Exit Lights

A change as simple as replacing the incandescent lamps in exit lights with fluorescents can lower your energy costs. New, easy-to-install, inexpensive retrofits make it simple to convert exit lights from incandescents to fluorescent, low wattage incandescents, or LED lights.

Fluorescent Lamps

Exit fixture conversion kits are readily available that will allow you to replace the incandescent lamps with fluorescent twin-tube lamps that use approximately 11 Watts each (9-Watt lamp and 2-watt ballast). Some kits contain two fluorescent lamps that allow the second lamp to energize when the first lamp burns out in order to reduce lamp replacement labor costs. These systems are incompatible with fixtures that are required to flash in case of an emergency.

Low-Wattage Incandescent Ropes

Another conversion that is common is to install "light ropes." A light rope is a flexible tube that contains several low wattage incandescent lamps. Light ropes consume approximately 8 Watts. The tube screws directly into the existing lamp socket in most cases, making the conversion very easy.

LED Exit Signs

Light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures are available that will allow you to replace your existing exit fixture with one that uses less energy. Single-faced LED fixtures that use approximately 7-Watts can be used where only one side of the fixture needs to be seen and double-sided fixtures that use only 8-Watts can be used where both sides of the exit fixture must be seen. LED fixtures can be purchased with or without a battery backup and will last over 50 years while significantly reducing maintenance costs.

Maintenance & Considerations

Count the exit signs you're now lighting with expensive incandescents. Most fire codes require every exterior door to have an exit light operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you use standard exit fixture incandescents you may be replacing each bulb approximately 1 1/2 times a year. The following table shows the expected maintenance schedule for the different types of exit fixture lamps. Add on labor costs for replacing incandescents, and your savings with other systems would be even greater.

Part to
be replaced
Part will be
replaced every
Incandescent Lamp only
9 months
Fluorescent Lamp
1.2 years
5 years
Light Rope Lamp only
3.5 years
LED Entire Fixture
50 years

Things to Remember

Retrofits are available for a wide range of exit light sizes and every exit light converted saves money year-round. Installation is fast and easy. Just remember the following:

  • Underwriters Laboratories has tested and approved some retrofit kits. Look for the UL-approved label as an indication of a safe kit.
  • Be sure new fluorescent lamps provide adequate light for exits. A 9-Watt fluorescent (11 Watts with ballast), equivalent to a 40-Watt incandescent, is sufficient for most needs.
  • If an exit light is the only light visible, some fire codes may require that it have two bulbs.
  • Cold weather conditions influence fluorescent lamps and ballasts, decreasing light output. Below 60°, special lamps and ballasts are required. LED exit lights work well under these conditions.

Lamp Type
Bulb Retail**
Energy Cost ($)*
Annual Cost ($)*
2-20-Watt T-6 1/2
.04 kW x 8760 x $0.10/kWh = $35.04
.011 kWh x 8760 x $0.10/kWh = $9.64
8.1-Watt Light Rope
.0081 kWh x 8760 x $0.10/kWh = $7.09
7-Watt LED
(1-face w/battery)
.007 kW x 8760 x $0.10/kWh = $6.13
$  8.13
8-Watt LED
(2-face w/battery)
.008 kW x 8760 x $0.10/kWh = $7.01

  * 8760 hours/year; $0.10 per kWh
** Cost of incandescent bulb assumes $3.00 per T-6 1/2 lamp (2 per fixture) with a 7,000 hour lamp life. Cost of fluorescent assumes $5.00 per twin-bulb lamp with a 10,000 hour lamp life and $10.00 per 45,000 hour life ballast. Cost of light rope assumes $30.00 per lamp with a 30,000 hour life. Cost of an LED with a battery backup is $130 for a 1-face, $170 for a 2-face fixture with a 450,000 hour life. Labor is excluded from this comparison.