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Whether it’s a power outage, a fire, or any kind of natural disaster, it’s critical that people in any kind of facility know how to evacuate to safety. Their path needs to be properly illuminated and they need to know how to get to the exits.

Public and private buildings around the world legally require an emergency lighting system in place. This includes government buildings, offices, schools, subways, theaters, retail stores, gymnasiums, and sports stadiums. Building fire codes and insurance standards require that public spaces in the United States have emergency lights and exit signs.

On a national level, emergency lighting standards are set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Individual states also have their own specific standards and codes.

Your typical emergency light comes supplied with a battery so that it will work when the main power has failed. They are typically used in tandem with exit signs to provide illumination to direct people to the exit of a building in the event of an emergency. Exit lights are normally located above doorways. Emergency lights are set up to deliver lighting during a power outage. They are usually mounted in corridors, hallways, stairways, and exit doors.

One important distinction between emergency lights that is not well understood is whether they are maintained or non-maintained. We’ll walk you through it with this handy guide below.

Maintained vs Non-Maintained Emergency Lights: Explained


  • Maintained emergency lights are always turned on, even when the normal power supply is working. They normally draw from the main power supply. If the power goes out, they will automatically switch to battery use.
  • They are best used in public areas where occupants might not know the evacuation routes.
  • They can be used for normal lighting and emergency lighting.


  • Non-maintained emergency lights are always turned off when the normal power supply is working. If the power goes out, they will automatically turn on and draw power from their battery.
  • They are best used in areas where occupants will typically know the evacuation routes, such as in an office building.
  • They are only used for emergency lighting, never for normal lighting.

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Maintained vs Non-Maintained Emergency Lights: What are the Advantages of Each One?

Maintained advantages over non-maintained:

  • They are more adaptable and have fewer components such as wiring and fittings.
  • Less maintenance and routine testing are required.
  • They are usually less expensive because they can be used for general lighting as well as emergency lighting. You don’t need to invest in two dedicated lines for a power outage.
  • Exit points and escape routes are always lit, even when there is no power failure.

Non-maintained advantages over maintained:

  • Non-maintained emergency lights use a lot less energy because they are not on all the time.
  • They can be installed independently from the main lighting system and dedicated to emergency lighting only.

Fluorescent vs LED emergency lights: Which one is better?

Another option that should be considered with emergency lights is the type of light source to use. This normally comes down to fluorescent versus LED. Fluorescent lights are the more traditional choice whereas LED lights are a relatively newer technology.
LED emergency lights are the best option over fluorescent because:

  • They use less energy.
  • They last longer.
  • They are more durable.
  • They can be turned on/off without limits.
  • They are easier to dim. The same LED chip can be used for normal and emergency lighting.
  • LEDs are not bound by the maintained vs non-maintained methods of emergency lighting.


We hope that this was a helpful guide to understanding this important distinction regarding emergency lights. The type of system that you need will be dependent on many things. This includes building layout, types of occupants, and state or local building codes. Either way, emergency lights provide a vital function in any facility.

About the Author

Cory Peterson is Director of Sales & Marketing at LED Lighting Supply where he focuses on improving customer experience and revenue operations. Cory writes about commercial & industrial lighting, along with topics important to contractors and facility managers. In his free time, Cory enjoys traveling, snorkeling, exercise and cooking.

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