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3 Tips to Keep Emergency Light Batteries Performing Optimally

November 15, 2015

Published by  Battery Plux

During an emergency that disrupts the power, emergency lights are designed to provide ample illumination to lead the occupants of your building to the exits safely. Emergency lights do this through a combination of low-power bulbs and special emergency light batteries that can provide at least 90 minutes of light during a power outage. Once power returns, a built-in charger recharges the batteries so that the emergency lights are ready for the next power outage.

Like the batteries in your car or your mobile phone, emergency light batteries will begin to lose performance as they age, and after approximately 5 to 10 years, they will typically need to be replaced.

To extend the service life of your emergency light batteries, and keep the occupants of your building safe, here are a few simple maintenance tips that can help keep your batteries performing well:

Perform an Annual Test

At least once a year, your emergency light batteries should be fully tested through their entire charge and discharge cycle. Not only is this a good idea to extend the life of your batteries, it is also required in many jurisdictions by local fire or building codes.

Before performing the test, there are some precautions you should take:

  • Do not test all the emergency lights in the building at the same time, just in case there is an actual power outage during the testing period.
  • Select several days for testing and divide your total number of emergency lights between those days.
  • To be on the safe side, choose days with good weather for testing, and test only during daylight hours, so that there is ambient light inside the building in case there is an actual emergency during testing.

Once you have made all the preparations and have an adequate plane for testing your emergency light batteries, you can proceed to the actual test. For each set of lights, do the following:

  • Turn the function switch to the “Test” setting for each light, if it has one, or disconnect power by shutting off the breaker for the circuit or unplugging the light. The emergency lights should turn on.
  • Time the duration that the lights remain lit. If any of the fixtures do not remain lit for the full 90 minutes, the emergency light batteries for those fixtures should be inspected, and replaced, if necessary.
  • Once the lights shut off, switch the fixture back to the “Automatic” mode, plug it in, or turn the power back on.

Allow the emergency light to charge fully before using it again. Once it has been charged for several days, test the light monetarily to make sure it is working correctly.

Perform a Monthly Test

Between annual tests, a monthly test should also be performed to make sure the emergency light batteries are retaining a sufficient charge. Once a month, perform the following steps:

  • Switch the fixture to “Test” mode, hold the “Test” button or disconnect the power for thirty seconds.
  • Make sure the lights are sufficiently bright, and adjusted correctly to provide optimal illumination where it is necessary.
  • Return the fixture to “Automatic” mode or restore power, and make sure the batteries charge correctly.

If you notice any problems during the monthly test have the malfunctioning fixture inspected, and replace its emergency light battery, if necessary.

#3 Caring for Different Types of Batteries

In most emergency light fixtures, there are either sealed lead acid or nickel cadmium batteries. Different battery chemistries require different maintenance techniques to extend the life of the battery and prevent premature failure.

Sealed lead acid batteries, or SLAs, are similar to the batteries in cars or trucks, except that they are smaller and they are sealed to prevent the sulfuric acid electrolyte from leaking. Plus, the electrolyte is fully absorbed into a porous membrane, unlike car batteries, where it is in a liquid state. This further helps to prevent spills.

To keep SLA batteries performing optimally they must be discharged to no lower than 50 percent of a full charge at least once a month, and then they must be fully recharged. This can be done during the monthly testing of the emergency lights. The lights should be turned on for at least 90 minutes, but not long enough to cause serious dimming of the bulbs. Then they should be fully recharged afterwards. During normal emergency operation, the lights should be turned off before the battery fully discharges, if possible. Under optimal conditions, sealed lead acid batteries can last 10 to 15 years in an emergency light system.

Nickel cadmium batteries, or NiCads offer slightly faster charging than lead acid batteries, reduced weight, and a slightly safer electrolyte, though like the SLA batteries, they are also sealed.

To keep NiCad batteries performing at their best, they should go through a complete discharge and recharge cycle at least once a month. Unlike lead-acid batteries, NiCad batteries should be fully discharged each month, until the light shuts off, then fully recharged.

NiCad batteries suffer from what is known as the “memory effect” and if they are repeatedly discharged to a partial level, they will soon only charge back to that level and not the full capacity of the battery. Fully discharging and recharging monthly the battery prevents this, and removes crystallization in the cells that could shorten battery life. When treated correctly, NiCad batteries should last 5 to 10 years in an emergency light system.

Some emergency lights may use other types of batteries, such as gel-cell, nickel-metal hydride, or even lithium-ion batteries. In general, gel-cell batteries can be treated like SLAs, since they are similar, but take care to not overcharge them. Nickel-metal hydride batteries perform similar to NiCads, but do not suffer from a pronounced “memory” effect. Lithium-ion batteries have no charge memory, they charge extremely quickly, and they are lighter than the alternatives. Be sure to read the owner's manual for your emergency light to learn the maintenance requirements for the specific battery it contains.

With proper care and maintenance of your emergency light fixtures, you can expect years of trouble-free performance from your emergency light batteries.


















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