This week on the Bright Ideas series presented by Acuity Brands® Catherine is joined by Jon Carter, Product Manager for Life Safety, to examine life safety code for buildings and how to easily choose products that make compliance simple.
WHY DO WE HAVE LIFE SAFETY CODES?
Ultimately, life safety code applies to emergency lights present in all building types, with the exception of single-family homes, to keep people safe in a building in case of emergencies. This could include lights that remain on to provide visibility during a fire evacuation, or for occupants remaining inside during a power outage or natural disaster.
Additionally, to qualify as a proper life safety product, the fixture must also have a UL 924 certification. This requires that the fixture have at least one foot candle on the floor for a minimum of 90 minutes. However, as the test is usually conducted in a closed environment, the certification may not be the sole factor in determining a fixture’s qualifications for a particular application. Fortunately, credible manufacturers make it a practice to provide available IES files for emergency lights to ensure they actually work for various applications.
CATEGORIES OF LIFE SAFETY PRODUCTS
There are three main categories of life safety products:
- Zoned Approach
- Distributed Approach
- Exit Signs
Zoned, also known as “centralized” systems, include inverters and generators that are wired directly to luminaires that will perform the same in emergency mode as they do in normal power mode. These are great options for greater mounting heights and warmer ambient temperatures; and because they are centralized, they can all be tested simultaneously.
Distributed approach products are often recognized as two-headed, battery unit emergency lights that are mounted along the path of egress within buildings. These are spaced apart according to their lumen output and distribution to provide visibility for any building occupants who might be present or evacuating during an emergency.
Another category of distributed products are emergency drivers, which are fixture-based. The output of these drivers is based on the luminaire they’ve been applied to, plus the wattage of that driver itself. These emergency drivers provide redundancy in case there’s any sort of power failure so that some light, even if less than normal, is coming out of the fixtures so as to illuminate the floor properly.
Lastly, exit signs are likely one of the most familiar kinds of emergency lights that people are aware of. These lights come with red or green lettering and arrows that can guide evacuations safely. Exit signs are either powered by an internal battery backup fed by distributed approach products such as emergency drivers, or by a centralized generator or inverter that will continue providing electricity even if the building’s main source of power is malfunctioning.
WHY WOULDN’T A BUILDING OR CONTRACTOR MEET LIFE SAFETY CODES?
There is a highly unfortunate trend that has risen in the lighting industry lately, where buyers are largely selecting their emergency lighting fixtures based on sticker price rather than their qualifications to meet code in their application.
Code qualifications are supposed to require initial testing of an emergency fixture within the actual application to make sure minimum requirements are met. However, that’s not always being done on-location, if at all. Furthermore, there’s a lack of enforcement to actually warn people, educate them, or hold them accountable for cutting corners in this area. And without awareness or consequences for these decisions, there’s no way to stop the pattern from continuing.
While the trend of buying cheaper, less-qualified fixtures isn’t unique to emergency lighting and has been discussed on Bright Ideas before regarding industrial lighting applications, the consequences of this decision in this particular product category couldn’t be more acute. Human lives are at stake.
Building contractors or engineers might very well be spending more time analyzing the pleasing aesthetic of a wall wash in an architectural space than about how a lighting product might perform in order to save somebody’s life.
And this tendency isn’t isolated solely to brand new construction sites, either: building renovations may also produce a similar result. An old hotel may have initially been constructed decades ago with an inspector and a lighting designer who agreed on an emergency layout that met code at the time, based on the output of the fixtures they chose. All these years later, a renovation team may be replacing those emergency fixtures with cheaper or more visually-appealing ones that might not match the same output or qualifications–– meaning their arrangement actually may not meet safety code anymore.
This trend needs to change, and everybody needs to be more diligent in actually putting safety on the same pedestal as building design.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MEETING LIFE SAFETY CODES
There are ultimately three things that distributors, contractors, and building owners need to think about when meeting life safety requirements for emergency lighting.
- You need to consult with your local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).
While there are national minimum safety codes to meet, a local AHJ such as a building inspector, electrical inspector, or fire marshal has ultimate authority to interpret safety codes in their area.
- Lighting design software is critical.
Credible manufacturers can provide IES files for this software to ensure fixtures actually work and meet code in their specific applications.
- It’s vital to understand where the lighting fixture is going.
This can be especially important when understanding if the environment will need a specialized product due to a warmer ambient temperature, high humidity, multiple hazards, etc.
After that, when selecting a product, it’s also helpful to consider the mounting height, spacing, and environment. How high the fixtures are going and how far apart they’ll be spaced is one of the foundational steps to meeting life safety codes. Some manufacturers even put their spacing recommendations on the spec sheets of their products to help buyers decide which product is right for their application.
To learn more about emergency lighting applications tested to meet life safety code, visit acuitybrands.com/products/life-safety/exit-signs-combos. Next week, Brad Picht of the North American distributing company Graybar will join us for another interview on the Bright Ideas series.
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