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When Is Emergency Lighting Required?

Emergency lighting plays a crucial role in every building, especially for commercial and industrial settings. When a power outage occurs and people inside the building are left in the dark, it is the emergency lighting that steps in to illuminate the room. WIthout it, everyone inside the dark building is vulnerable to serious injuries.

Inside a building, you’ll see lights typically installed along the top perimeter of the walls. They come in either one fixture or double fixtures and have a battery pack attached. These are emergency lights. They look very different than ordinary light fixtures. This is because they only switch on when the power goes out. The backup battery source allows them to work for a certain amount of time to keep the building lit until the power comes back on.

When is Emergency Lighting Required?

Emergency lighting is required in almost any industrial, commercial, or retail setting. Buildings in which the public and employees are constantly in, like retail businesses, hospitals, schools, and community buildings, should have emergency lighting in place.

There are building codes in place that protect those who are inside the structure. Emergency lighting, as well as emergency exit signs, are part of the building code regulations. These codes govern the installation, inspection, and testing, of these lights as well as ensure emergency lighting is in place.

International Building Code (IBC)

According to the International Building Code (IBC), all projects that obtain building permits must follow the ICB and their requirements for emergency lighting. IBC 1006.3, “Illumination Emergency Power,” states that the following must be obliged with an emergency electrical system that runs off of its own power supply:

All exit corridors and aisles that have two or more exits
Exit corridors and stairways in buildings with two or more exits
Exterior exits on levels other than the main exit
Interior exits
Exterior exits adjacent to the main exit doorway

National Fire Protection Association

There are multiple codes established that govern the emergency lighting systems, their installation and maintenance process, backup power source, and how that power source is stored and used.

NFPA 101: Life Safety Code

The NFPA 101: Life Safety Code makes emergency lighting requirements quite clear. Stairs must have a minimum of 10 fc (108 lux) for walking surfaces, and a minimum of 1.0 fc (10.8 lux) for floors and walking surfaces. The emergency lighting must switch to its backup source within 10 seconds of a power outage and run for 1.5 hours. After 1.5 hours, the emergency lighting illumination may start to lower but get to no less than 0.06 fc (0.65 lux) to provide enough light to see the area.

Emergency lighting should also be in any internal rooms, such as bathrooms and storage areas. Each light must be positioned in a way that illuminates the area and leaves no dark spots if the power goes out.

NFPA 70: National Electrical Code

The NFPA 70: National Electrical Code covers the installation and removal of electrical equipment and everything in regards to the electrical installation and removal process.

NFPA 110: Standard for Emergency and Standby Power systems

The NFPA 110 code entails the performance requirements for emergency systems and the standby systems that supply the power. The code covers the installation process, operation, maintenance, and testing to ensure the emergency systems are working correctly.

NFPA 111: Standard on Stored Electrical Energy Emergency and Standby Power Systems

The NFPA 111 code covers the storage of electrical energy systems that provide an alternate electrical source in the result of a power outage.

NFPA 99: Health Care Facilities Code

The NFPA 99: Health Care Facilities Code is on top of NFPA 101. It requires battery-powered emergency lighting in anesthetizing locations, along with normal main power and emergency main power switchboards.

On top of these national codes, there are local requirements that must be obliged. Local authorities place their own codes for added security and safety within the area that could be different from other parts of the country.

The Ontario Building Code stipulates that there must be emergency lighting with an average illumination of a minimum of 10 lux at the floor level in the following areas:
All exits and routes that provide access to the exits
Public corridors, along with corridors that serve patients, residents, and classrooms
Any floor areas that the public may gather in
Underground walkways
Floor areas in daycare centers
Floor preparation areas in commercial kitchens

It is essential that businesses comply with emergency lighting requirements in Ontario and maintains all emergency systems in check.

Emergency Lighting Inspection

There are testing standards in place to ensure that all of the emergency systems are fully functional. Businesses must perform periodic testing by simulating power outages to ensure the systems are up to code. Fire marshals will check to see if the annual and monthly emergency lighting inspections are completed.

Emergency Lighting Maintenance and Repair

If upon inspection you notice that some of the emergency lighting fixtures are damaged or not functioning as intended, it’s imperative that they be changed. Batteries, bulbs, charges, and fuses will likely need periodic changing due to regular wear and tear. Seek help from professionals and ensure that any emergency lighting maintenance is up to code.


Emergency lighting systems are not only essential to the safety of everyone within a building, but they are also legally required per multiple building codes. If a power outage occurs, you want to ensure that everyone around is free from danger and that they have the light needed to safely escape a building.

Do your part as a building owner and ensure all emergency systems are correctly installed, tested, and maintained.


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