NFPA 101 Self Luminous Exit Signs

Understanding NFPA Codes for Self Luminous Exit Signs 

The internationally recognized not-for-profit agency for reducing the burden of fire and other hazards is the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency). Since 1896, following the great Coconut Grove conflagration, the NFPA has advocated a consensus for codes and standards regarding life-saving equipment

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The NFPA has more then 70,000 members worldwide. They develop, publish and disseminate over 300 codes and standards for the minimization of threat posed by building fires.

When it comes to self luminous exit signs, two NFPA documents apply. In actuality they cover all exit signs and emergency light standards under the sub-heading means of egress.

These documents are:

  • NFPA 101: Life Safety Code
  • NFPA 5000: Building Construction and Safety Code

NFPA 101 Scope

This is the most commonly sourced document when it comes to installing self powered exit signs along a building's egress path. Unlike the NFPA 5000, this document is widely accepted by other agencies, such as OSHA and the IBC, which use NFPA codes in their own qualifying rubrics.


Exit access - designated stairs, aisles, corridors, ramps, escalators and passageways that lead to an exit.

Exit discharge - stairs, ramps, aisles, walkways leading to public way.

NFPA 101 Exit Sign Rules

  • If sign is powered by an external source changeover, delay must last for no more than 10 seconds.
  • Emergency illumination must be provided for at least 90 minutes during a power failure.
  • Periodic maintenance must be performed on applicable exit signs.

Since self powered exit signs require no maintenance or electricity to operate continuously, the above standards will automatically apply.

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Marking of Means of Egress

  • Must be clearly seen from any direction of exit access.
  • Horizontal routes along the egress path must have directional exit signs where the continuation of an egress path is not readily visible.
  • An illuminated non-exit sign shall not be installed in the vicinity of an exit discharge, which might distract  form the exit sign.
  • Must be mounted of a vertical distance of no more than 6-8 inches above the egress opening.
  • Any door that could be reasonably mistaken as an exit discharge should be marked 'No Exit.'
  • Exit sign lettering for new signs must be a minimum of 6" tall.
  • Exit sign lettering for older signs must be no less than 4" tall.
  • Special characters must comply with visual character requirements of ICC/ANSI A117A.

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