside of that, I see more Horns now, but with all the new installs and retrofits, more and more horn/strobes are being put in place, especially with the fire inspectors going around and making some of the older buildings install Horns and Mini Horns in units. I believe Canada had so many bell systems at one point was because of 1 company, Edwards. A majority of places had an Edwards system installed in them, and I believe the government had some deal with them for installing systems, as every government owned building I’ve been inside has had or has an Edwards system. Edwards was the primary market for Canada until more Canadian companies started popping up in the 90s (Mirtone, Mircom) which have been taking over. Now a days, I mainly see Mircom systems, as they were used in many new installs, as well as retrofits.



I’ve seen bells in 2 new installs, or rather retrofits, and both are malls. The one near me, has a Walmart with exterior entrance. They decided to renovate this one into a superstore, as the popularity and location of this store was enough to keep it from moving out the mall. They took out the auto center and replaced it with the bakery, and also flipped the store to match the rest of them. The system in the mall is a huge EST system, with Graphic annunciators at each entrance, and Edwards 10" Bells set to temporal. When they renovated the Walmart, they added a ton of bells, basically another bell to each pillar that had one previously. It’s wierd to see the old Gold logo of the old Edwards bell on one side, and on the other side of the pillar a newer white logo on the new Bell. The other mall, across the city, had an old Edwards 2 stage system. They are currently renovating the mall, and I started noticing they were adding new Edwards 10" Bells, and below Genesis Strobes. I believe the older bells are single stroke, but most are all installed behind grilles or in the ceiling.

I thought anything over 8 or so floors had to have a voice system?

I’ll jump in here as well. Although Edwardsfan and El Chapacupra explained everything well, I want to explain a few points as well. While bells certainly are more common here than in the states, i have seen a lot of horn strobe installations, mostly now that my company installs a lot of the new Mircom 400 series LED NAs and spectralert series. But bells are still a big part of older systems. Even today I have seen a handful of new installs that call for bells. Bells are still heavily in production, mostly for replacement reasons, or general signaling. Edwards still makes the iconic 439D series bells to this day that was first introduced in the mid 80s. Mircom, Simplex, and potter make bells for all applications. But the most recognizable brand that still makes bells to me is Notifier. Notifier bells are the standard of motor bells today, with the design going back all the way to the early 90s. The reason vibrating bells aren’t used so much is simply because they took up too much current on NAC circuits. Bell strobe plates are also very common, at least in my area, so strobes are not a rare thing at all. I also see a lot of genesis and 757 stuff kicking around. Another point to note is that voice evacuation systems are VERY rare in Canada. Evacuation time systems are common, but voice evacuation is only for certain special applications, and actually has to be approved by the Canadian Government before it can be commissioned

I’ve never heard of an evacuation time system. What exactly is it?



Voice communication systems are definitely quite common in my area, and the Ontario Building Code requires them in many applications. I commonly see such systems in high-rise office buildings, malls, hospitals, museums, university facilities, and convention facilities. My workplace, for instance, is located in a high-rise building which features automatic evacuation messages that vary according to the floor from which an alarm originates. However, traditional voice evacuation systems (with automatic prerecorded messages) may indeed be less common as the Ontario Building Code seems to only require them in buildings that are not staffed with people trained to provide live instructions when the building is normally occupied (see sentences 3.2.4.23(7) and 3.2.4.24(3)).



Section 3.2.4.23 of the Ontario Building Code indicates that two-way voice communication systems (with firefighters’ telephones and speakers) are required in retirement homes, certain assembly occupancies and high-rises. Section 3.2.6.8 provides details on high-rise applications in which such systems are required:

Section 3.2.4.24 specifies the situations in which one-way voice communication systems (which appear to be systems with speakers but no firefighters’ phones) are required:

Interestingly, the Ontario Building Code does not allow voice communication systems to be used for background music, but appears to allow use of these systems for general paging:

Once again, requirements may very well vary from one province/territory to another. This only reflects my very basic knowledge of current requirements in Ontario.

Lol sorry, it autocorrected. I meant to say Tone systems. In my area I only really see tone evacuation and not full on voice evacuation

Ah, that makes more sense! I know of a few buildings in my area that feature “true” voice evacuation systems with automatic messages (the Rideau Centre or Ikea store, for instance), but I wouldn’t be surprised if systems that rely on live announcements outnumbered “true” voice evacuation systems around here too.

I’ve always wondered who makes the current Notifier KMS-series bells (with the black label). They appear to be identical to Siemens SFM-series, Edwards MB-series and System Sensor SSM-series bells, but I’ve never figured out who the OEM is.


All the buildings I work with have ‘tone’ systems as you put it. I work in a ton of apartment buildings, and they usually opt for the most basic system, which is usually a tone over the speakers, and a microphone for manual paging. I have yet to come across any system that plays messages.

Unless the codes have changed recently, I was told 13 floors or more required voice evacuation. The Ontario Building Code, 3.2.6.8(1)(a) states voice evac is required in a building that’s more than 36m above grade, which equals out to 13 stories. That’s unless your building can hold 1000 or more people, then it needs voice evacuation regardless. In some of the government housing buildings I’ve done, some have voice evac or a speaker system/fire phones in 6, 7 or 8 story buildings. That’s cause they all used to have Edwards 6500 systems, some with the 6700 voice evac as well. It might differ from province to province,