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Maintained vs Non-Maintained Emergency Lighting

Emergency lighting is essential for any commercial building in the UK. It provides sufficient illumination if the primary lighting circuits fail to allow everyone to evacuate the building safely.


Various UK legislation applies to emergency lighting, with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 being one of the cornerstones. With practically no exceptions, emergency lighting is a must-have, but there are different types available.


In today’s guide, we’ll discuss the difference between maintained and non-maintained emergency lighting.

What is the difference between maintained and non-maintained emergency lights?

Maintained and non-maintained emergency lighting accomplish the same goal of providing sufficient emergency lighting throughout your commercial premises. However, they take different approaches.


Maintained emergency lighting operates continuously. It functions as part of your conventional lighting setup, providing constant illumination. It’s a dual-purpose solution because it is both standard and emergency lighting. An example of a maintained emergency lighting system could be an illuminated exit sign.


On the other hand, non-maintained emergency lights are dormant. They remain switched off until the primary lighting system goes down. Although other differences exist, this is the primary differentiator between the two lighting systems.

Power usage of maintained and non-maintained emergency lighting

Naturally, there’s also a difference between how much power these two emergency lighting systems require.


Maintained emergency lighting’s dual functionality means these systems are typically installed in high-traffic areas. They consume more energy because they’re never switched off.


In contrast, non-maintained lighting offers the benefit of more efficient energy consumption because they remain inactive most of the time. You’ll only see non-maintained lighting working if there’s a power cut or other emergency situation.

Businesses worried about increased energy costs may favour non-maintained emergency lighting. However, they are best suited to areas of low occupancy or places where specialised, non-standard activities are carried out.

Can you save power by switching to non-maintained emergency lighting?

Energy usage is becoming a massive consideration for UK’s businesses. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey, 81% of businesses are expected to raise prices in the next two years due to energy costs.

Considering the differences between maintained vs. non-maintained emergency lighting, can you switch to the latter to reduce energy costs?


Yes, but even non-maintained lights consume energy. They require a constant trickle charge to keep their backup batteries charged. But your choice of emergency lighting can’t be made on financial grounds at all. Ultimately, these systems are about keeping people safe.


The rule of thumb is that non-maintained lighting is acceptable when the occupants of a building are familiar with their surroundings. For example, offices would likely fall into this category. However, public areas, such as shopping centres, usually have maintained emergency lighting as standard.

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Advantages and disadvantages of maintained emergency lighting

Maintained emergency lighting is always on, making it useful where lighting levels need to be high. Plus, the dual-purpose nature of these lighting systems makes them a popular choice for various locations, including cinemas and public buildings.

Let’s discuss the pros and cons of maintained emergency lighting:

Pros of maintained emergency lighting


  • Continuous Illumination – These lights provide constant illumination, enabling them to function as regular and emergency lighting. This simplifies your lighting infrastructure because you don’t need separate fixtures.
  • Compliance – According to BS 5266-1, some settings require maintained emergency lighting. This is because maintained lighting provides immediate visibility in emergencies, preventing panic.
  • Reliability - Checking that these lights work correctly is easy because they’re always on. Any faults are visible immediately, allowing you to rectify any issues.


Cons of maintained emergency lighting


  • Higher Energy Consumption – Maintained lights are always on, meaning they consume more energy. This will always mean spending more. Plus, extra energy use contributes to a bigger carbon footprint.
  • More Wear and Tear – Constant use increases the likelihood of wear and tear, including broken bulbs and fixtures. It also means a lower lifespan than non-maintained lighting.
  • Installation Costs – Maintained emergency lighting needs fixtures designed for continuous operation. This could extend to more wiring, bigger battery storage facilities and control systems, driving up costs.


Advantages and disadvantages of non-maintained emergency lighting

Non-maintained emergency lighting offers some advantages because it is not continuously operated and is the perfect solution for certain low-traffic areas.


Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons of non-maintained emergency lighting.


Pros of non-maintained emergency lighting


  • Better Energy Efficiency - Non-maintained lights should ideally never need to be used. This means the only energy they consume is the trickle charge from the mains to keep their batteries fully charged. If you’re worried about costs and environmental impact, non-maintained is an excellent choice.
  • Longer Lifespan – Non-maintained lights aren’t used regularly, meaning they’ll often outlast their maintained counterparts. This also has the knock-on effect of not requiring regular replacements of bulbs, batteries and fixtures.
  • Simplified Lighting Systems - Installation is often less expensive and complex because these lights aren’t integrated into conventional lighting systems. This can simplify your electrical setup and cut installation costs.


Cons of non-maintained emergency lighting


  • No Continuous Lighting – Unlike maintained lighting, non-maintained lighting serves a singular purpose. In environments where constant lighting is necessary, you’ll need two separate lighting systems to provide sufficient illumination.
  • Potential Delays - These lights may take a few seconds to activate in an emergency, which can cause considerable risk in areas where immediate lighting is required.
  • Battery Dependence - The performance of non-maintained emergency lighting depends entirely on current battery health. Since they aren’t switched on under normal circumstances, they require regular maintenance and testing to detect faults. This means additional costs to carry out a compliant testing regime.

Which type of emergency lighting does your business need?

Knowing the differences between emergency and non-maintained emergency lighting is necessary, but it’s rarely a choice between one or the other. Most businesses use both types of emergency lighting.

For example, a cinema might use maintained emergency lighting in the lobby, whereas they’ll use non-maintained lighting in the actual cinema rooms themselves.

The best way to handle the problem is to consult a professional. At Wells Electrical Contractors, we specialise in supporting the UK’s businesses installing, maintaining and testing their emergency lighting systems. As a NICEIC-approved contractor, our qualified electrical engineers are the partners you need to ensure full compliance with UK legislation.

To learn more about how we can help you with your emergency lighting needs, contact the team now.

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With a combined 65 years’ experience working nationwide, Wells Electrical Contractors are experts in electrical installation, maintenance and energy saving from conception to hand over in each project. Our engineers deliver the best electrical solutions to businesses in the UK and Ireland.

We understand that no two customers’ electrical needs are the same, and when it comes to making important decisions on upgrades, emergency repairs or installations, the more information you have the better. That’s why we offer a comprehensive range of solutions, as well as the knowledge to help customers make the right decisions.

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