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Means of Egress Part II (Illumination)

Help I can’t See Out, Egress Lighting for Dummies

The lights flicker and then darkness.  You lean over to your spouse and whisper “don’t worry the lights will come on, ” you hope.


Then panic sets in, I know which way we came in (I think), but why did the lights go out?  Was it a fire, power outage, or wait which way is out?  You struggle to get to the door along with the 500 others watching the band that night.  You stumble around chairs, tables, and the stairs leading to the main exit, hoping to not lose your spouse as they cling tight to your arm.

This scenario could play out daily in many different types of occupancies on a daily basis.  As a code official one responsibility is to inspect egress lighting for operation for primary power and back-up power.


Normal  illumination may be performed by artificial lighting and must meet the minimum requirements of the adopted code.

IBC 1006.1 (2006 edition) Illumination required. The means of egress, including the exit discharge, shall be illuminated at all times the building space served by the means of egress is occupied.

  1. Occupancies in Group U.
  2. Aisle accessways in Group A.
  3. Dwelling units and sleeping units in Groups R-1, R-2 and R-3.
  4. Sleeping units of Group I occupancies.

NFPA standards may provide requirements that are based on occupancy.  Although the general focus is given out of NFPA 101 The Life Safety Code and the current edition was published in 2009.  Bear in mind requirements based on occupancy can be found in additional sections of the code while chapter 7 provides the general requirements:

NFPA 101 (2009 edition):

  • Illumination of means of egress shall be provided in accordance with Section 7.8 for every building and structure where required in Chapters 11 through 43. For the purposes of this requirement, exit access shall include only designated stairs, aisles, corridors, ramps, escalators, and passageways leading to an exit. For the purposes of this requirement, exit discharge shall include only designated stairs, aisles, corridors, ramps, escalators, walkways, and exit passageways leading to a public way.
  • Illumination of means of egress shall be continuous during the time that the conditions of occupancy require that the means of egress be available for use, unless otherwise provided in

These requirements apply to all times the building is occupied including emergencies.  The initial requirement is not intended to be emergency lighting.  Emergency lighting is covered in IBC/IFC 1006.3 and 1006.4 (See NFPA 101 7.9).

The level of illumination is both codes is 1-foot candle measured at the floor on the required spaces.  In assembly occupancies during performances or movies the walking surface can be reduced to 0.20 foot candle, that is typically restored to 1-foot candle on the activation of the fire alarm.

Emergency Lighting

Emergency lighting ensures that the occupants can find the exit under a loss of power to the electrical system that is usually a accidental failure or man made failure.  These systems are typically battery powered units that provide artificial light automatically on the loss of primary power.  In addition some units receive their power from a stand-by generator (no more then 10 second delay when switching power sources, NFPA 101

The areas typically covered by emergency lighting include (but not limited to):

  • Designated stairs
  • Aisles
  • Corridors
  • Ramps
  • Escalators
  • Passageways leading to an exit
  • Areas in rooms required to have more then one exit
  • Exit discharge in buildings required to have more then one exit

The required areas would have emergency lighting for a minimum of 90 minutes and provide 1-foot candle at the floor (see the adopted code for possibilities on reduced candelas at the end of the time period).

Emergency lighting  equipment and battery systems for emergency luminaries shall be listed to ANSI/UL 924, Standard for Emergency Lighting and Power Equipment.

In order for the systems to work well they must be tested in accordance with the adopted codes and manufacture requirments.

{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Nick Markowitz Jr. May 26, 2009, 6:12 am

    A smart thing I am seeing done in many jurisdictions is a remote light head being put in restrooms which makes sense. No windows and limited area of movement.
    of course contractors and building owners complain the additional cost of about $150.00 installed.

    One community was even having an additional set of exit signs installed 1 foot from the floor to aide in the evacuation of a building if it started to fill with smoke and people would be on there knees trying to escape.

  • GENE IANDOLO -FM May 26, 2009, 8:32 am

    The problem i see with testing of emergency lighting,unless you are testing a system linked to a generator (that would require qualified service techs ) we rely on a self testing and recording performed by building owners,tenents or maintance personnel.
    Some larger hotel chains use the egress package that has reflective striping floor level leading to exits to aid if a smoke condition is present.

    • Doug Lane May 26, 2009, 12:47 pm

      Here at the Ohio Fire Academy, in are Certified Fire Safety Inspectors Class, that process, of having the owener/occupant test and record the test on the emergency lighting is taught in our class. The 90 min test is a acceptance test, followed anually by a 60 min test.

  • Brian Dove May 26, 2009, 8:37 am

    While I agree that lighting in restrooms and places like that are a smart thing, I would prefer that be left out of the code and left up to “Home Rule” but more specifically to the designer and the owner of the building – its really their liability and their money.

    If it is going to be “Home Rule” then it needs to be adopted and published and freely available to designers. I would not include restrooms unless they were over a certain size – airport restrooms and stadium I can see. – but not something say the size of McDonald’s or the average Business Restroom.

    I do think emergency lighting should be required in places like restaurant kitchens where sharp objects and hot surfaces exist and “feeling” your way out in the dark would be hazardous. But other than that – I think the “spaces-with-two-exit-requirements-rule” ought to stand.

  • Paul Dove May 26, 2009, 8:40 am

    Another smart concept is providing floor proximity egress path marking systems in occupancies like Educational, High-Rise, Apartment Complexes (with interior corridors), Big-Box Mercantile, Assembly and large Factories. These systems can be electrical low profile LED or Photoluminescent materials. Typical installations of “emergency lighting” can be affected during smoke development and distributions. These systems can benefit the public during evacuation and also provide fire suppression crews with a means of egress paths in the event of necessary escape.

    Our jurisdiction has been requiring low-level exit signs for over 12 years in Hotels and other occupancies where smoke development may affect evacuations. Personally, I have supported and proposed inclusion of this concept in the model codes for many years and it’s nice to see that others share in the logic.

  • Art Shaw May 26, 2009, 9:32 am

    While the Michigan Bureau of Construction Codes has indicated in the past that exit discharge lighting is only needed at the exit discharge. They feel that there is enough illumination from street lighting and other sources that further emergency lighting to reach the public way is not needed.

    Looking at the 2006 Edition of NFPA 101, Section 7.9 (Emergency Lighting) and specifically section indicates that the exit discharge includes “only designated stairas, ramps, aisles, walkways, and escalators leading to a public way”. There appears to be no exclusion for street, parking lot lighting, or other light sources. Health care facilities across the county can bare this out as this is an item that has been cited during federal and state inspections. There must be enough emergency illlumination along what ever path is taken to reach the public way and the loss of one bulb or fixture can not leave that area below the 1 ft. candle power requirement. The same requirement was found in the 2000 Edition of the LSC and probably in earlier editions as well.

  • Dennis Glenn June 2, 2009, 1:27 pm

    I would like to know where in the Ohio Fire Code it states about the owener/occupant test and record the test on the emergency lighting . The 90 min test is a acceptance test, followed anually by a 60 min test.

    • Lt. Sally McCann-Mirise June 3, 2009, 9:29 am

      OFC section 604
      604.3 and 604.3.2 page71

      • DFD-OHFire Inspector November 15, 2010, 11:12 pm

        In addition OFC 1006.3 and 1011.5.3 that says 90 min. for new and OFC 1027.5 says 60 min. for existing.

  • Tom Jacobs June 2, 2009, 4:59 pm

    Item #3 in 2006 IBC 1006.3 reads:
    “Exterior egress components at other than the level of exit discharge until exit discharge is accomplished for buildings required to have two or more exits.”

    Make sure to look up the definition of “exit discharge”, which is:
    “That portion of a means of egress system between the termination of an exit and a public way.”

    Things like exterior egress balconies, exterior stairways, exterior ramps and egress courts (see IBC 1024) serving exits will need emergency lighting also.

    So if you discharge at any level other than “grade level” or “level of public way”, the portion of exterior exit access and discharge above grade needs emergency lighting, at least until grade level. That is the way I read it.

  • Tim Simpson May 17, 2010, 12:05 pm

    I recently ran into an issue with occupancy sensors on florescent high bays. We designed the lighting so 100% of the building was on a legally required generator. Since the generator was large enough, we put all of the lighting on the emergency system. The lights were controlled from occupancy sensors. We had the building official and the electrical official arguing whether the occupancy sensors met the code requiring the egress “shall be illuminated at all times” we argued it is when occupied. Has anyone else run into this?

  • Art Shaw May 17, 2010, 1:37 pm

    The IBC only rerquires illumination when the building is occupied. I would not question this where a room that is required to have more than one exit is concerned because people already turn off the lights when the room is not in use.

    Are these occupancy sensors located in exit hallways? I would then raise the question concerning proper illumination of the exit hallway so that there is proper illumination when the building is occupied. I have observed some buildings where periodically the lack of foot traffic could allow the occupancy sensor to shut off the lights.

    Because of your question and the attempts to save energy I would like to see some code commentary about this matter and some scientific bases behind the commentary.

  • Ira Horden May 16, 2011, 7:01 pm

    I am looking at using occupancy sensors to turn off emergency lighiting. The phrase “Fail-Safe” in NFPA 101 – Section is bothering me. All of the sensors I can find drive a control line high to turn the lights on. For a true Fail-Safe system the control line should be passively pulled to the “on” condition by the relay/power pack and actively pulled to the “off” condition by the sensor. This way if the sensor or wiring gets disconnected or fails, the lights would go on. Are the exisiting power packs and sensors considered Fail-Safe if they just turn the lights on when they power up?

  • don adams July 17, 2011, 5:37 pm

    Do electrical panel room need to have emergency lighting and exit lights went under 1200 amps

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