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Emergency Lighting in Houses, Flats, and HMO’s. Where Do You Need Emergency Lighting?

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

Whether a house, HMO, or block of flats requires emergency lighting or not depends on the number of storeys, the complexity of the building layout, and the presence of any borrowed light such as street lighting.

In the frightening event of a fire occurring in a domestic property, residents, visitors, or other building users may be required to exit the building, sometimes out of daylight hours, to find their way out to a place of safety.

In the event of a loss of power, emergency lighting provides the necessary illumination to common, shared escape routes and fire equipment such as alarm call points.

Before we look closer at some of the emergency lighting recommendations for different types of accommodation let’s take a look at what emergency lighting is.

What is emergency lighting?

Emergency escape lighting is lighting that activates and provides illumination in the event of loss of power to the main system. It is used to provide adequate illumination of escape routes and fire equipment in buildings. All escape routes must be sufficiently lit with suitable visibility within corridors, stairways and lobbies, and any fire safety equipment.

Emergency lighting can also be described as either escape lighting or standby lighting, both of which have different functions. So it is important to differentiate between the two.

What is the difference between escape lighting and standby lighting?

Escape lighting specifically provides illumination of defined escape routes, open areas that could direct people to an escape route, and high-risk task lighting. While standby lighting is for general use in the event of a loss of power.

How does maintained and non-maintained emergency lighting work?

There are two types of emergency lighting, maintained and non maintained.

Maintained lighting remains on all the time. Non-maintained lighting only comes on when normal lighting fails in an emergency.

Emergency lighting should be maintained in situations where the people who use the building may be unfamiliar with its layout.

Emergency lights are powered by either a battery within the luminaire itself or by a central battery console or an emergency generator. The most common for a domestic installation is the individually powered luminaire.

A non-maintained light will remain off at all times and then illuminate in the event of a loss of power. Lighting can stay illuminated from 1 to up to 3 hours, in the event of power loss. Although most emergency lighting requirements are now 3 hours. See Table 2 below on how to tell what type of emergency light you have.

When power returns both a maintained and non-maintained light will deactivate and the batteries will recharge.

There are common instances where maintained lighting can be installed as a switchable lighting system. In this case, the light can be switched from being permanently lit into non-maintained lighting (off) mode by use of a wall switch, without affecting its ability to then light up in the event of an emergency.

These types of luminaire contain two lamps one for conventional use and one for use in the event of an emergency. They are commonly known as combined or switchable emergency lights.

Emergency lighting with inclusive rechargeable battery power used to be categorised by whether or not it is maintained or non maintained and by its number of hours of illumination.

How do you test emergency lighting?

Emergency lighting must be subject to regular testing. Tests take the form of daily, monthly, and annual checks. Tests are usually manual with the insertion of a fishtail key into a test switch. Some modern systems have self-testing functions which reduces the amount of physical testing.

Where do you need emergency lighting?

Emergency escape lighting is not required in individual flats themselves but must be provided to all common escape routes within purpose-built blocks of flats over two storeys in height. Smaller blocks under two storeys may still require emergency lighting if there is no adequate borrowed lighting (street lighting).

The lighting must provide good illumination of stairways, any changes in floor level, fire call points, and fire fighting equipment.

In many cases, for houses, HMO’s and converted blocks of flats, conventional lighting with suitable controls will suffice. There are however some instances, considered high risk, where emergency lighting may be a requirement. Domestic buildings with the following features may require the addition of escape lighting.

  • Long escape routes.

  • Complex layouts.

  • No natural or borrowed light illuminating the escape route.

  • Building which houses high risk or vulnerable occupants.

  • Number of storeys.

Where should emergency lighting be sited?

If it is deemed the building does require emergency lighting then the two metres rule should be in your mind when siting the luminaire.

Emergency lighting luminaire should be sited where possible two metres from the ground, or as close to it as the building design allows, but no lower than 2 metres.

The escape route must be uniformly lit. The emergency lighting luminaire should also be around 2 metres from any of the below features when measured horizontally.

  • Corridor intersections.

  • Above each final exit door.

  • Near each change of direction.

  • Within each stairway.

  • Near any change in floor level.

  • Outside any secondary escape exit if the street lighting is poor.

  • Near each alarm call point.

  • Near fire fighting equipment.


The requirement for emergency lighting depends on the type and features of the building. Once it is installed it is necessary to conduct the relevant inspections and checks to maintain efficacy.

If you are unsure about what the emergency lighting requirements are for your building consult a professional.

Thank you for reading.


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