Physical Data

  • Most exit signs are approximately 12˝ long, 8˝ high and between 1˝ and 4˝ in depth.


  • During a power failure, a sign must be energized by an emergency power supply system.


Types of Signs

There are two types of exit signs:

  • Internally lit (most common).
  • Externally lit (rare – not covered by this Guide)

Light Sources of Internally Lit Signs

  • There are four light sources for internally lit exit signs:
    • LEDs
    • Compact fluorescent lamps
    • Incandescent lamps

LED Signs

  • LED (light emitting diode) type sign has LEDs in plastic tubes which form the letters.
  • These signs use plastic as the medium to transmit the light.
  • Require less depth than incandescent and compact fluorescent signs.
  • More uniform illumination of letters.
  • Manufacturers expect 10 to 15-year lamp life.
  • Consumes less than 5 watts of power.

Compact Fluorescent Signs

  • Most incandescent exit signs can be retrofitted with compact fluorescent if there is sufficient space inside the sign to accommodate the lamp and the ballast, although this has become an unusual practice due to the efficiency of LED retrofit units.
  • Compact fluorescent lamps provide lighting levels similar to incandescent lamps with one-third of the power consumption. Consumes approximately 12 to 20 watts.
  • Lighting of each letter is not uniform.
  • Lamp life is generally one to two years.

Incandescent Signs

  • Existing incandescent signs should be immediately replaced because of cost of operation and maintenance.
  • Can no longer be purchased in Canada.
  • Incandescent signs usually have two bulbs, and consumes approximately 30 to 50 watts of power.
  • Incandescent signs were the most common type of exit sign in the past.

Code Requirements

The National Building Code of Canada requires that: “Lettering on exit signs shall be:
(a) Red letters on a contrasting background or white letters on a red background, at least 114 mm high with 19 mm stroke spelling EXIT or SORTIE when the sign is internally illuminated, and
(b) White letters on a red background or red letters on a white background at least 150 mm in height with 19mm stroke spelling EXIT or SORTIE when the sign is externally illuminated.

The lighting for exit signs shall:
(a) Be supplied by an electrical circuit that
(i) Is separate from the other circuits, or
(ii) Serves other emergency equipment, and

(b) Be connected to an emergency power supply…”

Note: Check local codes for requirements in your area.


  • LED signs consume less electricity and provide more uniform illumination.
  • The energy efficiency of Exit Signs are now regulated in Canada and LED technology is the only one able to meet these performance levels.
  • Compact fluorescents can be retrofitted into most incandescent fixtures to reduce energy and maintenance costs.