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  • Writer's pictureHSM MANAGEMENT

Mandatory Fire System Upgrade: "Pillow Test"

Updated: May 28


After several devastating apartment fires hit the City in 2016, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation to seriously strengthen safety in multi-family properties. Most of these requirements went into effect shortly thereafter. However, a new mandate goes into effect on July 1, 2024 requiring a manual fire alarm system that would be more likely to wake sleeping residents.

The City of San Francisco now requires all multi-family buildings to upgrade fire alarm systems to pass the “Pillow Test” to comply with the SFFC Section 1103.7.6.1. Compliance shall include all existing (R-2) residential buildings (three units or more) with an existing building fire alarm system. The building owner shall upgrade the fire alarm system (if necessary) to comply with sound level requirements for sleeping areas set forth in section of NFPA 72 (2013 edition) as amended from time to time

The Pillow Test

The “pillow test” means that the central fire alarm system must be loud enough for all residents to hear it from their bedroom. The A-weighted scale (dBA) is used to measure the sound level. This new standard, summed up as the 75-decibel “pillow test,” must be measured at the pillow level. Specifically, (as mandated in SFFC Section 1103.7.6.1), 15 dB above the average ambient sound level or 5 dB above the maximum sound level, having a duration of at least 60 seconds, or a sound level of at least 75 dBA, whichever is greater.

Also note that if any barrier, such as a curtain, door, or retractable partition, is located between the fire alarm’s notification appliance and the pillow, the sound pressure level will be measured with the barrier placed between the appliance and the pillow.

What to Do Next

To help avoid violations for non-compliance, please contact your fire safety vendor. If you do not have one, feel free to contact HSM Management's Vice President, Jeff Machado. He can be reached at or 415-431-7655. Jeff can connect you with a licensed service vendor who will point you in the right direction.

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