Since the 1940s, national and local codes and standards have directed and mandated the use of emergency lighting in commercial buildings, industrial facilities and public spaces to protect people from injury or loss of life by fire, smoke or panic.

“Emergency lighting is generally required in places of employment, public spaces, or where large crowds gather, and is designed to provide occupants with a safe means of egress,” said Alex Ertz, director of operations for Bodine Emergency Lighting, Collierville, Tenn.

North America’s estimated market for emergency lighting systems is about $400 million. “However, market dollars have shrunk somewhat in the past two years due to both a declining economy and technological advancements, which have lowered the overall manufacturing costs of emergency lighting systems,” said Victor Sandhage, director of marketing for emergency systems at Lithonia Lighting.

Recent technological trends

Incorporating light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in red or green exit signs has been one of the most important technological advancements in emergency lighting. “Most exit signs in the industry now use this technology as it has become cost-competitive when compared to other traditional illumination sources, is long-lived, and is more energy efficient,” said Paul Brodowski, product manager for Lightolier. And, because of improved efficacy, white LEDs are now beginning to be bright enough to use for emergency-lighting applications such as pathway lighting, according to Ertz.

There has also been a recent increase in using self-diagnostic systems in emergency-lighting applications. These systems can perform a variety of self-diagnostic functions that regularly analyze the unit’s performance, verify its operation and alert the appropriate department of problems.

“This trend is being driven by facilities wanting ways to more easily comply with national requirements that 30-second operational tests of units are conducted each month,” said Brodowski.

Another technological trend has been the increased use of nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries for both pathway and exit-sign lighting. NiMH, according to Brodowski, provides batteries with longer life, higher efficiencies and an operating temperature range between 14 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit. They are also nontoxic.

Codes and standards

“Some regions of the country are establishing more stringent codes than what the various national codes and standards specify,” said Sandhage. “The goal is to ensure the highest possible levels of lighting.” For example, some jurisdictions require emergency lighting provide illumination levels of one foot candle per unit as a minimum, rather than an average as outlined in the Life Safety Code. In addition, some jurisdictions have redefined the path of egress. “These standards are requiring emergency lighting to include not only the path to the exit sign and the point of egress itself, but the path to safety away from the space,” Sandhage said.

Another recent change is the additional requirement that remote exit signs be located roughly six inches above floor level to complement the signs near the ceiling. “The reason for the change is to accommodate the fact that smoke rises and could block people’s view of the ceiling-level signs,” said Brodowski.

The next level

According to Ertz, testing agencies such as Underwriters Laboratories are already starting to list photoluminescent materials as acceptable for use in exit signs and supplementary marking systems. “Recent advances in the brightness of these materials is the principal cause of increased industry acceptance of their use,” he said. Ertz predicts the development of solid-state standby devices will provide a new market for established products. “These devices eliminate the restrike time for high-intensity discharge lamps, enabling them to be used in emergency lighting applications,” he explained.

Brodowski predicts that there will be increased enforcement of nationally required monthly and annual testing of emergency-lighting systems. “There is a growing awareness by both jurisdictions and facility owners of the desire for increased security and the need to ensure that emergency systems are functioning properly,” he said.

As the debate continues on pathway and exit-sign lighting and the time required for systems to work after activation, new emergency-lighting systems offering more features and more embedded intelligence and communication capabilities will continue to be developed. EC

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or darbremer@comcast.net.