The basics of emergency illumination


Generator systems

The second common emergency power source for emergency egress lighting is an on-site generator. The emergency power supply (EPS) and EPSS per NFPA 110 have various classifications and types stipulated in Chapter 4. This article is limited to Class 1.5 type 10, Level 1 EPSS.

Essentially, the generator is required to start and be on-line within 10 sec, and run for 2 hours. This is fairly standard requirement for most model codes; however, the run times vary in length based on the building type and use. The egress lighting levels and classification requirements are stipulated in NFPA 101. The requirement for automatic start and transfer is reiterated in both NFPA 70 and NFPA 99. The life safety circuitry must be segregated completely from the normal power sources. This was further clarified in the 2008 NEC (NFPA 70-700.9. (B) (c.)), where legally required systems (egress lighting) and optional standby power cannot originate the same vertical switchboard section, panelboard enclosure, or individual disconnect enclosure as emergency circuits. In the past, a generator could supply a common switchboard without the internal division for the automatic transfer switch (ATS) loads that supply life safety and standby power circuits. The loads and their respective ATSs supplied by the generator other than life safety must have load shed capability, to not endanger the life safety loads should the generator become overloaded, or have an alarm condition.

Figure 5: This computer-generated output of the expected photometric results is based on the proper spacing of the designated emergency lighting fixtures for a medical college. Courtesy: Affiliated Engineers Inc.

The required functional testing of the generators and their associated ATSs must comply with the requirements of NFPA 110 Chapter 8. The diesel generators are to be tested once a month for 30 minutes and loaded to at least 30% of their nameplate rating. Under certain codes the generator shall be annually loaded to 30% for 3 hours and then 75% for the last hour of the test. Obviously, all of the tests are to be witnessed and documented as are the associated automatic transfer switches transition modes. Figure 6 depicts a typical emergency generator with multiple automatic transfer switches.

Figure 6: The one-line diagram depicts a typical emergency generator with multiple automatic transfer switches that serve designated EPSS loads. Courtesy: Affiliated Engineers Inc.

The total solution

A sound understanding of the defined means of egress is critical for proper implementation of emergency lighting systems. Though the various codes and standards appear convoluted at times, there is consistency among their interpretation and cross-references. Once the applicable codes have been determined, one can navigate through the minutia and derive a viable lighting solution that will be suitable to the AHJ.

The key parameters of emergency lighting for means of egress are 1.0 fc average, 0.1 fc minimum, a uniformity ratio of 40:1, and 90 minutes of continuous illumination. If the building is occupied, it will likely require emergency egress lighting. All egress areas require more than one lamp that serves that area.

The most common sources of emergency lighting are a battery-powered packaged unit, a UL 924 lighting inverter, a self contained battery-powered packaged unit (bug eye), and a generator. Size, use, and classification of a given building are used to determine the most cost-effective solution for an emergency lighting system.

For certain building types, the emergency illumination system will be a hybrid system that will incorporate both emergency generators and battery-powered sources. Monthly testing and annual functional testing are not precluded for hybrid systems. Consequently, good documentation for each system will be required for the AHJ review and certification. The responsibility for record keeping ultimately is the building owner’s.

Thom Flickinger is a senior electrical engineer at Affiliated Engineers Inc. He has more than 30 years of design and project management experience in power distribution, information, security systems, distributed power systems, construction administration, and software development, serving the healthcare, research, higher education, mission critical, cleanroom, infrastructure, museum, and expo center markets.

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Charles , NC, United States, 08/15/13 08:18 AM:

I would like to add the following to Mr. Flickinger's article.

1. In the US as required by various codes, all emergency lighting must provide minimum levels of performance for at least 90 minutes after the failure of normal electrical lighting. This is independent of whether the emergency lighting is powered by battery or generator; is electrical or non-electrical (eg. utilizing photoluminescent or radioluminescent lighting technologies).

2. Exit signs, so long as they are listed to the UL924 performance standard, meet code requirements regardless of whether they are electrical or non-electrical (photoluminescent or radioluminescent lighting technologies).

3. Model codes (IBC, IFC, etc.), NFPA 101 (and other NFPA codes), local building & fire codes, and other codes have similar requirements for ITM - Inspection, Testing and Maintenance - of all emergency lighting. This includes electrical and non-electrical emergency lighting - exit signs, egress path markings, etc.

4. Floor level exit signs, listed to UL924, are required by the various codes in certain occupancy types. In general, these are required in certain assembly occupancies. Additionally, some local codes also require floor level exit signs in other occupancies such as schools, some health care facilities and public buildings. The performance & illumination requirements, for floor level exit signs are the same as for exit signs installed above the door.

4. Floor level luminous egress path markings, as specified in NFPA 101 and required in the model codes (IBC, IFC) and many local codes are generally specified for use in the exit stairways of high rise buildings. These are specified in all codes as "shall be non-electrical..." and "luminous...". They are required in high rise buildings as a direct result of the failure of electrical lighting (normal lighting and emergency lighting) during the emergency evacuation of the World Trade Center in 2001, and the widespread belief in the code community that electrical lighting (normal or emergency) was not always present during emergency evacuations.

5. Lighting controls are not universally permitted in the means of egress. (Under NO circumstances, if they are used to control normal electrical lighting, are they to interfere with the proper operation of emergency lighting. Lighting controls are NOT permitted to be used to control the operation of emergency lighting.) The model codes (IBC, IFC) do not allow the use of lighting controls in the means of egress. NFPA 101 conditionally allows the use of lighting controls in the means of egress; this language has been recently updated to reflect concerns in the code community that lighting controls used to achieve energy savings, must not compromise the operation of lighting needed to preserve life safety during an emergency evacuation.

Finally, it is my opinion that lighting in the means of egress can be safely dimmed to save energy. But, if lighting controls are used to turn off lighting required to provide the minimum illumination levels, measured at the walking surface as specified by the various codes, these lighting controls are unsafe to use. Again, my opinion is that once an electrical light is powered off, there is no absolute assurance that the lamp or fixture will start up when needed for an emergency evacuation. Lighting controls add an unacceptable level of complexity to the safe operation of lighting needed to provide the minimum illumination levels in the means of egress.

(Disclosure: I am the Operations Manager for EverGlow NA, Inc - We manufacture non-electrical photoluminescent emergency lighting.)
Anonymous , 09/13/13 08:14 AM:

The life safety code, article 7.10 states that "new sign placement shall be such that no point in an exit access corridor is in excess of the rated viewing distance or 100ft from the nearest sign. I interpret that as a maximum of 200' between signs.
GARY , CA, United States, 02/05/15 02:38 PM:

I am not seeing the mentioned conflict between IBC/IFC and NFPA 101. The 1fc minimum requirement is when on normal power and the 1fc average (0.1fc initial minimum; 0.06fc 90-minute min; 40:1 max:min ratio) is a requirement when on emergency power.
Another requirement not to step over in NFPA 101 is* Required illumination shall be arranged so that the failure of any single lighting unit does not result in an illumination level of less than 0.2 ft-candle (2.2 lux) in any designated area.
I assume this is a normal power requirement as otherwise implementing the following requirements becomes interesting...
7.9.2 Performance of System.* Emergency illumination shall be provided for not less than 1-1⁄2 hours in the event of failure of normal lighting. Emergency lighting facilities shall be arranged to provide initial illumination that is not less than an average of 1 ft-candle (10.8 lux) and, at any point, not less than 0.1 ft-candle (1.1 lux), measured along the path of egress at floor level. Illumination levels shall be permitted to decline to not less than an average of 0.6 ft-candle (6.5 lux) and, at any point, not less than 0.06 ft-candle (0.65 lux) at the end of the 11⁄2 hours. A maximum-to-minimum illumination uniformity ratio of 40 to 1 shall not be exceeded.

Gary Conway - CES Engineering
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