Choosing Photoluminescent Exit Signs – Power Problem Solved

Traditionally, if you wanted to post exit signs that were illuminated, you’d have to consider wiring availability. If not that, at the very least, where the closest power source may be and how much it may cost to have it wired up. 

Choosing photoluminescent exit signs has changed the game in this regard. No longer do business owners or those in charge of public buildings need to rely on a powered system for an illuminated exit sign.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the benefits of self-illuminated exit signs, what they are, how they work, why you should consider them, and the different styles that are out there to choose from. 

Photoluminescent Exit Signs- What are They?

Photoluminescent exit signs are a fancy name for what are simply glow-in-the-dark exit signs. In short, they absorb energy provided by light fed to them throughout the day (or otherwise during business hours). 

Over time, this captured light energy is released via a steady glow after lights are dimmed. Once the signs are fully charged, they can last anywhere between 15-95 hours (depending on the quality of the sign). 

Are Photoluminescent Exit Signs Up to Code?

In general, yes, photoluminescent signs are code compliant. That’s the easy answer.

However, several codes come into play each with its criteria concerning exit signs and egress markers. IBC, OSHA, NFPA, and other code enforcement or standard-setting organizations have set criteria that will need to be researched by decision-makers. 

State and local codes may differ as well, which is worth a phone call or two just to be safe. 

Mostly, the concerns by these organizations have to do with placement, and availability to their nearest light source so that they’re getting maximum charge for maximum functionality. Realistically, it’s nothing grievous, just standards to ensure that when the time comes for them to work- they work reliably.

So, to sum it up, yes, these glow-in-the-dark exit signs are code-worthy, but criteria will have to be met. 

Are Self Illuminating Exit Signs Cheaper than Bulb Lit Signs?

There are two answers to this question and we’ll talk about both of them. The first is concerning the purchase of the actual sign unit, and the second concerns long-term costs.

Buying an Exit Sign- Bulb Lit and Photoluminescent

This isn’t so easy to answer since we’re not comparing apples to apples. There’s a smorgasbord of exit signs out there to choose from, each varying in price and each maintaining different levels of quality.

You’ve got the incandescent lit varieties, edge-lit, or LED lit varieties.  Basement costs for simple systems start at around $30.00 but can grow to around $300.00 for high-quality, better-built, and longer-lasting signs. 

When it comes to self-illuminating signs, you can buy a peel-and-stick variety that would only cost you under $10.00. Or, you can spend over $900.00 for a world-class tritium sign. Of course, several different signs fall in between these prices. 

As I said, we’re not comparing apples to apples between these different sign types. Ultimately, the price you pay per unit will hinge on the look and the quality you’d have in mind for the business or structure. 

That being said, you can get a simple, cheap photoluminescent sign for much less than the cheapest bulb-lit unit. 

Long-Term Costs

This is much easier to figure out. If you’ve given it even an inkling of thought, you’ve probably foreseen where I’m going to go with this. 

First, let’s talk about the bulb-lit exit signs.


Bulbs cost money all by themselves, and should you have a bulb out on a sudden fire code inspection, fines might come your way. As anyone with lights understands, bulbs have an extremely limited life expectancy. 

Repeated bulb replacement may continue over and over again throughout the life cycle of the bulb-lit unit. Is it a huge expense? No, not if you’ve caught it before any type of code enforcement check. But over time, it’s still a recurring long-term expense.

Even LED-lit signs need to replace the LEDs from time to time. Remember, these powered signs are typically lit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even LED tech burns out over such use- admittedly much less than common bulbs, but it does happen eventually.


Bulbs need power, and power costs money. Though the amount of power they consume won’t break the bank under most circumstances, large buildings that require multiple exit signs can accrue to a noticeable difference in the electric bill.


If it needs power, there’s a good chance that you’ll have to hire an electrician to install the signs for a professional appearance. Like power usage, the more signs that require installation or connection to a power source, the more expensive it’s going to be.

Back to the photoluminescent exit signs…

With glow-in-the-dark exit signs, none of the above applies. There are no bulbs to replace, no electrician fees, and no addition to the electric bills. 

If there is an extra charge to think about, it would come in the way of either having to relocate a light to better charge the exit sign, or the addition of a new light fixture for the same purposes. 

If you’re a business, there’s a good chance that someone working in the building (maintenance) could competently install whatever self-illuminating exit sign you’ve chosen to go with. Because there are no extras involved such as electrical work, there’s no licensed professional necessary to appease code enforcement. 

So long as it’s where it needs to be, and as close to a light source as it needs to be according to the standards that apply. After installation, you’ve got a lot of years’ worth of little to no maintenance to worry about. Many units last for over 20 years!

Final Thoughts

Choosing photoluminescent exit signs over the other varieties should be a no-brainer if you’re looking for a more “set it and forget it” exit sign system. The glow-in-the-dark technology is reliable and has come a long way over the years. 

They’re either cheaper or at the most competitive in terms of pricing when compared to other exit sign types, and you don’t have to keep paying for them via the electric bill for the foreseeable future as you would powered signs. 

No doubt, a smarter choice for the short and long term.

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