Tungsten Lighting vs. Smoke Alarms

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    • #50568

      Hi everyone, long time lurker here.

      I’ve been working freelance for a few years and knew about this problem, but had never really needed to worry about it until now.

      I was recently hired full-time as an in-house videographer / editor for a company, and have been working out of a standard office cubicle and external locations for the first few months while a studio space is built in a large partitioned area of the workplace. The space will be used for shooting products, promo videos and misc. video tasks (e.g.: brand managers, rep training videos etc.).

      Camera and other gear aside, for lighting we have purchased a 4-head Lowel lighting kit coming in at ~1700W. This may or may not be supplemented by more lighting down the track.

      I personally own an Ianiro 3x 800W redhead kit and a single 650W Arri fresnel, which I have used for most of my freelance work over the past year or two. For a few of these jobs, we have worked in a space where smoke and/or heat detectors are either absent, or able to be manually overridden / shut off temporarily.

      Currently we are looking at ways to avoid the issue of lighting setting off the building’s fire alarms and costing us thousands each time the lights are switched on.

      The company HQ is on the top floor of a 3-floor office building with standard 10-12ft office ceilings. Fire department protocol dictates that smoke detectors must be spaced in a grid pattern every 7m throughout the building. It also dictates that installing an extraction fan would be against the fire code, as any fire that starts would potentially spread into the roof cavity via that duct and worsen the situation.

      The body corporate has informed us of some smoke detector “condoms” that are made to fit over the smoke detectors temporarily as a barrier to stop any particles reaching them (they’re basically glorified plastic cups). Ironically, it’s against the fire code to install them for anything other than fire system test / technician work…

      For the size of the space (approx 8x8m, or 26x26ft, or 676 square ft.), going the Kinoflo / LED panel route with lighting would not be an option as we’re looking at $8K to $10K of lights to adequately meet the needs of this space, which I can’t swing in the available budget.

      Has anyone had experience setting up a studio space, other than in purpose-built buildings, garages or warehouses (all of which I’m more used to working in)? If so, how did you get around this issue? Our lights will be thoroughly “burned in” outdoors, so a lot of the factory chrome / paint will already be cooked before setting them up indoors, but even my own lights, which have seen heavy use over the years, still smoke occasionally like all tungsten / HMI / anything-with-a-heating-element will.

      Lots of reading on the net, plus talking to fellow video people has told me that it’s either something they’ve never thought about, or it’s something that’s been solved by “less-than-legally” overriding the detectors / whole alarm system. I know what I’d do, but unfortunately I’d most likely foot the bill personally should anything disastrous happen.

      Any advice would be great.


    • #203847

      Kinos aren’t the only game in the fluorescent light business. There are competing brands at a fraction of the cost. Check out FloLight. http://www.flolight.com/fluorescent-lighting.html

      That is probably your best dollar/watt compromise right now. They make high-quality units that use the same bulbs as the more expensive Kinos. (for the record, I have no affiliation with them).

      Hot lights= hot environment= increased cooling cost, uncomfortable talent, more burned bulbs, higher risk of fire etc.

      Good luck.

    • #203848

      I’m guessing the heat issue is the morel likely, as particle based detectors should not be triggered from dust burn off which is the only particle based problem and on burned in kit isn’t normally a problem. Many modern detectors are combinations of particle and heat rate change detectors, and suddenly turning on a load of tungsten kit raises the ceiling temperature very quickly. The official line here in the UK is that you NEVER interfere with a smoke detection system EVER. Building where lighting like this is used are fitted with isolation circuits that can be temporarily switched off. Many having a time out and a need for manual re-isolation to cope with staff shift changes. The old trick of using a rubber glove (the medical type) fitted over the smoke detector is often considered gross misconduct if the person tasked with fire safety sees it. If you have to work in buildings with this type of detector and isolation is impossible, then you cannot use tungsten lighting. End of story. You can build into your contract the requirement for isolation and thus gain some protection – but defeating a fire safety system is foolish. What defence would you have, standing in court trying to explain why you defeated a system designed to save lives?

      In practice, DIY defeating is perfectly possible, and many people do it – but the risk is theirs. I often have visitors to our venue who always ask – are we isolated before turning on the kit. I like these – but quite a few just turn the kit on, and I do the isolation unasked. I do know a local venue where their Health and Safety Officer has ruled that no isolation is allowed. His choice – as he is responsible. Even if you have tungsten stock, I’d hire in LED/flu kit for these jobs.

    • #203849

      I’m with Paullears on this one… the building safety stuff is not to tampered with.

      rent or buy cooler lights is the best option. the second best option is to have your equipment fitted with cooling fans.
      remember cooling fans make noise both acoustically and electrical/radio noise that your audio equipment may pick up. but if those fans cool the lights and redirect the heat away from the smoke detectors, you may be able to shoot with hot lights. Mount the fans to the lights and test. Before shooting on the job.

    • #203850

      Hi folks, thanks for your replies.

      First of all, I should mention up front that I don’t intend on interfering with the detectors or doing anything else against the fire code or the law in general. Firefighting systems are obviously there for a very important reason, and ultimately the final decision is down to OH+S. The first thing on the news here this morning was a big apartment fire where two people jumped out of a 5 story window to escape…no smoke alarms.

      The intention behind my original post was to ask the community if they had any suggestions for a possible workaround or had come across this issue in their own work, and thanks again for posting through your experiences and suggestions.

      As this space is to be set up for ongoing use, we may have to look into the option of being able to isolate certain detectors according to our shooting times (depending on the specifics of the fire system I assume, the technicians will have to inform me if it’s possible). The idea of heat / particle extraction for individual lights is also another great suggestion. I’ve already faced the fact that shooting in an office is going to pose some unavoidable audio problems, but we actually have a separate area with decent isolation to record voiceovers and the like.

      The area where the studio space is to be set up only has 2x particle detectors, though in reality there are probably 1 or 2 more that are in close enough proximity to be a ‘maybe’. The only area with heat detectors / sprinklers (detectors with the little red vial in them) is in the kitchen area of the office, and that’s far enough away from the area for the heat not to be an issue.

      If anyone reading this has any further input it’d be greatly appreciated, the more the merrier.

      More news as it happens, I’ll keep you posted. Thanks all.

    • #204120

      Just a happy-ending follow up for anyone either interested or faced with a similar situation in the future:


      Integrated fire systems using smoke detectors are able to be "zoned" by the technicians. If one detector senses smoke it can be set to hold off triggering the alarm system until an adjacent detector also detects smoke. Coupling this with a minor adjustment in sensitivity makes it possible to use the hot lights indoors without triggering the alarm system. I'm sure the size of the smoke particles would also have something to do with the sensitivity (I wouldn't expect burning a big pile of leaves in the studio would have the same results…)


      Anyway, in my original situation, a detector slightly further away was obviously not as much of an issue as the one directly in the centre of the studio space ceiling. The detector most at risk has had the sensitivity adjusted and has been set to hold off triggering until the detector further away from the lights also senses smoke.


      So, after all the minor within-regulation tweaks, the fire system contrators (with alarm system in "test" mode) witnessed ~1700W of lighting gear, with the stands set up at ~6ft, directly underneath the sensor (worst-case scenario)…and the problem was solved, no trigger.


      As the lights are still reasonably new they put out a steady stream of smoke, and though the smoke will never completely be gone, it will decrease over the lifetime of the lights (fingerprint oil, dust etc. aside). To have the alarms not trigger in that worst-case scenario means we're sorted.


      Coupled with a diverted aircon duct and a small extraction vent in the roof, the smoke/heat problem is now a non-issue.


      Thanks again for all of your suggestions, and if anyone else has run into this issue in a building they're working in regularly (regularly enough to justify technicians tweaking the system), hopefully you'll read this thread and can resolve the situation.



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