Paralynx Engineering Inc. | Electrical Engineering Consultants
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Upgrading Exit Signs

Building owners often 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 force at that time. The new building codes, however, are not retroactive; that means that building owners don't have to upgrade their red exit signs to the latest building code under most conditions. Even minor renovations don't require all the red signs to be updated.

Red EXIT and SORTIE signs may need to be upgraded

For instance, if one of the red exit signs stops working, building owners can do a like-for-like replacement with a new red exit sign.

When Upgraded Exit Signs Are Required

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, the green running man sign will need to be used in this new area. For instance, in a commercial building, if a former retail store becomes a new restaurant, the green exit signs are required.
  • 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 must be used in the new space. The existing red exit signs in the older area should also be upgraded in the occupancy zone, to create visual continuity of the exit signs along the egress paths in the old and new areas.

    For example, Paralynx Engineering designed an addition to a restaurant within a sports arena. 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: Some municipalities may require multi-story buildings to upgrade all exit signage on the entire floor undergoing renovation. As electrical consultants, we'll check with the local authority having jurisdiction for bylaws and consistent municipal policy.

Life safety systems should be consistent to reduce confusion during an evacuation.

Upgraded green exit sign

Exit Signage Requirements

Exit signs are not as simple as appear. They must meet many requirements, including:

  • Location: The code states where exit signs are required. Not only are they placed over or adjacent to the exit door, but additional signs must indicate the direction to egress points in a service space.

    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 or a power failure.

  • Circuit placement: Exit signs can be either placed on:
    • Their own separate circuit; or
    • On the same circuit as the emergency lighting system. Since emergency lighting systems for buildings need to be on the local lighting circuit.
  • Power consumption: 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.

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 standard 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 red is universally known as "STOP".

Exit signage is meant to highlight the path to safety. No matter what location in the world or what the local language may be, the green running man sign provides a symbol to show how to get out of the building.

In Canada, we're likely to continue to see the red EXIT and SORTIE signs for the foreseeable future, since there's currently no requirement to upgrade these signs.

Exit signs have helped to keep us safe for decades. And now that humans are truly global citizens, the new green running man sign is an internationally-recognized sign showing the safest way out of a building.

If you're considering a new building or renovation, contact Paralynx Engineering to discuss your project.

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