Modernizing your building’s elevators means addressing fire alarm system upgrades, too

Modernizing elevators can be a complicated process. Building codes in B.C. now require all new and upgraded elevator systems to be interconnected with the building’s fire alarm systems. So, when a B.C. hospital recently needed nine high-traffic elevators upgraded, working within the constraints of a hospital setting compounded these challenges.

In the case of this busy urban hospital, doctors, nurses and other staff constantly use the elevators to move themselves and patients quickly from floor to floor. This meant elevator downtime had to be carefully planned to minimize the impact on patients and core hospital work. The elevator system upgrades also had to be designed to work within the facility’s existing electrical systems, which carry multiple sensitive loads that power, for example, operating rooms and life-critical equipment. In addition, the upgrades included replacing an automatic transfer switch, which switches the elevators’ power system to the hospital’s own backup power supply in the event of local BC Hydro power failures.

Primary project consultant GUNN Consultants brought Prism on to help.

“The unique thing about this project was that it required so much more electrical review and work than most elevator modernization projects because of the hospital’s complicated electrical systems,” says David Joo, Electrical Engineer and Associate at Prism Engineering and our in-house service area lead for fire alarms.

Prism designed the electrical distribution for the nine new elevators and its interconnection with the hospital’s fire alarm system. We also upgraded the automatic transfer switch so that the elevators could receive emergency alarm signals, and updated the elevator machine room with an electrical feed to the new elevators, new LED and emergency lighting, cooling units, and a fire alarm interconnection.

Unlike many other elevator upgrade projects we’ve worked on, the hospital didn’t require a fire alarm upgrade, as it had been upgraded only a few years prior.

With careful work scheduling to limit impacts on hospital personnel and patients, the nine elevators, their systems and the elevator room were successfully upgraded to code.

Read more of our elevator–fire alarm system modernization case studies here.

The elevator–fire alarm system connection

British Columbia’s aging building stock means an increasing number of elevators are due to be replaced, and building codes now require that new and upgraded elevators be connected with building’s fire alarm systems.

“We often get feedback from clients looking to modernize their elevators who say they hadn’t known they also had to upgrade their fire alarm systems,’” David says.

Interconnecting building elevator and fire alarm systems is a major life-safety requirement. A properly connected modern fire alarm system automatically signals the elevators in the event of a fire in the building. Upon receiving the signal, the elevators are programmed to bring everybody already inside the elevator down to the main level, open the doors, and remain open.

Newer addressable fire alarm systems identify which fire alarm device in the building was initiated and respond accordingly. Specifically, if a smoke detector in the ground-floor elevator lobby is triggered, the system instructs the elevator controller to stop on an alternate floor to avoid the fire.

Prism’s approach to elevator modernization

Every year, our electrical team completes up to 20 elevator modernization projects with fire alarm elements. With key partner GUNN Consultants, we have completed close to 100 projects to date in residential, commercial, industrial, healthcare and education buildings.

Our approach to elevator modernization involves reviewing the fire alarm systems and designing needed upgrades. We review and design electrical systems to suit new elevators, including replacing power feeders and cables, specifying the proper electrical protection for the elevators’ motors, and making sure the code requirements are met.

Working with elevator consultants and contractors, we also offer full fire alarm upgrades and elevator interconnection, Dedicated Detection Recall System implementation (Vancouver), and electrical work associated with complying with CSA B44 Elevator Modernization requirements.

In addition, we check and design updates to the machine rooms where the elevator equipment is housed so that it meets building code requirements. This often means improving the room’s lighting, upgrading the elevator’s electrical grounding system so that it is GFI rated, and replacing the disconnect switch to the elevator.

Read more about Prism’s approach to fire alarm upgrades here.

We can help

Is your building due for an elevator upgrade, but you’re not sure what may be involved? Email our in-house service area lead for fire alarms, David Joo, at


Understanding the City of Vancouver’s new carbon pollution limits  

In response to the City of Vancouver’s Climate Emergency Action Plan, Vancouver City Council approved recommendations this past May to introduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emission regulations for existing large commercial and retail buildings. The regulations include GHG intensity (GHGi) limits and heat energy limits, as well as annual energy and carbon reporting requirements.

The GHG emissions and heating energy limits for these building types will require owners and energy utilities to plan for deep carbon retrofits and investments in alternative energy sources. Key highlights:

  • The energy and carbon reporting requirements come into effect in 2024.
  • The GHGi limits come into effect in 2026, with a proposed $350/tonne CO2e fee for emissions that exceed the limit.
  • The heating energy limits come into effect in 2040, with a proposed $100/gigajoule fee for heating energy that exceeds the limit.

Other regions and cities, including Metro Vancouver, are now also considering following suit and introducing GHGi and heating energy limits for their regions.

Although the limits are a positive step towards decarbonizing the building sector, much work remains to be done to make these buildings comply with the regulations. Currently, many buildings do not meet the limits stipulated in the bylaw. According to PUMA’s 2021 office building benchmarking report only 10 per cent  of buildings within the dataset currently fall within 2040 heat energy limits, 80 per cent fall within the 2026 GHGi limits, and 2 per cent fall within the 2040 GHGi net-zero limits. Although 2026 and 2040 may seem like the distant future, retrofitting buildings to achieve the deep reductions targeted takes several years, effort and cost. Getting an early start on this work is critically important.

The good news is that help is available. Several programs can be leveraged to support the transition to lower GHGi and heating energy in existing buildings.

Interested in finding out more about these new regulations and what they mean for your buildings?

Feel free to reach out to us — we’d be happy to chat. Contact Iram Green, Energy Team Lead, at

Dogs, aerial silks, and energy studies at Prism’s Nelson office

Whether you are a curious client or an interested career explorer, do you ever wonder what Prism’s Energy Engineers do in a typical day?

We are excited to be featuring a day in the life of Lizz Hodgson, P.Eng., one of the Energy Engineers working out of our Nelson office.

“I typically get into the office around 9 a.m. with my dog, Otago,” Lizz tells us. “We settle in by grabbing some water or a coffee and touching base with my team members before logging onto my computer. Having Otago here brings some levity to the office – he has quite a presence! I love that the casual setting we have allows me to include him in my office days.”

Lizz and Otago in Prism’s Nelson Office

Lizz’s mornings usually involve some administrative preparation, such as coordinating site visits, gathering utility data, and scheduling planning sessions with colleagues or clients.

For example, the weekly Monday morning planning meetings gather all of Prism’s Energy team members together online from our Nelson, Kelowna, and Burnaby offices to review project priorities for the week and to highlight areas on which team members can collaborate and support each other.

Lizz’s afternoons are often filled with client meetings, presentations, facilitating workshops, or project work such as energy modelling and analysis.

On a few days each week, Lizz uses her lunch break to fit in some exercise. She visits the gym at the local recreation centre, two blocks away. She also attends a circus training school, Discover Circus, that’s located in the same building as our Nelson office. The school’s aerial silks classes allow her to engage with her artistic self and take a social break. It’s great exercise, too, she says.

“It has become important to my mental health to create work–life balance,” she says. “Living in Nelson and working for Prism allows me to keep work and play close together. I can step away from the computer to do something completely different by challenging myself physically. I come back to the office feeling accomplished and ready to tackle the rest of the day!”

On a recent fall day, we caught up with her as she was preparing to lead a 90-minute workshop for a local municipality. Lizz is the technical service area lead for Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) Planning, and she has been working with the municipality on an emissions reduction pathway feasibility study. She told us that, before the study is finalized, she will incorporate feedback from stakeholders and facilitate the discussion around the identified pathways as part of the process to foster organizational buy-in.

As with any of our Energy Engineers, Lizz’s level of involvement varies from project to project and depends on each client’s needs. For example, organizations that have their own sustainability and energy teams may already have a decision framework in place to help guide their discussions. The objectives of these discussions are to identify barriers to implementation, ensure the recommended measures are within the decision framework, gain engagement from stakeholders, and guide the setting of priorities to meet the client’s goals and targets. Clients that don’t have that kind of in-house expertise may require more of Lizz’s involvement to help them determine targets and solutions, engage stakeholders, and set client-appropriate priorities.

The work is diverse and stimulating.

“I enjoy the varied nature of my role at Prism and look forward to new challenges my projects bring me each day,” Lizz says. “I’m not always writing technical reports — I’m often on site, I’m leading workshops, I’m researching new technology. Even when I’m at my desk, I collaborate with various engineering teams within Prism to create thoughtful and integrated solutions for our clients. Along with enjoying the people I work with, I get lots of learning opportunities too.”

Lizz on site at a recent mechanical installation in Nelson, BC.
Lizz on site at a recent mechanical installation in Nelson, BC.