Fire Exit Signs

Make sure to pay attention to the Fire Exit Sign codes for your local area.

NFPA 101 Life Safety Code and Marking of Means of Egress - Knowing where the emergency exits are in buildings you frequent can save your life. Means of egress shall be marked in accordance with this section where required. Fire exits shall be marked by approved sign readily visible from any direction of Fire exit access.

Fire Exit SignsException - Main exterior exit doors that obviously and clearly are identifiable exits. Access to exits shall be marked by approved readily visible signs in all cases where the exit or way to reach it is not readily apparent to the occupants. Signs placement shall be such that no point in the exit access is more than 100 ft (30m) from the nearest visible sign. Fire Exit signs shall be placed near the floor level in addition to those signs required for doors or corridors. The bottom of the fire exit sign shall be not less than 6 in. (15.2 cm) or more than 8 in. (20.3 cm) above the floor. For exit doors, the fire exit sign shall be mounted on the door or adjacent to the door with the closest edge of the sign within 4 in. (10.2 cm) of the door frame.

The size of a Every fire exit sign must have the word EXIT or other appropriate wording in plainly legible letters not less than 6 in. (15.2 cm) high with the principal strokes of letters not less than 3/4 in. (1.9 cm) wide. The word EXIT shall have letters of a width not less than 2 in. (5cm) accept the letter "I", and the minimum spacing between letters shall be not less than 3/8 in. (1 cm). Fire exit signs larger than the minimum established in this paragraph shall have letter widths, strokes, and spacing in proportion to their height.

Every fire exit sign shall be suitably illuminated by a reliable light source. Externally and internally illuminated fire exit signs shall be visible both the normal and emergency lighting mode. Externally illuminated fire exit signs shall be illuminated by not less than 5 foot-candles and shall employ a contrast ratio of not less than 0.5.

Approved self-luminous-tritium or photoluminescent exit signs that provide evenly illuminated letters shall have a minimum luminance of 006 foot-lambert (021 cd/sq m) ss measured by a color-corrected photometer. The directional indicator shall be located outside of the EXIT legend, not less than 3/8 in. (1 cm) from any letter, and may be integral to or separate from the sign body. The directional indicator shall be of a chevron/ arrow and shall be identifiable as a directional indicator at a minimum distance of 100 ft (30m) under all space illumination conditions. The directional indicators shall not be located at the end of the fire exit sign opposite the direction indicated.

Fire exit signs are part of an emergency evacuation system that guides people in public buildings or buildings (either residential or commercial,) where there are many people, to the closest exit so they can leave the building safely. Fire exit signs need to be visible from afar, and from all directions, and they must be illuminated well enough to be easily visible if the power fails.

Fire exit signs are required in all public buildings, and they are also required in large buildings where there are many people, schools, dormitories, college and university buildings, hospitals, movie theaters, concert venues and auditoriums, nursing homes, senior centers, and any other building where large numbers of people would need to escape the building because of a fire.

What Constitutes an Emergency Fire Exit?

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Hazards Administration) explains that there are three parts to an exit route:

  1. The exit access, which is the part of the route that leads to the actual exit
  2. The exit, or part of the exit route that provides an unobstructed path to the actual exit
  3. The exit discharge, or final part of the exit route that provides direct access to the outside


The number of exit routes that a building must have can vary, depending on the size of the building and the number of people who occupy it. For small buildings or structures, there must be at least two designated emergency exits.

Exit Sign Requirements

Additionally, OSHA has specific visibility requirements of all exit signs. Exits must be clearly designated by a large sign that is free of obstructions and/or decorations. If there are doors along an exit route that could be mistaken for the actual exit, those doors must be clearly marked so that no one could mistake them for the exit.

If the actual exit isn't clearly visible from everywhere along the emergency route, emergency exit sign should have an arrow that points in the direction of the exit. The exit sign must be clearly visible from all directions. The letters of the exit sign proper must be at least six inches tall, and the first stroke of each letter must be exactly ¾ inch wide.

Lighting Requirements

The National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code requires that emergency fire exit signs must have a reliable lighting source with a backup power source that can provide continuous power for at least 1 ½ hours. NFPA Life Safety Code also requires that emergency fire exit signs be placed at points along the evacuation path so that there is no more than 100 feet between visible signs.

Some types of emergency fire exit signs are designed to get brighter when a power failure forces the lighting to operate on alternative backup power. Some UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listed signs operate on a battery backup in case of a power failure. These exit signs are required to have an easily accessible battery test switch and a status indicator for the power supply.

Although OSHA, the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S.. Fire Administration are very clear about the government's building and fire code requirements. Individual state and local requirements may vary or change. Every structure needs to have an escape route, and residential, commercial, public or any other type of building that has multiple occupants must have clearly designated escape route that is properly marked with illuminated exit signs.

For area specific code requirements, contact the state or local fire marshal's office or the United States Fire Administration office. For information about Life Safety Code government, fire and Underwriters Laboratories approved fire exit signs, contact Exit Sign Warehouse.



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