Specializing in Commercial, Industrial, and Multi‑Residential Projects

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Do I need to Upgrade My Exit Signs?

Red exit signs are still in use in older buildings in Vancouver and Calgary and will be around for a long time.

Many condo boards and commercial buildings owners in Alberta & BC ask if they need to upgrade their existing red exit signs to the new green running man exit signs to meet the latest provincial building code. The simple answer is NO; however, there are conditions.

Red exit signs installed prior to 2012 in BC and 2015 in Alberta are still compliant to the older building codes that were in forced at that time. The new building codes are NOT retroactive and building owners do not have to upgrade all their red exit signs to the latest building code under most conditions. Even minor renovations do not require these venerable red signs to be updated.

For instance, if a red exit sign no longer operates, building owners can do a like-for-like replacement with a new red exit sign to retain continuity in signage in the overall area.

When do I need to Upgrade My Exit Signs?

The green running man exit sign is required on all new buildings and when the following conditions apply to existing buildings:

Occupancy change - When the occupancy classification of an area changes, for instance, in a commercial building, a former retail store may become a new restaurant, then the green running man sign needs to be used in this new area.

Occupancy Addition – When a construction addition takes place and it is:

  • of the same occupancy classification and
  • is larger than the original space,

the new exit signs shall be the green running man (Building Code 3.4.5.1) and the existing red exit signs in the older area should be upgraded in just this occupancy zone. This is to create continuity of the exit signs along the egress paths in this single occupancy area.

For example, when we designed the addition to the Central Kitchen & Pub restaurant at the Kelowna Indoor Soccer Dome, we avoided mixing red and green exit signs in the restaurant area (the area under construction) while leaving in place the red exit signs in the adjoining sports arena.

Entire Floor – Depending on the local municipality, multi-storey buildings may be required to upgrade all exit signs on the entire floor undergoing renovation. As electrical consultants, we check with the local Authority Having Juristiction for bylaws and consistent municipal policy.

The main goal of this life safety system is to maintain consistency and to reduce confusion during an evacuation. Getting people out of the building as fast as possible can be achieved by reducing confusion during an emergency evaculation.

Why the change from Red Exit Signs to the Green Running Man Exit Sign?

The green exit sign depicts a human figure fleeing towards an open door. This new sign was created in Japan in 1979 and has become the international standards for exit signage. No language is displayed (i.e., in Canada, the older red signs would display the words EXIT or SORTIE).

In addition, the new sign uses the subconscious green color to indicate ‘GO’ while the colour red is universally known to 'STOP' or 'HALT'. No matter the location in the world or what the prevailing language may be, the green running man shows the escape route from a building without using words.

Yes, it is true that wavelengths of red light are less disruptive to human’s night/dark vision but exit signage during a hazard is meant to give priority to safety and to highlight the path of egress.

Requirements for Exit Signs

The green running man exit sign is now mandatory in Alberta in BC for new buildings and renovations of old buildings.

Exit signs are not as simple as they unobtrusively appear. There are many requirements that need to be met including:

Building Code 3.4.5.1 – The code states where exit signs are required. Not only are they placed over or adjacent to the exit door, but additional signs indicate the direction to egress points in a service space (3.3.1.24).

As electrical consultants, we have only used an alternate compliance method for exit signs for heritage buildings. Since an exit sign that is always ON may have compromised the historic appearance and authenticity of the display, exit signs were installed to only light upon an emergency condition including fire alarm activation and a power failure.

Canadian Electrical Code – 46-400 – Exit signs can be either placed on:

CAN/CSA C680 - For exit signs that are always illuminated, each sign must consume at most 5 Watts to be lessen the direct impact of admissible energy consumption in buildings in Canada.

Exit signs have silently kept us safe for decades. And now that people are truly global citizens, the new green running man sign is a world-wide sign showing the safest path out of a building. But for the next few decades, we in Canada will still see the red EXIT and red SORTIE signs as there is little chance that authorities will mandate an upgrade to all red exit signs.

If you're considering a new building or renovation, give our electrical engineers a call to discuss.