Does Your Building Meet All Emergency Light Requirements?

As they say, "when it rains, it pours." Typically, if your building is dealing with a catastrophic event like a natural disaster, you can also expect to lose power. Having adequate emergency lighting systems and clear exit routes throughout your facility is not just advised; in most cases, it's required by law.

The requirements for emergency lighting may change depending on the building in question and where it's located, among other factors, so it's essential to familiarize yourself with your local laws. We know navigating building codes can be confusing, especially for new property owners, so we've put together some helpful information on emergency lighting requirements to clear up some of your questions.


Why Is Emergency Lighting Important?

Fire alarms, power outages, and imminent danger can cause occupants to panic and make irrational decisions. Emergency lights illuminate exit signs and egress paths so people have a visible route to follow during a crisis. They help prevent chaos and ensure that everyone evacuates safely.

Authorities don’t just recommend emergency lighting—they require them. Following OSHA Code 1910.37(b), the NFPA Life Safety Code 101, and the Florida Building Code, non-domestic structures must maintain proper emergency exit route lighting. You must follow these building codes and standards to protect your occupants.

Types of Emergency Lighting Systems

If you own a building or manage a property, you are legally required to meet emergency light requirements. Emergency and exit lights are essential to protecting your occupants and ensuring everyone evacuates safely.

The exit sign above a door isn’t the only type of emergency lighting system. Emergency systems that exist include:

Exit Signs and Egress Pathways

During an emergency, your building could lose power or fill with smoke, making it difficult to see. That’s when exit signs and egress pathways come into play. You’ll need proper emergency illumination to show people where to go for safety.

Exit signs have the word “Exit” lit up in green or red, indicating the closest exit, and are often seen above or beside an exit door. Egress pathways are typically LED light strips that glow in the dark during a power outage and demarcate an exit route along the floor.

Temporary or Standby Lighting

Exit signs and egress pathways help your building tenants get to safety in an emergency evacuation. If the power goes out and there’s no need to evacuate, temporary or standby lighting provides an excellent solution to allow the workday to continue.

With temporary or standby lighting, there are several indoor and outdoor options:

  • Thermoplastic
  • Wet location
  • Architectural
  • Steel
  • Hazardous location


Thermoplastic lighting is your best option if you’re looking for reliable, affordable standby lighting. These polymer lights become pliable in high temperatures and harden when cooled.

Thermoplastic units cost under $20 and provide high-quality illumination during a blackout. However, you can only use these emergency lights indoors.

Wet Location

You can use wet location lights for emergency lighting in wet or moist areas. These lights are waterproof and include safety features that prevent electric shock. Some even have built-in heaters to keep the unit equipment functioning in low temperatures.


Steel emergency lights might be your go-to temporary or standby lighting if you manage a warehouse, factory, or other industrial building. These lights come in a wide range of wattages and volts, so you can decide which works best for you. They’re often more durable than other options and will help your facility meet emergency light requirements.

Hazardous Location

Hazardous location lights provide emergency power in the harshest, most dangerous environments. Manufacturers design them for areas prone to fire, explosions, and ignitable vapors or gases. More than anyone else, people in these environments must evacuate quickly during an emergency.

OSHA Emergency Lighting Requirements

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific requirements for emergency lighting and exit routes. According to 1910.37(b), your building must maintain adequately lighted exit routes that the average person can see. This includes marking exits with signs that read “Exit” and other stipulations, such as:

  • Not obscuring exit route doors
  • Not covering exit route signs
  • Posting necessary signage along the exit access to point occupants to the exit or exit discharge
  • Posting signs to prevent evacuees from following a non-exit route

OSHA works with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to ensure that employers and building owners meet safety requirements. You may satisfy OSHA’s emergency lighting requirements by complying with regulations in NFPA 101.

NFPA 101 Regulatory Requirements for Emergency Lighting

NFPA 101 provides detailed requirements for emergency lighting in non-domestic buildings. It lays out the rules and regulations for where to place exit signs and emergency lighting, how they should operate, electrical safety, and more. These requirements include:


  • Exit accesses, exits, and exit discharges must have adequate lighting.
  • Exit routes must have appropriate signage.
  • You must place exit signs within 100 feet of each other or no more than the viewing distance listed on the sign.
  • You must install direction-indicating exit signs wherever the exit route may be unclear.


  • Exit route lights must provide one foot-candle of illumination on average.
  • Emergency lights must stay lit for no less than 90 minutes.
  • Although not consistently enforced, emergency stairway lighting should produce ten foot-candles of illumination.

Electrical System

  • All emergency system panelboards and switchboards must include surge protectors.
  • The emergency power supply must turn on within ten seconds of a power outage.
  • Emergency system circuitry and wiring must remain separate from the regular power system.
  • The system must include fire protection.

Hardware: Internal

  • Exit signs can use internal illumination technology, such as radioluminescence and photoluminescence.
  • Photoluminescent and radioluminescent exit signs must adhere to the viewing distances mentioned earlier.
  • Photoluminescent exit signs must remain lit at all times.

Hardware: Unit Equipment

  • Unit equipment refers to emergency lighting fixtures and exit signs.
  • You must connect the unit equipment to a standard power supply so the battery will start working when the electrical circuit fails.
  • Unit equipment installations must be permanent.
  • Unit equipment must follow the same performance mandates that govern emergency lighting.

Health Care Requirements

Although many requirements remain the same, the NFPA adjusts a few for hospitals, urgent care centers, and other medical facilities.

  • Electrical systems in a health care facility must consist of an equipment branch, a critical branch, and a life safety branch.
  • Emergency exit route lighting falls under the life safety branch and must follow requirements according to the NFPA’s emergency system codes.

NFPA 101 Testing and Maintaining Emergency Lighting

Emergency light requirements protect you and those around you in dangerous, potentially life-threatening situations. Beyond satisfying rules and regulations, you’ll want to regularly test and maintain your emergency system to ensure it works when you need it most. The NFPA offers several guidelines for this process.

Testing Options

When it comes to testing your emergency lighting system, there are three options:

  1. Test the system manually and maintain written records
  2. Test the system automatically using a battery-powered lighting equipment system
  3. Test the system using automated software built into your lighting system

Whichever option you choose, you must still meet the monthly and yearly maintenance requirements. A certified fire and safety technician must test and routinely check the exit route and emergency lighting to ensure that it meets NFPA standards.

Monthly Maintenance

During monthly maintenance, qualified inspectors will complete a 30-second switch test. They’ll look for damage, verify the lights work correctly and remain visible, and ensure emergency lighting and exit signage meets NFPA and OSHA requirements.

Yearly Maintenance

Yearly maintenance involves testing the emergency lighting system for 90 minutes. A technician will thoroughly inspect the system, check the unit battery, look for damage, and ensure the lights and signs operate correctly. Once complete, you’ll receive a label confirming the system has passed inspection.

What Is an Exit Route?

An exit, or egress route, provides building tenants with a way to get out of or away from a place. Specifically, exit routes refer to any path (horizontal or vertical) that will take you to a safe location. There’s more to an “Exit” than one would initially think. These getaway paths have three unified parts:

  • Exits
  • Exit accesses
  • Exit discharges


When we talk about exits, we’re talking about the part of the exit route that allows you to travel safely in an emergency. Outdoor fire escapes and indoor stairwells are two common examples of exits. Instead of relying on an elevator or main corridor, you can follow emergency exits to get to safety.

Exit Access

Exit accesses are the initial section of an exit route, or simply put, the path leading up to an exit. If a stairwell is the emergency exit, then the hallway leading to the stairwell door is the exit access.

Exit Discharge

An exit discharge helps get people outside or to a designated refuge area. For example, if a stairwell is your emergency exit, the door on the ground floor is your exit discharge. It allows you to access a sidewalk, street, parking lot, or other public areas for refuge.

Emergency Light Exceptions

The NFPA covers emergency lighting requirements for nonresidential buildings. While emergency light requirements exist for most structures, you’ll find exceptions in NFPA 101. Note: You should always check local ordinances, even if your building qualifies as an exception.

Open Structure

Open structures do not need emergency lighting. Examples of open structures include:

  • Amphitheaters
  • Large pavilions without walls
  • Towers with ladders
  • Areas people rarely occupy

Places of Worship

The NFPA exempts certain buildings from emergency light requirements according to maximum occupancy. Places of worship are one type of building that qualifies, as long as occupancy levels don’t exceed 300.


Since motels generally have rooms with street-level exits, they don’t require emergency lighting, and tenants can easily find an exit discharge without additional illumination.

Small Apartment Buildings

Apartment complexes with more than three stories and over 12 individual apartments must have an emergency lighting system. However, NFPA 101 exempts them if you can directly access the street level from each unit.

Class C Mercantile Occupancies

If you own or manage a single-story store of less than 3,000 square feet, it’s a Class C mercantile structure, and emergency lighting isn’t required.

Small Business Occupancies

The NFPA exempts certain businesses from emergency light requirements. These include business structures that have:

  • Less than three stories
  • A maximum occupancy level of less than 300

Certain Storage Locations

Some storage locations don’t need to provide emergency lights. If windows give enough illumination for the exit route and people only use the building during the day, it may qualify for an exemption.

Special-Purpose Industrial Locations

The NFPA exempts special-purpose industrial structures under the same guidelines as certain storage locations. Check with local building codes and authorities to ensure your facility falls under this category.

Does Your Building Meet the Emergency Light Requirements?

If you’re thinking of upgrading or retrofitting your emergency lighting or would like a professional analysis of your current emergency lighting system, Suncoast Power can help. We have provided expert lighting solutions and commercial electrical services in South Florida for over 30 years. Our team has the experience and the expertise to tackle any commercial electrical job, regardless of size or scope.

If you’re interested in speaking with us about our emergency lighting solutions, call us at (754) 200-5872. A member of our team is standing by to schedule a consultation.