NFPA Emergency Exit Lighting Requirements

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) regulates the fire safety of commercial and large residential buildings. Often considered the foremost authority on emergency egress issues in the U.S., its guidelines are routinely legalized by city governments and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). From exit signs to egress paths, NFPA guidelines apply to several aspects of fire safety. But for buildings that aren’t outfitted with luminescent egress markings, its guidelines for emergency lighting are perhaps the most important. Below, we look at NFPA requirements for exit lighting in terms of power source, performance, operational, and testing requirements.

Power source requirements

Backup batteries or generators can power backup lighting. According to NFPA 101 Section, batteries that power backup lighting must be rechargeable and comply with the National Electric Code (NEC). According to NFPA Standard 110, generators that power backup lighting must comply with particular construction, installation and maintenance, and testing requirements for backup generators.

Powering backup lights by generator eliminates the possibility of backup battery failure, while using backup batteries eliminates the possibility of generator failure. If the 1993 World Trade Center bombing—where the World Trade Center’s backup lighting malfunctioned due to generator failure—serves as a guide, powering exit lighting by battery may be the safer choice, a view often supported by local exit lighting requirements.

Performance requirements

According to NFPA Section 101, backup lighting should provide at least 90 minutes of illumination at 10.8 lux following the discontinuance of commercial power. Local emergency exit lighting requirements may require a longer minimum burn time, but 90 minutes is considered sufficient time for a full building evacuation.

Operational requirements

As one would expect, the NFPA requires backup lighting to respond automatically to commercial power outages. It also requires it to continue its automatic operation in successive power outages without needing a reset. This prevents it from malfunctioning when lights power on and off intermittently.

Testing requirements

According to NFPA Section, backup lighting should be tested (a) every 30 days for at least 30 seconds, and (b) once a year for at least 1-1/2 hours. Pressing a test button located on the side of each unit can perform the monthly test. For the annual test, simulating a power outage is the most efficient means of testing.

Backing up backup lighting

In addition to potentially failing due to battery or generator failure, back up lights also perform poorly in the presence of smoke, making it critical to install luminescent egress markings in normal egress paths, exit passageways, and vertical exit enclosures. In at least 42 states that have adopted a version of the International fire Code (IFC), luminescent egress markings are applied in vertical exit enclosures to the following areas and equipment: handrails and handrail extensions, the leading edges of steps and landings, the perimeter of landing areas, egress path obstacles, and the doorframes and door hardware of exit-leading doors.

At Jessup Manufacturing, we encourage our customers to follow the NFPA’s emergency exit lighting requirements. But we also encourage them to implement luminescent egress markings to backup their backup lights. If your building needs luminescent egress markings, our patented Glo Brite technology delivers superior visibility at 100 feet and a burn time of up to 96 hours in total darkness.

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