exit lighting and exit signs

Exit Lighting and Exit signs

Originally posted on October 12, 2021 at kilolimacode.com

Accessible exit sign

Exit lighting, Exit Signs, and Emergency Lighting are imperative for the timely evacuation of occupants. Adequate ambient lighting is required so that occupants can navigate the egress route so that they don’t trip or fall. Exit signs are required to identify the exit routes and exit doors. Emergency lighting is required to illuminate the path of travel and identify exits in the event of a power failure. 

The requirements for the maintenance of these three critical items have continued to evolve over the years. The 1990 Edition of the National Fire Code of Canada (NFC) included several new additions: including the requirement to install exit lighting and exit signs per the National Building Code of Canada (NBC), the inclusion of exit lighting illumination while the building is occupied; and the requirement to maintain emergency lighting. These requirements remained unchanged until the 2015 Edition of the NFC. The latest revisions included provisions for the inspection, testing, and maintenance of exit signs. These were not explicitly stated in previous editions. This blog post reviews the requirements related to exit signs and exit lighting. It also explores some of the challenges with the changes in exit signage requirements and where new requirements may go. 

Exit Lighting? 

The term exit lighting has been used several times in this post. You may have never heard this term before. It doesn’t appear in the National Building Code. It only appears in Subsection 2.7.3. of the National Fire Code.

So, what is exit lighting? 

A search result for “exit lighting” returns websites for exit signs, emergency lighting, and “exit lights.” The term “exit light” seems to be synonymous with an exit sign. I've seen the term exit light referencing an exit sign when reviewing building plans, but an exit sign, or exit light, is not the same as “exit lighting.” Exit lighting refers to the ambient lighting within a means of egress under normal power conditions. 

Note A- of the National Fire Code states, “Subsections 3.2.7. and 3.4.5. of Division B of the National Building Code describe the requirements for the placement of exit signs and emergency and non-emergency lighting.” The requirements in Article of the NBC provide the minimum lighting requirements. Specifically, “an exit, a public corridor, or a corridor providing access to exit for the public or serving patients’ sleeping rooms or classrooms shall be equipped to provide illumination to an average level not less than 50 lx at floor or tread level and at angles and intersections at changes of level where there are stairs or ramps.” In addition, the minimum value of the illumination required shall be not less than 10 lx. This is “exit lighting”. These values are the minimum lux required to provide illumination along the path of egress travel under normal power conditions, ie. not on emergency power. The intent statements for these two sentences confirm that the intent is to limit the probability that egress routes and exits will have inadequate illumination which could lead to safety hazards.

Exit Signs

Exit signs help occupants identify the means of egress to find their way out of a building. The National Fire Code requires exit signs to be:

The 2015 Edition of the NFC included a new article, Article Inspection of Exit Signs. The new requirements for exit signs included a monthly inspection to ensure that signs are visible, identifiable, and not obstructed. In addition, there is now an annual testing requirement. Exit signs must be tested annually to ensure they remain illuminated for the same duration as the emergency power supply requirement, ie. 30 min, 1 hour, or 2 hours. 

Green Pictogram Signs 

The 2010 Edition of the National Building Code introduced the requirements for the internationally recognized green pictogram sign. These requirements were straightforward for the installation of exit signs in new buildings. This was not so for existing buildings. 

Questions came from the industry asking about individual exit sign replacements, multiple exit sign replacements in a single floor area, and replacement of exit signs in multiple floor areas. At the same time, others were not asking questions and installing signs where they wanted. We observed every possible scenario, including replacement of multiple exit signs within a single-floor area. This led to red EXIT signs being installed within the same area as the new green pictogram signs. There seemed to be a lot of confusion between the industry and AHJs.

Several jurisdictions provided interpretations of these new requirements and how they were to be applied to existing facilities. These interpretations were released based on when the new code provisions were adopted in the particular jurisdiction. Interpretations were issued by: Winnipeg, Calgary, and the Province of Saskatchewan

The consensus was that, as stated in the Winnipeg Policy on Exit Signs Installations in Existing Buildings, “generally speaking, mixing and matching of red EXIT signs and green pictogram signs in the same floor area will not be permitted.” The requirements were similar throughout each document, except that Winnipeg and Saskatchewan include a retroactive requirement to replace the red EXIT signs. The red EXIT signs must be replaced in buildings where an addition is 15% or greater of the existing building area. If a building addition is less than 15% of the existing building area, the red EXIT signs can remain if new red EXIT signs are installed. Otherwise, green pictogram signs are required throughout. The Bulletin from Calgary did not specify a specific size addition requiring retroactive upgrade of exit signs. 

The moral of the story, check the local jurisdiction for specific requirements to avoid costly changes.  

Dynamic Exit Signage

Dynamic exit signage

Dynamic exit signage has been discussed and studied for several years. Dynamic exit signs receive signals from the building fire alarm system and potentially other systems, and flash a green arrow or red “X” on the exit sign to direct occupants to a safe exit. There are pros and cons to this type of system. If you want to dive deeper, here is a link to the Fire Safety Engineering Group from the University of Greenwich, https://fseg.gre.ac.uk/fire/GETAWAY.html

Fire Science Show

It’s also worth mentioning episode 16 of the Fire Science Show titled, “The future of evacuation modeling with Enrico Ronchi and Ruggiero Lovreglio.” The episode deals with evacuation modeling. But they also discuss ideas about the future of evacuations, including dynamic exit signage, augmented reality, virtual reality, and smart buildings.

Exit Here Podcast

Back in August, I put out a blog post titled, Podcasts for Fire Protection and Life Safety Enthusiasts – 2021 Update. After the blog was released I discovered the “Exit Here” podcast. “The world of Exit and Emergency Lighting can be quite complex, and the Exit Here podcast aims to provide insight and answer some of these questions.”

Episode topics: Introducing the Emergency Lighting Podcast, Emergency Lighting Battery Technology, Converting General Luminaires and Designing Bespoke Emergency Luminaires

Number of episodes: 3

Time commitment: 30 mins – 1 hour 

List to the Exit Here Podcast 

Final thoughts 

The Exit Here podcast nailed it in the description where they stated that exit and emergency lighting can be complex. My hope is that a designer can provide a detailed breakdown of potential issues that they encounter regarding compliance with the codes and standards. Reach out to Kelsey if you would like to provide your perspective.

There is no doubt that exit signs, exit lighting, and emergency lighting will continue to evolve and change in the coming years. This may include more inclusive signage & designs, dynamic exit signage that provides up-to-date building information to occupants during the evacuation, or smart sensors and devices providing updates to occupants during evacuation. 

These new designs will require a more detailed and thorough design approach. The thought is that exit signs will play a larger and more integral role in the egress & exiting strategy. The design objectives and intents will need to be documented. This will help to ensure that not only the specific devices are maintained but also that the egress and exiting strategy is maintained. 

As with all new technologies and changes, there will be challenges and opportunities. This is one of the interesting aspects of our various professions in fire protection and life safety, constant change.