Select an energy-efficient sign. The U.S. government has passed a minimum federal efficiency standard for exit signs. A sign must:
- Consume less than 5 W of power per face,
- Exceed the National Fire Protection Association Safety Code 101 guidelines; and
- Carry at least a five-year manufacturer warranty for defective parts.
Manufacturers test their products against these requirements. You’ll find that most of the qualifying signs are made with LEDs. The standard also allows self-illuminating signs such as those that use photoluminescent materials.
To hone in on the most cost-effective option for your application, we recommend using the Energy Star exit sign calculator, which compares annual and life-cycle costs of energy-efficient LED and photoluminescent exit signs with antiquated incandescent exit signs.
Pick products that use the newest LED technology. Not all LED products offer equal performance. Exit signs using the newest LED technology start out brighter and maintain their brightness longer than those using older technologies. For red exit signs, look for products that use aluminum, indium, gallium, and phosphorus LEDs, referred to in the trade as AlInGaP.
Don’t be fooled by long warranties. LEDs rarely burn out, but their brightness does fade over time, depending on the materials they are made of and the temperatures and humidity they are subjected to. In some applications, the brightness of a sign may diminish in just a few years to the point that it no longer meets code. Even so, in the past, many manufacturers offered long warranties on their products—in some cases for 25 years or more. Buyers often purchased the products with the expectation that they would last for the life of the building without any maintenance.
Although the newest LED products are expected to last longer than earlier signs, reputable manufacturers are now offering shorter warranties. Lithonia, for example, which uses the longest-lived LEDs available, backs up many of its products with a 5-year warranty. Lithonia believes the LEDs will last longer than that, but given that no 25-year tests have been conducted, the company did not want to mislead buyers.
Are green LED signs a viable choice? Green signs are preferred (or required) in some areas, but they are not permitted in Canada. (In Canada, standard CSA 860 covers the size, shape, and intensity of exit signs.) Early green LED products provided lower light output than red LED signs, but new technology has created a green LED that is both bright and efficient. This technology is now available in products made by such companies as Gilbert Industries and Lithonia.