Passing Your Emergency Lighting Inspection

By: JADE Learning | Oct 21, 2014

Having worked as an Electrical Inspector for many years, I can honestly say that emergency lighting issues create some of the biggest problems during the final inspection. Here are the top 5 most common problems that arise and how they relate to the NEC:

1. Exit signs/Emergency lights (Unit Equipment) not fed from the same circuit as the normal area lighting.

Section 700.12(F)(2) requires the exit sign/emergency lights to be fed from the same circuit that provides the normal area lighting (check the exception). The idea is to ensure that if power fails to a certain area of the building, or to the entire building during an emergency, the emergency lights will illuminate for at least 90 minutes (Building Code requirement) so that occupants can safely exit the building. If a normal area lighting  circuit fails, and the emergency lights are not supplied from that same circuit, then the area will be in darkness even if that area is equipped with emergency lights. This is because most emergency lights only illuminate when their normal power source fails.

2.   Exit signs/Emergency lights not functioning on battery power when circuit breaker is turned off.

Simple enough. If there is an exit sign or emergency light installed, then it should function on battery power when the circuit breaker supplying it is turned off. Many times, these luminaires are shipped with the backup battery unplugged and the installer simply forgets to plug-in the battery leads. If the light is not equipped with a backup battery but is fed from an emergency panel supplied by an emergency source, then the exit sign/emergency light should illuminate within 10 seconds of a simulated power failure per 700.12.

3.   Exit signs/Emergency lights missing or wrong type.

Equipment shall be installed and used in accordance with the listing or labeling.

Another easy fix. If the plans show ten emergency lights and two exit signs on the lighting page, then install ten emergency lights and two exit signs. Illumination levels (foot-candles) are considered when emergency lighting plans are drawn. Acting on a last minute change order and swapping one type of emergency light for another might create a lower level of illumination for the area served.




4.   Exit signs/Emergency lights only operating on one lamp when circuit is turned off.

700.16 requires the emergency lights to be arranged so that the failure of one lamp does not leave the area requiring emergency lights in total darkness. Quite often, the plans will show a two lamp fixture that functions as the normal area lighting source when power is on, and doubles as an emergency light during a power failure. A problem occurs when the emergency ballast is designed to illuminate only one of the two lamps during a power failure. In this case, two luminaires would be required to serve the area in order to comply with 700.16.

5.  Exterior emergency lights without a time delay feature serving an area where the normal area lighting is high-intensity discharge (HID).

700.16 Metal Halide Luminaires

700.16 specifies that if HID lighting such as high and low-pressure sodium, mercury vapor, and metal halide is used for normal illumination, the emergency lighting system is required to operate until normal illumination is restored. Simply put, if HID luminaires provide normal area illumination and are not equipped with an instant restrike feature, then the emergency light should remain on after power is restored and until the HID luminaire warms up.

11 thoughts on “Passing Your Emergency Lighting Inspection

  1. Emergency lighting is one of the major problems that are encountered regularly. The Lights play a major role, such as providing a right way to exit from the building and this is a source of emergency in darkness. All the problems that are listed above are very commonly encountered. The information in the post is useful.

  2. Great article! I have a quick question. Our facility has an area with 654 emergency lights. For our monthly test, I have been turning off the breakers one section at a time. This takes about 15 minutes, and then the breaker goes back on. Some are now asserting that this damages/shortens the life of the battery. True or false, i.e. does turning the breaker to the emergency lights off for 15 minutes once each month shorten the life of the battery? Thanks!

    1. Below is an important section about the testing of emergency lighting systems from NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. Take specific notice of what’s in all caps; the phrase “not less than”. The monthly function test must be not less than 30 seconds. The annual test must be for at least 90 minutes which is generally the minimum time required by the building code for the luminaire to remain illuminated in the event of an emergency:
      Exercising the battery a bit during these important function tests shouldn’t diminish the overall battery life. It is important to remember that the emergency lights and exit signs contain elements that sometimes require maintenance or replacement. Technology has brought us fixtures with LED lamps and backup batteries that can last for years. It is becoming easier for us to install these fixtures and forget about them. It’s always good to hear that facilities have maintenance programs that include a budget for the upkeep of these important building safety elements.
      Here is section 7.9.3 from NFPA 101:

      7.9.3 Periodic Testing of Emergency Lighting Equipment Testing of required emergency lighting systems shall be permitted to be conducted as follows:
      (1) Functional testing shall be conducted at 30-day intervals for NOT LESS THAN 30 seconds.
      (2) Functional testing shall be conducted ANNUALLY for NOT LESS THAN 1-1/2 hours if the emergency lighting system is battery powered.
      (3) The emergency lighting equipment shall be fully operational for the duration of the tests required by and
      (4) Written records of visual inspections and tests shall be kept by the owner for inspection by the authority having jurisdiction.

  3. Thank you for letting me know that the law requires the exit sign/emergency lights to be fed from the same circuit that provides the normal area lighting. I’ve been worried about not passing my emergency lighting inspection. After reading this article, I am more confident that everything will work out well. Along with following the quick tips how to fix things, I’ll need to look more into getting better equipment for some of my emergency lights.

  4. Question.
    Is there a percentage of emergency lights
    That batteries to be changed if you cant find the breaker or any tool to assist in locating the breakers .example is it 10 %.

  5. It’s helpful to learn about emergency lighting inspections for commercial buildings. I have a cousin who recently acquired a building and wants to make sure he passes any type of safety inspection this year. My cousin will benefit from reading your tips about ensuring his premises are well-illuminated.

  6. Our condo fain exit light inspection for first time in 45 years
    48 units with outside exit lights leading to stairs on end of walkways
    lights wired with area night lighting

    inspector turns off breaker mid day
    batteries are already dead and we fail inspection
    because they turned off in morning
    when timer turned off overhead lights exit lights stay on and drain
    what is wrong here?

  7. Mike,
    An Exit Light is not a life safety device, an Exit Sign is. (those are two different things) An Emergency Light , should only come on when a Power Outage occurs. Emergency Lights should never be set on a Timer nor used on a Day/Night circuit. The Exit Signs and Emergency lights can share a circuity with each over, but never with other types of lights. From your comment, you are asking about Exit Lights that turn off in the morning, and I suspect turn on at night. Those devices are not covered under Life Safety. I believe you failed your Emergency Light and/or Exit Sign inspection because the batteries are dead from not being maintained properly.
    I hope that all makes sense.

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