Exit lights serve an important purpose – in the event of an emergency they light the way to safety. While exit lights are connected to a power source, they rely on battery operation during an emergency when the power may go out.
Batteries are one of the top reasons exit lights fail (check out the top 4 Exit Light Failures). Batteries in exit lights maintain their charge from the electrical power connection. Even rechargeable batteries will eventually stop working though, and batteries in exit lights need to be replaced every 2 years to ensure continued operation.
You won’t be able to tell that your batteries have died in the exit light, as we discussed, during normal operations the light functions from the electrical connection, not batteries. If you do not change your batteries on a regular basis you may be allowing your dead batteries to sit in the light which can cause additional problem. Old batteries can leak acid which will damage the exit light.
The charging unit in an exit light has the job of recharging the batteries, ensuring they are fully charged in the event of a power outage. If your batteries are dead, your exit light’s charging unit will continue to send that charge, working overtime trying to charge dead or dying batteries. Eventually, this will cause the charging unit to burn out. The required annual inspection will find this problem, and you will need to replace the exit light.
Not being proactive in changing batteries though means you are gambling that an inspection will occur before an emergency when the lights are needed to be in working order. Also, a charging unit that is overworked trying to charge dead batteries can be a fire hazard, so it is important to be proactive in changing your exit light batteries to prevent this hazard.
A1 recommends that you change your exit light batteries every 2 years as a preventive measure for outages and additional problems. Learn how to do your own monthly, visual inspection of exit lights here. This is required by OSHA and the NFPA Life Safety Code, and can help you to identify dead batteries or other issues that need to be addressed with your exit lights. A complete inspection and test of your exit lights must be performed annually by Your Life Safety Partner.
Exit lights are an important part of your Life Safety system. It can be easy to overlook exit lights since they are a part of our everyday landscape. But it is imperative that you keep them working, not just because it is required, but because they will help to save lives in an emergency. Here we outline the most common exit light failures, all of which can be avoided with regular inspections and maintenance.
The most common reason exit/emergency lights fail to work is dead batteries. During an emergency, Exit signs operate on batteries which maintain their charge from an electrical power connection. Even rechargeable batteries will eventually stop working though. If you allow your dead batteries to sit in the light they can cause additional problems such as leaking battery acid and damaging the charging unit. A1 recommends that you change your exit light batteries every 2 years as a preventive measure for outages and additional problems.
If you do not change your batteries on a regular basis, and your batteries go bad, they can put an additional strain on the charging unit (the part of the light that recharges the batteries). As the charging unit works harder, attempting to charge failing or failed batteries, it can burn out; now you have to replace your exit light instead of the batteries.
Exit Lights which use Incandescent Bulbs
Older exit lights use incandescent bulbs which burn out after a period of use. Facility owners and managers can save money by upgrading to new LED or Photoluminescent exit lights.
In addition to burned out bulbs, it is common to find these lights with burned lenses (the part of the light that glows red) as anything over a 15-watt bulb will burn the lens. Changing the bulb is easy, of course, but facility managers need to be careful to use only 15-watt or less bulbs to avoid this damage.
Test button on incandescent lights are also another area where problem commonly occur. The test button is a spring loaded button which pushes on the motherboard. After so many tests, the motherboard can actually be pushed so far away that the spring no longer reaches.
New Exit Signs/New Buildings
One frequent service call we get from new buildings is for their exit lights not working during the initial inspection by the owners. Typically, the problem is that the batteries have been put in the exit light but not plugged into the charging unit. If they are not plugged in, there is not battery power to use during the inspection (when the power is cut). Before you call for a service visit at your new building, check that your batteries are plugged in!
Exit lights are an integral part of your Life Safety system. There are requirements from insurance and OSHA to perform monthly and annual inspections and maintain documentation. Click here for more information on exit light inspections, including a template for monthly inspection reports.
Not every building can use photoluminescent exit signs; but if you can, why would you?
Exit Signs are a first line of defense for emergency situations. Traditional exit signs operate on batteries recharged by electrical power, which means additional costs for electricity, installation, plus regular maintenance and inspections.
Most facilities continue to utilize the old incandescent lamp technology which is maintenance intensive and prone to failure. Regular inspections are required and necessary to ensure optimal performance in an emergency situation.
Photoluminescent exit signs are a relatively new technology that absorb ambient light and then illuminates, or glows in the dark, using the stored energy. These signs have recently been approved by OSHA and UL (Underwriters Laboratories) rated for use under specific conditions.
To meet the qualifications set to use photoluminescent signs and to charge the sign properly, the ambient light of the building must provide 54 lux at the face of the sign. In case you can’t tell by just looking at your lighting, a professional service provider can measure the ambient light of the building and let you know if you are able to use photoluminescent exit signs. Buildings using photoluminescent exit signs must also have access to light switches or dimmers restricted – you have to keep the lights on to charge your exit sign.
Photoluminescent exit signs are becoming more popular because of the very unique benefits they have to offer. Since the signs store energy from the buildings ambient lighting the signs require no connection to power, no battery, and no light bulbs or related maintenance, eliminating the cost of upkeep. The lifespan of a glow in the dark light in normal conditions is upwards of 25 years and the light will remain visible for up to 9 hours in total darkness once the light is fully “charged.”
These exit signs must still be tested and documented every 30 days for 30 seconds and annually for 90 minutes. The sign must stay visibly illuminated for the duration of the test. A visual inspection must also be done to ensure the sign is clean and not damaged. If the sign is dirty or damaged it should be wiped down with soap and water or replaced.
Photoluminescent signs offer a much more reliable, cost-effective exit sign solution for buildings that meet the NFPA requirements. Your service provider can tell you if your building meets the NFPA requirements to use photoluminescent exit signs, and can install them properly for you.
OSHA and most insurance companies require a monthly visual test and a 30 second battery-backup test of all exit and emergency lights to ensure they are reliable. Requirements of OSHA and the NFPA 101(00), Life Safety Code section 7.9.3 and 7.10.9 are:
- A visual inspection
- 30 second illumination under battery backup
- Written records of inspection
Self-testing and self-diagnosing systems are exempt from monthly testing if they are set to automatically test for 30 seconds every 30 days. A visual inspection must still be done for all units.
All battery-operated systems must be tested to check for old or defective batteries. A dead or defective battery may appear to be holding a charge but die after just a few seconds. Testing the batteries for a minimum of 30 seconds ensures the lights are going to work as planned in an emergency.
A1 does not recommend performing your manual test of battery operated lights with the “push to test” button. The batteries can be malfunctioning and not receiving a charge from the power source, which means they will not work for an extended period of time during an emergency, but have enough residual charge to work the light for the 30 second test. Instead, cut the power to the exit lights if that is feasible (some facilities have the exit lights on a designated circuit for this purpose) or use a battery load tester which will tell you how much of a charge the batteries have. If you cut the power to the exit lights, all the bulbs should be working and remain a consistent brightness for the duration of the test. If the bulbs dim or go out completely, contact a professional service provider for immediate repairs. If you use a battery load tester and your batteries do not show a full charge, you may need new batteries or your batteries may not be receiving a charge from the power source, in which case you need to contact your service provider for help troubleshooting.
Some self-testing and self-diagnosing systems can be triggered and monitored by a computer. This option is great for large facilities with an extensive amount of units to test. However, a visual inspection, to ensure the light is working, must always be done for all of the units when the lights are tested every 30 days.
Download a free monthly inspection form.
Emergency Light Inspection Form
Regular maintenance and testing can only help your facility. As they say, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Your fire protection equipment may appear to function on the surface, but failing to check the working order will leave you in a world of hurt. Systems will break down unexpectedly, and you may even shorten the life of your systems altogether. Here are 6 elements to building safety that are often neglected.
- Fire Sprinklers: On the surface, your system may seem to be in full working order. Unfortunately, most of the serious threats to a sprinkler system happen within. Pipe corrosion and valve trouble are just two examples. Follow the NFPA guidelines for regular sprinkler inspection and maintenance for your facility.
- Blocked Equipment: Any blocked safety equipment is not compliant and is a hazard. Check your sprinklers, exit signs, emergency exits and any other safety system that could be obstructed.
- Old Batteries and Lights: Exit signs use light bulbs and back up batteries to function. Neglected signs can have old, leaky batteries or light bulb outages. These issues are not detectable without opening the apparatus. Check each exit light according to NFPA standards to prevent deficiencies. Another option is to install photoluminescent lights. You can read about them here.
- Smoke Detectors: Smoke detector sensitivity should be tested regularly as well. Detectors that are too sensitive will trigger nuisance alarms. Conversely, detectors that are not sensitive enough may not detect the presence of smoke and will put occupants in danger.
- Fire Doors: NFPA has recently placed more stringent requirements on fire doors. Fire doors must be evaluated to make sure they’ll close and block fire when they need to.
- Emergency Plans: Besides your safety systems, you need an emergency action plan. Who uses the extinguishers? How will people get out? These questions are important for everyone’s safety. Changes in building layouts, or operations can make a plan outdated. If you already have an emergency plan, review it regularly. Most importantly, keep occupants informed. Hold a training, distribute instructions, or have signs so everyone knows how to get out.
Facilities management is an incredibly involved process. Something always needs to be fixed. Taking care of these 6 safety items would keep you ahead of the curve with less risk.
Anyone with experience running a facility knows the pain of exit lighting. They are a continuous cost that can’t be avoided. They add to your electric bill, require regular maintenance and inspection, and need replacement parts throughout its life. They are a consistent pebble in your shoe, but you need them in order to stay safe and compliant. Is there an alternative option in exit lighting?
It’s estimated that exit lights produce the same amount of pollution as 4 million cars. That’s 30-35 billion kw/hrs per year in North America. Unless a power outage occurs, exit lights are always running with electricity. The environmental ramifications of Exit Lights is the tip of the iceberg. Most facilities don’t have the immediate budget to go green – or so they think.
Between the inspections, parts replacement, electric costs, and other maintenance, exit lights cost more than just the initial unit purchase. Electricity and upkeep costs may not seem like a big deal from year to year, but add all those expenses up for one light for its 25 years of service, and you start to see some big numbers. All of that money could be put towards a more pressing need.
Whether the neglect is due to a low budget, forgetfulness or lack of knowledge, all too often we see neglected exit lights. The fact is, exit lights have an important purpose and need the required maintenance to uphold building safety. Unfortunately, most facilities don’t emphasize safety until an emergency occurs. Neglected exit lights are a fire hazard because old mother boards can ignite into flames. Hazardous acid from old batteries can leak from the light and cause damage.
Don’t worry, there’s hope for us all. Someone out there had the brilliant idea of using glow-in-the-dark material to power exit lighting. Labs have made a code-approved, UL Listed alternative that eliminates the majority of the maintenance for your exit lights.
The normal day to day lighting charges the photoluminescent exit lights. If the power goes out the photoluminescent lights will glow for three hours without battery or generator power. Inspecting these lights consists of flipping the light switch off, and maintenance is a quick swipe with a duster. Photoluminescent exit lights require no electrical wiring during installation and are non-toxic. These lights are environmentally friendly and a safe alternative to LEDs and incandescents. Green has the best visibility in smoke and because they don’t use batteries you’ll know they’ll glow when you need them.
Putting this information simply, for 25 years your only expense will be the unit itself without long term maintenance expenses.
-No electrical expenses
-No maintenance (minus an occasional dusting)
-Quick, easy inspection
-No battery/bulb replacement
Photoluminescent exit signs are code approved, but not in every situation. Remember, they are glow-in-the-dark, meaning they need light to charge them. The more light an area usually has, the better photoluminescent exit lights will work. To ask specifics about your facility, click here.