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Battery Powered Exit Signs

A Battery Powered Exit Sign Scenario

Battery operated exit signBilly's Motel was informed they needed two exit signs at either end of his pool area. Both of these exits are located in concrete breezeways that lead to the parking lots. Neither of these breezeways has any electrical wiring or junction boxes. Billy's local electrician says he can lay raceways (electrical conduits) along the breezeway. He'll also have to dedicate a whole circuit to both exit signs. He estimates a $700 job, unless he encounters setbacks (which they always do). Billy says that's ridiculous! "Can't I just install a battery operated exit sign?"

Why Battery Operated Exit Signs Do Not Exist

Billy's electrician laughs. "They don't exist!" But Billy is up for a challenge. He knows he's heard of such a thing, and that the electrician is probably trying to take him for everything he's worth. With the power of infinite knowledge at his fingertips (a.k.a the Internet) he types battery operated exit sign in his search engine. Several results pop up.


Certain that he has outsmarted the Wiley Electrician, Billy logs onto a Chinese exit sign website that promises this tantalizing solution:

 Chinese exit sign website

Trusting that the Internet would never steer him wrong, Billy pulls out the plastic and orders those cheap exit signs, paying about 10x as much in shipping costs.

Exit sign battery connection.After two months, the exit signs finally arrive. Billy follows the directions included (after some translation). He connects the battery packs inside the signs, the LEDs light up and he replaces the exit sign face. The battery powered signs work great! He celebrates his victory over the Wiley Electrician by going to the local watering hole. He returns later in the afternoon and BOTH exit signs have burnt out!

What Happened to My Battery Exit Sign?

Billy is furious. He's been telling the fire department for months "I got it handled". They've been threatening to close down his motel because of these exit signs and now they don't work! He opens up the signs, everything looks fine so maybe it just needs new batteries. He goes on the Chinese website and orders two replacement NiCad batteries. Two more months later he has the batteries, puts them in the signs and voila! The signs are fully compliant again. So Billy literally runs to the fire station to get a re-inspection.   

Wet location led exit signThe surly fire marshall drives back to Billy's Motel and sees the exit signs have stopped working again! "Why are you showing me dead exit signs?" the Fire Marshall asks. "They're battery powered signs, sir" Billy says. The marshall laughs.

"You still need power, you idiot. How long do you think the battery's gonna last?"

Finally Billy is ready to plead mea culpa to that Wiley Electrician, but first he calls up a company he found online called the Emergency Lights Co. An emergency lighting professional confirms that battery powered exit signs truly do not exist. But instead of sending Billy running to his electrician, they offer him two alternatives:

Photoluminescent Exit Signs

These non electrical signs utilize a glow in the dark pigment material in the sign's substrate which actually absorbs ambient light in the area, just like glow in the dark stickers you played with as a kid. PL signs will glow at the UL required 50-ft viewing distance for at least 90 minutes when building lights fail.

Photoluminescent exit signs are considered self-illuminating (though not self luminous) signs and only require an hour to 'charge' when hit evenly with ambient light. These signs come in two styles:

  • with a glowing background
  • with a glowing Exit legend 

The only downside to the PL sign is that it is limited to spaces that are lit when the building is occupied. Areas that are left dark, such as store rooms or theaters, must choose another type of self-illuminating sign

Self Luminous Tritium Exit Signage

The only self-sufficient sign in existence is the self luminous tritium exit sign, which is one of the most common signs we suggest to customers searching for battery backup exit signs. These markers contain tritium, a radioactive hydrogen gas sealed in tightly packed vacuum tubes. These glass tubes are arranged to form the word 'Exit' and never require any charging to stay lit.

These signs have a half-life between 10 and 20 years and are incredibly durable. They are a favorite fixture in movie theaters where the auditoriums require a highly visible sign that does not distract the audience from their moviegoing experience.

The only downside to SL signs is the tritium, which is highly regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Even though these signs produce far less radiation than a home smoke detector, all nuclear devices must be strictly monitored and disposed by licensed disposal brokers. The other downside is an extremely long build/delivery time that often makes photoluminescent signs a quicker choice when the application permits.

Both of these alternatives are UL and ETL listed and will last a minimum of 90 minutes per UL emergency guidelines. They are also made in America and require no wiring or batteries. If you're ready to learn from Billy's costly lesson, give us a call at 800.480.0707.