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.