light not weather protected (C) Daniel FriedmanStair & Exit Lighting Code FAQs
Questions & answers about code required lighting at stairs, passages & exits

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Stair lighting requirement FAQs, Codes, Standards:

Questions & answers about the requirements, codes & standards for lighting over stairs, in stairways, and along building exits.

This article series provides building code specifications for lighting over stairs, in stairwells, and on landings. The location, switching, and illumination level for stairways are discussed and citations to pertinent codes and standards are included.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Stairway & Lighting & Light Switch Placement Requirement Code FAQs

Stairway Lighting requirements (C) Carson Dunlop AssociatesQuestion: the vast majority of lakefront homes I have visited are non-compliant

Sept 13, 2012) Curious About Stair Lighting said: The article LIGHTING OVER STAIRS & AT EXITS refers to both interior and exterior stairs ("We provide photographs, sketches, and examples of defects used in inspecting indoor or outdoor stairs, railings, landings, treads, and related conditions for safety and proper construction." )

It goes on to state: "Stairway Lighting is Required, with light switches at top and bottom of the stairway if the stairs encompass more than three stair treads (Canada) or six stair treads (U.S.)."

First of all, should we read the "more than" to apply also to: "six stair treads (U.S.)"? That is to say, does the US requirement apply specifically to stairways of seven or more treads, or six or more treads?

Secondly, taken together, the quoted sections above entail that all exterior stairs (of over the relevant number of treads) require electric lighting switched at the bottom and top of the stairs. Is this correct, or does the necessity for lighting only apply to interior stairs?

I'm thinking in particular of stairs leading down a cliff or embankment to a beach at a lakefront home. In my experience lighting of such stairs is very unusual.

Perhaps that just means that the vast majority of lakefront homes I have visited are non-compliant. I ask only for clarification to the best of your knowledge, aware that local officials may have their say.

Illustration above provided courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates, a Toronto home inspection & education company.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Reply: building-access stairways vs. others


Thanks for the question.

The text "more than" was written to mean "more than" (three) or (six) though I find that local officials, who have the final say, vary in their enforcement of those rules.

I am not sure but it sounds as if you are describing lighting on steps that are a landscape feature, not a direct building access stairway.

That may be why local code officials are not requiring lighting on stairs marching down a cliff face. In my OPINION, if it were my property and I expected people to use those stairs in the dark I'd install lighting, railings, &c. not because the law required but for safety of my visitors.

Question: poor stair lighting, fall, injury report argues for passive lighting triggers

(Jan 22, 2013) roy harris said:

On a first floor apartment the light switch is ten feet from a front door. Four feet from the door are two steps down to a landing area which have to be negotiated before reaching the light switch. There is an emergency light that is very dim about twelve feet away on the ceiling and does not light up the two steps.

Late at night 11pm in this instance someone who was leaving the apartment was not aware of the steps and reaching to find the light switch on the left that was set back the other side of brickwork jutting out by four inches fell and had fracture to the pelvis. Surely in this situation lighting triggered by passives on the wall would be the best idea. I would appreciate some advice on this

Reply: Stairway lighting requirements in footcandles

There are lighting requirement specifications for stairways that explicitly state the footcandle or brightness required and where that brightness should be measured. In public stairways an always-on lighting requirement is stated for many jurisdictions; some of these permit automatic dimming when the stairway is not occupied and accept occupancy-detection or motion detection as an allowable switch to return the stairway to required brightness.

Typical footcandle requirements for stairway and corridor lighting ranges from 5 to 30 horizontal in public areas;

The U.S. NFPA and IBC foot candle specifications are in the article above: basically for new stairs the NFPA requirement is 10 footcandles (lux) and IFC/IBC 1 footcandle. Other walking surfaces require different lighting.

Some sources give a separate night time (unoccupied or dimmed) night time lighting level of 1 horizontal and 0.5 vertical measured footcandles for hotels and

A footcandle lighting requirement for hospital stairways of 10 horizontal, 3 vertical


(May 10, 2014) lights out said:

I have lights at top and bottom of stairs to basement, legal correct ? What if these light are on a timer that shut off ? Is that legal for the light to turn off on the stairs ?


Legal correct is a question for your local building inspector.

Indeed one wants a control at stair top and stair bottom. If a light turns off automatically but can be turned back on by stair users at stair top or bottom, AND if the light won't turn off while someone is in mid flight up or down the stairs you should be ok. I like motion sensors that turn on the light in advance.

However you don't say where the stairs are, what sort of occupancy is involved. Some public walkways may require full time lighting.

Question: are motion detected lighting controls accepted in a hotel stairway?

(Mar 14, 2015) dan said:

in a hotel 4 stories has indoor stair cases going to each floor can the lights in those staircases be motion detected instead of switched?


Fair question, Dan.

Indeed a switch is normally required at stair top and bottom.

The NEC specifies that at least one *switch-controlled* lighting fixture shall be installed. Here's what I think is the relevant citation and it's one used by others addressing this question:

210.70 Lighting Outlets Required.
Lighting outlets shall be installed where specified in 210.70(A), (B), and (C).

(A) Dwelling Units. In dwelling units, lighting outlets shall be installed in accordance with 210.70(A)(1), (A)(2), and (A)(3).

(1) Habitable Rooms. At least one wall switch–controlled lighting outlet shall be installed in every habitable room and bathroom.

(2) Additional Locations. Additional lighting outlets shall be installed in accordance with (A)(2)(a), (A)(2)(b), and (A)(2)(c).

(a) At least one wall switch–controlled lighting outlet shall be installed in hallways, stairways, attached garages, and detached garages with electric power.

(b) For dwelling units, attached garages, and detached garages with electric power, at least one wall switch–controlled lighting outlet shall be installed to provide illumination on the exterior side of outdoor entrances or exits with grade level access. A vehicle door in a garage shall not be considered as an outdoor entrance or exit.

(c) Where one or more lighting outlet(s) are installed for interior stairways, there shall be a wall switch at each floor level, and landing level that includes an entryway, to control the lighting outlet(s) where the stairway between floor levels has six risers or more.

Watch out: where "always-on" lighting is required for emergency exits and stairwells - e.g. in public buildings - the fire marshal *might* accept either an automatic switch - by occupancy sensor - or a system that dims lights when the stairwell is unoccupied, for example by turning off some of them but leaving enough on that the area is still lit.

Keep in mind too that emergency lighting must come on within 10 seconds when there is a power failure.

1006.1 Illumination required. The means of egress, including the exit discharge, shall be illuminated at all times the building space served by the means of egress is occupied.


1. Occupancies in Group U.2. Aisle accessways in Group A.3. Dwelling units and sleeping units in Groups R-1, R-2 and R-3.4. Sleeping units of Group I occupancies.

(May 15, 2015) NHFireBear said:

Regarding Dan's March 14, 2015 question on hotel lighting: NFPA 101 Life Safety Code® (2009) does allow use of "motion sensors" for illumination of required means of egress, provided they are designed to "fail safe", i.e., turn the lights on if the sensor control "fails". Most hardware-store motion sensor lights would probably leave the lights off when the sensors fail, which is clearly unacceptable.

The 2015 version of NFPA 101 section contains several new requirements for motion-controlled egress lighting. New materials clarify that such a unit must be listed and labeled for use as fail-safe lighting in an egress, not to mention activate the lights with the fire alarm (if there is one) and "when normal power fails" (somewhat like "emergency lighting"), among other things.

Life Safety Code chapters 28 and 29 (New and Existing Hotels) require egress lighting in accordance with 7.8, including 7.8.1. Not all state or local codes adopt NFPA 101 and may have similar or more stringent requirements of their own, especially in multi-storey buildings.

Also see STAIR ILLUMINATION LEVEL DIMMERS discussed at the home page for this topic.


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