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Lighting systems in institutional and commercial facilities receive a great deal of attention in both new construction and retrofits, given their ties to hot-button issues such as energy efficiency, sustainability and worker productivity. But maintenance and engineering managers also must pay attention to facilities’ emergency-lighting systems. In an emergency with a loss of power to the building, these systems enable occupants to easily find the nearest path to safety.
Today, a variety of emergency-lighting products — including exit signs, rechargeable batteries, battery chargers, relay devices, unit equipment, LEDs, and fluorescent lamps — incorporate sophisticated technology that can complicate the task of specifying emergency lighting products. For manufacturers of these products, the challenge is to help customers to recognize upgrade opportunities and to specify products that meet the facility’s needs.
“My impression is that there are a lot of renovations and relighting opportunities in spaces that have not been occupied in several years,” says Scott Galentine with Acuity Brands Lighting. “They’re updating the general luminaires, but as long as it has emergency lighting in it, they’re not updating that. That’s a big mistake. Just because it’s there does not mean it’s adequate.”
Managers considering upgrades or retrofits of their facilities’ emergency lighting systems must start the process by understanding the code requirements and product standards for these products. NFPA 101, the Life Safety Code, mandates building design, construction, operation, and maintenance requirements designed to protect building occupants from the dangers caused by fire, smoke, and related hazards.
“Individual jurisdictions, wherever you are located in the country, may have variations on this code, may look to a stronger requirement, but NFPA 101 is typically the baseline, and that has not changed recently,” says Porter Wafler with Philips Emergency Lighting. “One thing that we like to emphasize is that in NFPA 101, it will tell you that these are the minimum requirements. Local authorities may tweak it or may have some of their own requirements, so it varies from location to location.
“My advice would be to check with the local authority. Sometimes, a specific hospital system may have its own guidelines that are more stringent than the local code you might find for an office building or a retail establishment. We’ll see that occasionally with facilities that have multiple locations.”
Managers also should be familiar with the status of emergency lighting products relevant to Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent organization that certifies, validates, tests, and inspects products, including those for emergency lighting. Some updates to UL standards in recent years have dealt with alternate forms of exit signs.
“UL 94 has accepted photoluminescent exit signs as an alternative to electrically illuminated exit signs,” says Rod Rapenau with Thomas & Betts. “It’s not quite as popular, but it’s an alternative that’s being offered. Photoluminescent exit signs need external or ambient lighting to charge the phosphorous that’s inside them. Obviously, they light in case of an emergency, usually at a much lower level than electrical exit signs. But these levels are still considered to be visible for the naked eye after a certain period of accommodation in the darkness.”
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