Does Your Building Need Low Location Exit Signs?

Emergency exit signs have a big job to do on usually very short notice. Exit signs let people know where to go to leave the building, leading them to safety. In the case of a power outage or fire, having exit signs properly placed is imperative to the safety of your occupants. With so many regulating authorities around building safety and exit signs like the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and International Building Code and International Fire Code, it can be confusing for builders and building owners to make sure they are following all the most up-to-date requirements. At Jessup, we frequently answer questions for our customers regarding the use of low-level exit signs. Simply stated, low-level exit signs are the same as the high exit signs that you find above doors, except you will find them towards the ground. The letters on both high and low signs have to be at least 6 inches tall, and internally or externally illuminated. So what are some of the key differences? Why do building owners install them? Is your building required to have low-level exit signs installed?

What Are Requirements Around Low-Level Exit Signs?

According to the International Code Council, when it comes to placement of the low-level exit sign, the bottom of the low-level exit sign shall be not less than 10 inches (254 mm) nor more than 12 inches (305 mm) above the floor level, while the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code Section permits the bottom of low-level exit signs to be installed between 6 and 18 inches above the floor level. The sign should be flush mounted to the door or wall and if mounting on the wall, the edge of the sign must be within 4 inches (102 mm) of the door frame on the latch side. It is also important to note that since low-level exit signs can be installed on either the wall or door that the low-end limit does not conflict with accessibility requirements. The requirements that the National Fire Protection Association set forth for the illumination of exit signs holds true for both high and low-level emergency exit signage. The NFPA Life Safety Code states that emergency exit signs should:

  • Be suitably illuminated via a reliable source of light (externally, internally, and photoluminescent illuminated signs are all permissible).
  • Offer at least 90 minutes of emergency light in case of building power failure.
  • Provide lighting at least an avg. of 1 foot-candle, and never less than .1 foot-candle.
  • Be listed and comply with the standards of UL 924 if the sign contains internal illumination. UL 924 is the agreed-upon standard for power equipment as well as emergency lighting, set by Underwriters Laboratories (an organization devoted to product safety).

Does Your Building Require Low-level Exit Signs?

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The million dollar question—does your building need to install low-level exit signs? In various circumstances, an exit sign posted above an emergency exit door is sufficient, but there are certain situations where floor proximity exit signs are also required. According to the International Building Code and the International Fire Code, if your building has Group R-1 occupancy—then floor level exit signs are a requirement. Group R-1 occupancy is simply defined as residential buildings that contain sleeping units which are primarily used in a transient manner.

These types of buildings could include, but are not limited to:

  • Boarding Houses
  • Hotels
  • Motels
  • Residential Care Facilities

However, just because your building might not fall under Group R-1 occupancy, doesn’t mean you should overlook low-level exit signs. They can play an important role in your egress system and increase the safety of your building occupants. Having lower exit signs makes it easier for people in wheelchairs, small children, or below-average height adults to identify where they need to go to vacate.

Why Do You Need Floor Level Exit Signs?

Consider emergency conditions in Group R-1 occupancy. The facility is generally being used by occupants who are unfamiliar with the space and the typical hotel corridor is known to have a much lower ceiling level than normal. Now imagine this space filling with smoke and visibility being limited. Evacuees are then forced to crawl on the floor to find the nearest exit. From the floor, all the doors look the same so being able to have a floor level exit sign that is illuminated brightly is imperative. The installation of these low-level exit signs is sometimes the only way that people are able to be guided safely to exit the building when emergency conditions strike if higher levels are obscured.

Additionally, these floor level exit signs will help protect firefighters when they are on the scene. After they evacuate occupants of a building, the firefighters will need to leave. The addition of low-level exit signs allows them to increase their safety when trying to locate the doors to the stairs.

What To Consider When Purchasing Low-level Exit Signs

You will want your low-level exit signs to mimic that of your high exit signs. Thanks to the evolution of exit signs, the simplest product on the market today that will make building owners compliant with floor level exit sign requirements are photoluminescent exit signs. These exit signs are hazard free, boasting zero energy consumption, and extremely easy to install with the most minimal maintenance on the market for exit signs today.

Really, zero energy consumption? Besides making your building compliant, the biggest bonus to these exit signs is that they don’t require electricity so they offer great cost savings and peace of mind in power outage situations. Photoluminescent technology takes phosphor, which has properties that can absorb, store, and then emit light at a later time whenever exposed to light. Because of the use of phosphor, they also do not need any backup batteries or bulbs, making their maintenance as simple as dusting them off from time to time. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, they are the most energy-efficient exit sign on the market today.

So that means no wires, right? Yes. Since they don’t draw electricity that also means they can easily be mounted without the use of wiring. When using a product like Jessup’s GloBrite® photoluminescent exit sign, you will get glow time in excess of 90 minutes when fully charged, which exceeds the amount required by international building and fire codes. Depending on the size of your hotel, choosing photoluminescent exit signs could greatly improve your bottom line. Another bonus is that you get builder points towards the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification when installing photoluminescent exit signs.

Wait, is this radioactive or hazardous? When tritium came in as an alternative to an electric exit sign, it brought radioactive properties along with it and an exhaustive list of requirements and concerns for building owners. Photoluminescent technology on the other hand, is completely hazard free and not radioactive. Photoluminescent exit signs are an eco-friendly option and actually have a longer lifespan than their counterparts, lasting up to 25 years without needing to be replaced. Another bonus is that when it is time to throw them away, you can simply recycle them.

Fire exit signs are a critical part of an emergency exit strategy and proper signage is mandated for all fire exits and fire doors. An effective Fire Exit Safety Plan is much more than posting a few fire exit signs. Fire regulations dictate that fire exits are clearly marked and may be seen even in the event of power loss. Photoluminescent exit signs direct people safely when lighting is compromised and time is critical.

Having emergency exit signs properly placed and installed is vital to your buildings safety and any emergency exit plan. Building regulations and fire codes require all fire exits to be clearly marked in case of a power outage. If you have an older building with outdated emergency exit signage, or missing low-level exit signs where required, or you are in the process of a new build— then installing photoluminescent exit signs will allow you to meet both high and low-level requirements. Not only offering you a quick way to get up to code, but allowing you to save money on energy consumption, installation and maintenance costs, and rest easy with the most eco-friendly option on the market for exit and egress signage. Please make sure that any exit sign you purchase is UL 924 listed and installed per the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code and other requirements. Contact Jessup Manufacturing to learn about options for fire exit signs and egress systems.

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