What You Should Know About LEDs & Exit Signs

You probably didn’t notice what type of light was illuminating the last exit sign you saw.  If you’re a building/business owner, start paying attention.

If your exit signs are currently lit by incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, you can save hundreds of dollars by switching to LED exit signs.

The first exit signs were lit by incandescent bulbs, and this type continues to be popular in commercial buildings because of low bulb cost.  However, these are the same incandescent bulbs that burn out quickly, use a ton of energy, emit heat, and are set to be banned in 2012 by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Fluorescent-lit exit signs are certainly more energy efficient than incandescent, but they work the same way: both sides of an exit fixture are backlit from the inside.  This provides for uneven illumination.  In addition, bulbs still need to be changed fairly frequently, and the cost of replacement bulbs is high.

LED exit signs might be a slightly higher initial investment, but reduced maintenance costs, energy savings, and overall performance makes the switch well worth it for business owners.  Check out this Cost Comparison Table completed by the North Carolina Department of Commerce (“Energy Efficiency for Restaurants: LED Exit Signs” fact sheet):

Fixture Type Typical  Wattage  (watts) Bulb  Life (years) Annual Bulb  + Labor Cost Purchase +  Install Cost Annual      Energy  Cost 1st Year  Cost 10th Year  Cost  Savings
Incandescent (existing) 40 0.5 $26 0 $39 $65
Fluorescent (existing) 11 1.0 $27 0 $11 $38 $269
LED (new installation) 2 10+ $0 $20 + $25 $2 $47 $581

The cost in the first year of installing an LED exit sign is still cheaper than using an incandescent fixture, and by the tenth year,  cost savings will amount to $581.

There are numerous other benefits of switching to LED exit signs:

  • LED exit signs have a rated life of more than 11 years.  Have you ever gone that long without changing a light bulb?  Since exit signs are typically installed near the top of a high ceiling, a low-maintenance option becomes very advantageous.  You won’t have to drag out the ladder every few months (or pay the maintenance man to do it), and buying/stocking extra bulbs will suddenly become much more manageable.
  • Not only are LED exit signs long-lasting, they never burn out.  After reaching the end of their life, they do become progressively dimmer; but, the fact that they do not completely burn out makes them a much safer option for emergency lighting.
  • LED lights are more durable than traditional bulbs, meaning they’re less likely to break.
  • LED lighting provides the brightest option for exit signs.  Unlike fluorescents or incandescents, which try to light the entire sign from one or two sides (and do not illuminate the actual word “EXIT” at all), LED signs combine a large number of bright light-emitting diodes to illuminate “EXIT.”  The greater contrast with the background makes them safer and more effective.
  • Because LED exit signs require less power to run, any models that include battery backup will last longer in the event of a power outage.
  • LED exit signs do not attract insects; because unlike fluorescents, incandescents, and other sources, they do not emit UV rays.

Emily Widle

Emily graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. She enjoys scouring the news to report on the latest in the lighting industry as well as bringing valuable remodeling tips and exemplar home projects to light.