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What color exit sign is required for NFPA?

The color of exit signs required by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in the United States depends on the specific code being followed. The NFPA provides standards and codes for fire safety that are widely adopted across the country. Two key NFPA codes that address exit sign color requirements are NFPA 101: Life Safety Code and NFPA 70: National Electrical Code.

NFPA 101 Exit Sign Requirements

NFPA 101: Life Safety Code is a comprehensive standard that covers various aspects of fire protection systems, building services, operating features, and construction materials. Chapter 7 of NFPA 101 addresses the requirements for means of egress, including exit signs.

According to Section of the 2021 edition of NFPA 101, new exit signs installed must have lettering at least 6 inches high with the principal strokes of letters at least 3/4 inch wide. The arrow indicating the direction of egress must be at least the same size as the letters used for the word “EXIT”.

In terms of color, Section states that every exit sign must have the word “EXIT” in letters of distinctive color with a background of contrasting color. The colors red, orange, or green must be used for the letters. Additionally, the background color must provide sufficient contrast with the letter color and render the sign clearly visible. White or light letters on a black, dark red, dark green, or blue background are some typical color schemes that meet these requirements.

NFPA 70 Exit Sign Requirements

NFPA 70, also known as the National Electrical Code (NEC), contains the requirements for safe electrical installations. Article 700.7 of the NEC provides the standards for installing illuminated exit signs.

According to NEC 700.7, new exit signs must use green lettering on a contrasting background. The exit sign must also be illuminated to values of at least 5 foot-candles. These requirements apply to all new installed exit signs.

The NEC allows existing red lettered exit signs to remain in use. However, if an existing exit sign is removed or relocated, it must be replaced with a green exit sign to comply with the current NEC standards.

Comparison of NFPA 101 and NFPA 70 Requirements

When comparing the exit sign requirements in NFPA 101 and NFPA 70, there are some key differences:

  • NFPA 101 allows red, orange, or green letters, while NFPA 70 specifically requires green letters.
  • NFPA 101 does not specify illumination levels, while NFPA 70 requires at least 5 foot-candles of illumination.
  • NFPA 70 does not allow existing red exit signs to be relocated and reused, while NFPA 101 has no such restriction.

In cases where the two codes conflict, the more stringent requirement would take precedence. So for new exit sign installations, green letters would be required to comply with both NFPA 101 and NFPA 70.

When Exit Sign Requirements Apply

The exit sign requirements in NFPA 101 and NFPA 70 apply to new installations in the following locations:

  • New buildings under construction
  • Existing buildings undergoing renovation, alteration, or reconstruction
  • Existing buildings where exit signs are being newly installed, relocated, or replaced

In existing buildings with no changes taking place, exit signs installed under previous codes may remain unchanged. However, building owners are encouraged to upgrade non-compliant exit signs as part of fire safety best practices.

Exit Sign Specifics

In addition to the color and illumination requirements, there are some other important specifics pertaining to exit signs under NFPA codes:

  • Placement – Exit signs must be located and visible along the exit access and exit discharge paths.
  • Directional Arrows – Arrows must point in the direction of egress from that specific location.
  • Power Source – Exit signs must be illuminated at all times. They must be connected to an emergency power system that can run for at least 90 minutes in the event of primary power loss.
  • Inspection & Maintenance – Exit signs must be visually inspected for damage, illumination, and function periodically according to an inspection schedule.


To summarize, for new exit sign installations the NFPA requires green lettering on a contrasting background. Red letters may only be used if reusing an existing exit sign in an unchanged location. Proper placement, arrows indicating direction, emergency backup power, and routine inspection are also required. By following NFPA codes, businesses can ensure their exit signs will efficiently guide occupants along the path of egress in a fire or other emergency.

Here is an example comparison table summarizing the key differences in exit sign requirements between NFPA 101 and NFPA 70:

Requirement NFPA 101 NFPA 70
Letter Color Red, orange, or green Green only
Background Color Contrasting color to letters Contrasting color to letters
Illumination Not specified Minimum 5 foot-candles
Existing Red Signs May remain or be relocated Cannot be relocated

Adhering to the exit sign requirements in NFPA 101 and NFPA 70 ensures that exit signs will be optimally visible and help guide occupants to safety in an emergency. The codes aim to maximize life safety through proper exit sign color, visibility, placement, and durability. By understanding the specifics in each code, businesses can be sure their exit signs comply with all necessary standards.