Emergency & Exit Light Testing

By Aaron Reiter
Smoke-filled conference room illuminated by emergency light

Are you aware that exit and emergency lighting devices, per NFPA 101, have formal testing requirements? Did you also know building owners are required to have written records of those visual inspections on hand for the fire marshal at all times? Even if you are aware that testing and inspection is required, you may be unaware how rigorous those tests are required to be:

  1. Monthly tests: functional testing (press the test button) must take place at intervals no greater than 30 days and for a duration of no less than 30 seconds.
  2. Annual tests: functional testing (AC power interrupted) must take place at intervals no greater than 1 year and for a duration of no less than 90 minutes.

That’s right! Those exit and emergency lights are required to discharge, at 100% of their candela rating, for a full hour and a half in the event of an emergency and that capability is required to be demonstrated every year. You may wonder why the code requires an hour and a half of illumination since it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to get people out of most buildings. The answer relates to emergency responder safety as much as it does to occupant egress support.

Fire fighters and/or emergency workers will be running into a building while everyone else is running out, and they’ll likely be doing so for quite a while after the last civilian has evacuated the building. Emergency lights and exit lighting fixtures are of enormous value to individuals who are unfamiliar with the layout of the building but required to navigate it efficiently and effectively to address potentially life and/or property-threatening situations.

E-lights are every bit as important as fire extinguishers, which have a robust inspection and service business model supporting them, but if you really ponder it, e-lights are more likely to be utilized than than any fire extinguisher. It’s also more likely that e-lights would be a larger factor in life safety. However, e-lights are far more often overlooked, ignored, or under-inspected because they do not receive the same level of professional scrutiny.

The monthly tests should be performed by you or your staff, but those annual tests are ideally wrapped into annual fire safety inspections and/or tests (e.g. fire alarm, fire extinguisher). Professional inspection firms will provide the required documentation and should be able to address items such as failed batteries while on site for reasonable correction fees.

Protect your staff, coworkers, and customers, but don’t forget that those emergency lighting devices are also there to protect the emergency responders who will have to run into your building when something is wrong!