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EXIT Signs - An Overview

Exit Signs have been around for decades. No one is really sure when or where the first exit sign was used.

Certainly the catastrophic Chicago Fire, October 1871, is credited for causing the first focused review and creation of tougher Fire Safety and Building Standards.

Over the past 20-years, this focus has grown to include Environmental parameters.

Some Early Exit Signs

The first signs were little more than glass jars with "EXIT" painted on them.

This ball style is a more recent version. A simple glass globe over an incandescent bulb. (Because the bulb socket accommodated a standard light bulb, we have seen 100 Watt bulbs used when 25 Watt ones would suffice.)

Why did this occur?

Electricity cost was not a concern and the 100 Watt bulb happened to be available.

This style - the triangle sign also indicated the direction to go ---- either to a stairway or a corridor to safety.

Here is a weather-proof Exit Sign commonly found on-board ships. Again the globe simply covered an incandescent bulb.

The Early Non-Electric Signs

Some locations don't lend themselves to having electrical conduits installed. This makes all of the above non-qualifiers.

Self-powered signs were eagerly sought, as pictured below. We've seen these signs on some car ferries in the past.

These signs were amazing! They worked flawlessly. No wiring or maintenance for years. There is one small drawback:

The first exit signs used Radium which was really dangerous.

These were later replaced by Tritium as the component that emitted light. Safer, but still radioactive.

In other words, if you are replacing these signs now, special handling is required.

Authorities must be notified.

Do Not Send to a landfill site!

Some manufacturers of these Tritium signs assist with disposal of old signs.....if you purchase replacements from them.

(We encourage you not to replace with radioactive materials)


Side Note: If you are asking what self-powered Exit Signs to use, learn about Glo Brite® Photoluminescent Exit Signs. 

The Standard Stencil Sign

Throughout North America, these are the most common Exit Signs.

Typically, the electrically-powered signs have 2 x 15 Watt lamps which tend to expire after several months.

Passing storms frequently cause power surges which snap the lamps' filaments prematurely - the main contributor of requiring a flurry of replacement lamp activity.

Building Owners face liability issues if safety devices malfunction. The buildings are subject to periodic Fire Safety Inspections. Fines are heavy for non-compliance.

The face of the sign has been stencil cut. The plastic sheet behind can be red or green depending on local bylaws.

- the 1990's -
Increasing Awareness of Energy Efficiency

Compact fluorescent 'plug-in' 2-Pin lamps started to emerge on the market. Being 'new technology', their cost was significantly higher than standard incandescent lamps.

Hydro costs were increasing as was the cost of labour. Building Owners soon learned that it made financial sense to replace lamps that are operating the longest.

Exit Signs function day and night, all year long.

Here is a sketch of the PL retrofit kit that reduced energy consumption +73% and maintenance to almost Nil in the first year. PL lamps had a Rated Life of 10,000 Hours.

To save you doing the maths: 1 Year = 8,760 Hours.

Early LED Retrofit Kits

Next came LED screw-in Paddles similar to those above. It was early in the game, however, short-comings surfaced in many cases:

Early LED technology was not known for brightness. Think of the LED indicator lights on those 1930's radios. Many still work today but do not produce much light.

To increase the brightness, the LED's had to be over-driven. In some cases, they consumed almost as much power as the incandescents they replaced.

Worse, within the first year, light output had deteriorated so far that the signs were no longer effective safety beacons.

T1 Cold Cathode Technology

10-Year + Cold Cathode 4.8 W

The top right-hand picture is the XTRABRIGHT® Retrofit Kit for Stencil Exit Signs.

It was brilliant in several ways:

  • Consumed 4.8 Watts thus was Energy Star Compliant;
  • 84% Reduction in Energy vs standard incandescent signs;
  • Rated Lamp Life: 10-Years;
  • Easy Installation;
  • No Maintenance for 10-years.

LED's of 2012

LED technology was still not fully developed. Every day more improvements became available.

For Exit Sign applications, LED's seem to have been acceptable these past few years. It still is necessary to educate yourself as not all LED's are the same.

Here is a light bar that can be used to replace old technology in existing signs should sockets no longer be available for new screw-in paddles:

Did you know existing Exit Signs not presently configured for a back-up emergency circuit can be converted instantly to new LED Exit Signs that have a built-in battery-backup?

Simply remove the existing exit sign and mount the new one in its place and cut power usage to 2.8 Watts.

Pictured above is a new LED Exit Sign with Battery Back-up.

Note the tiny red indicator light on the floor of the sign. This confirms that power is reaching the sign. Adjacent to it is a small switch used to test if the battery is charged.

Fire Regulations require minimum monthly verifications whereby someone must press the small button on every Exit Sign in your buildings. The switch turns-off the main power and the battery takes over.

Because the signs we are familiar with, consume only 3.8 Watts, the battery easily meets or exceeds the 3-hour minimum duration required.

2 Questions For You:

How would you like it if:

  1. Your Exit Signs required no monthly 'checking';
  2.  Would that save time or need to employ someone?
  3. Your Utility bill = $0 for all the Exit Signs?

(These costs eat steadily into your Profitability)

Imagine an Exit Sign that:

  • Uses no Power - No wiring required;
  • Visible up to 100-Feet;
  • Full 25-Year Warranty;
  • CSA / CUL Listed;
  • Variety of Mounting Options.

and can look like:

OR In Full Darkness:

Click here for full details Self-Powered Exit Signs

Environmentally Friendly 

Not-Toxic & Not Radioactive