"And for you, Frodo Baggins, I give you the light of Earendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out." Lady Galadriel to Frodo in the movie adaptation of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Show Me the Way Out – Emergency Lighting Ideas

Steve Maurer, IME
"And for you, Frodo Baggins, I give you the light of Earendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out." Lady Galadriel to Frodo in the movie adaptation of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Uh, don't ask me how I know that … I have grandkids, remember?

But the ability to see when the lights go out during a power failure is rather important, don't you think? It is …
And it's also a compliance issue for commercial and industrial offices, workplaces, and warehouses.

432—the number of times I've done monthly emergency lighting checks in the past 36 years. And at least twice annually, I checked for the required duration of 90 minutes.

"Checking ain't easy. Checking ain't hard. Checking ain't nothing but an awful boring job."

James Taylor in the song, Millworker. Kind of … well … paraphrased.

Anyway, emergency lighting is a important part of maintaining the safety of employees, visitors, and team members in a commercial and/or industrial setting. It must be done, no doubt.

Emergency lights haven't won any aesthetically pleasing awards that I know of. In fact, most of them are just plain ugly. The bug-eyed little fixtures stick out like a sore thumb.

Sure, some have been designed to be a little less obnoxious. But not much.

That said, there are some ways to make emergency lighting less noticeable and yet still functional at the same time. In fact, they can make showing the way out a little easier and even pleasant.

Battery backups in the fixtures themselves make that happen. At first, they were designed for fluorescent fixtures, nestled inside the body, and they powered one or two tubes. I've retrofitted a lot of them in my time.

Because they're powering lamps inside the troffer or fixture body, they actually illuminate the path to safety, almost like runway landing lights, only overhead.

Along came LED technology and the landscape changed.

Almost any light can be an emergency light
I've been retrofitting and installing LED lighting a lot over the past few years, including exit and emergency lights. Recently, I came across a kit that had a small but bright LED strip, powered by an LED driver/battery combo.

Very cool.

The strip attaches to the fixture, either on the outside of a strip light, or the inside of an enclosed light, such as a troffer. It doesn't matter what type of bulb, either incandescent or fluorescent since the strip works independently of them.

When the power goes out, the driver switches on and lights up the darkness. If used in a fluorescent fixture, it's wired in with the existing ballast. It's relatively easy to install … I've done so many I think I could install them in my sleep!

But a few weeks ago, I was introduced to a new kind of LED emergency light. And I'm really impressed.

Drop ceiling emergency lights
The light is designed with something similar to a T-track for a drop in ceiling. In fact, one way to install it is to remove one track piece, either a 2- or 4-foot section, and replace it with this LED strip. It hugs the ceiling and is barely noticeable.

The driver/battery pack is install up in the ceiling, connecting to the hallway or office lighting circuit. The strip itself is less than 2 inches deep. Mounting hardware keeps the wires routed in a neat and tidy manner.

I like neat and tidy.

There are other ways to mount it, too. For example, if you don't want to remove the ceiling T-rail section, just trim off enough of the ceiling tile to accommodate the strip. That might even be quicker, and just as … neat and tidy.

If your hallway has can lights, this could make it an easy way to add e-lighting and keep the look of your existing lighting layout.

Because of the high lumen output, you can light up a larger area with fewer fixtures than the old bug-eyed monsters.
For example, a standard 60-foot hallway can be adequately illuminated with just two four-foot units, instead of 8 traditional units. And installation time drops from about 16 hours to 2 hours.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot that can be done with exit lights. They have to stand out, no matter what. They are, however, getting slimmer all the time since LEDs don't take up much room. And recessed edge-lighted and surface edge-lighted units do make the necessary exit sign a little more aesthetic.

When either designing a new office area, or even retrofitting an existing one, think about these emergency lighting options for functional, regulation-conforming, and unobtrusive installations.
Photo courtesy of Fulham®
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