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Emergency Lighting, Is It Necessary?

Emergency lights are battery powered lighting devices that automatically come on when a building undergoes a power outage. These are standard in new commercial and high occupancy residential buildings and most building codes now require that they be installed in older buildings, as well. At this point, emergency lighting is not required in residential homes but is certainly recommended. Given that they are designed to come on when the power goes out, every model requires some sort of battery or generator system that could provide electricity to the lights during a blackout.

Some of the earliest models around were incandescent light bulbs. These were able to dimly light an area, providing just enough to evacuate the building or identify the problem to be fixed. Clearly, though, the more focused and bright the light, the better. Longer lasting light is also a priority in emergency situations, so current floodlights are high lumen and provide coverage to wider areas. Some are halogen, with their light and intensity similar to that of a headlight.

Early on, the backup systems themselves were enormous, much larger than the lights that they were providing power for. Normally, to store a 120-volt charge, a lead acid battery was used, like those as part of the ignition system in a car. With more advanced technology, now both voltage requirements and battery sizes have dropped significantly and the lights are only as large as the bulbs.

As mentioned, emergency lighting is now installed in just about every commercial and high occupancy building. These lights are either incandescent bulbs or clusters of LEDs, which are of a higher intensity. In addition, all the lighting units have some sort of reflector that focuses and intensifies the light they produce. Generally, most of the light sources can be rotated and aimed for wherever the light is most necessary, such as to identify the source of the emergency, light up stairways and to highlight exit doors. There is usually a test button that can override the unit, causing it to switch on and operate from battery even if the main power is on to ensure that the system is running properly.

Systems these days are generally low voltage, roughly 6-12 volts, which minimizes the required battery size and reduces the load on the emergency light circuit. In addition, there is usually a small transformer on the base of the fixture that can step down the voltage from main current to low voltage. Common batteries are lead-calcium and generally last about 10 years. To indicate a power outage, some types of emergency lights require a manual shutoff, even if the main power comes back on, the system will stay lit until a reset button is hit.

Another name for emergency lighting is egress lighting and the units are generally used in conjunction with emergency lighting. There are generally fairly strict requirements for emergency lighting system and it’s generally mandated that wiring from the central power source to emergency lights is kept separate from other wiring and constructed in fire resistant cabling and wiring systems, for obvious reasons. Additional codes and regulations mandate minimum illumination levels in escape routes and open areas, as well as requiring the lighting technician to allow for both failure of the supply to the building and the failure of an individual lighting circuit.

Emergency lighting for your home is not required but certainly recommended to keep you and your families safe in case of a fire. When setting up emergency lighting in your home it’s a good idea to place a unit or two under the beds to light the floor area. If they’re too high and a fire breaks out, the smoke will render them useless. Interior-Deluxe.com are your experts on lighting solutions.

Given the disasters that could result from a commercial or high occupancy residential building having no light source, it’s of the utmost importance to make sure emergency lighting systems are up to code.


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