How to Wire a Set of Emergency Lights

Updated February 21, 2017

Emergency lights are designed to come on in case of a power failure. This is made possible by a 12-volt battery integrated into the unit. To wire emergency lighting, you will need to run a dedicated circuit that supplies power directly from the breaker box to the unit to ensure that it will not be interrupted by a switch, or overloaded circuit. Once power has been established, you must press the test button periodically to ensure that the battery is charging and that the bulbs are functional.

Locate the spot for your lights. It may be dictated by your local fire marshal. If so, install them where she has indicated. Install a junction box on the ceiling in the spot the lights are needed. Use a stud finder to locate a ceiling joist. Depress the buttons on either side and run the device over the surface, marking spots where the device lights up and beeps. Drive two 3-inch treated deck screws up through the holes in the bottom of the junction box into the joist above to anchor it.

Measure the distance from the breaker box along the selected path to the junction box. Cut a piece of metal shielded cable to install along this path. Locate joists with the stud finder, or run the cable at the top corner along the walls to ensure framing. Drive 1 5/8-inch treated deck screws through the holes in the tabs of metal cable clips to anchor them to the wall. Fit the cable into the clamp before tightening the screw. Use one clamp every 48 inches.

Strip the wires at both ends of the cable with wire stripping pliers. Fit the wire into the pliers, close them firmly to cut the insulation and pull toward the end of the wire to remove it. Use a screwdriver and hammer to knock out a side punch on the junction box. Feed the cable into it. Match the wires up to the leads from the emergency light, black to black, white to white and green to green. Use a wire nut to attach each pair of wires. Twist the nuts clockwise to tighten. Tuck the wires into the junction box.

Fit the emergency light fixture onto the face of the junction box, and attach it with the two long mounting screws supplied with the light fixture. Tighten the screws with a screwdriver to secure the light fixture firmly against the bottom of the junction box.

Turn off the main power supply, typically located in a rectangular box near the breaker box. Pull the large switch on the side down to the "Off" position. Test several lights to ensure there is no current. Remove the screws from the cover of the breaker box. Feed the cable from the emergency light down into the box.

Attach the green ground wire to the ground block. This is a rectangular block of rows of round holes, each with a screw nearby. Fit the wire into any empty hole, and the tighten the screw to attach it. Select a 15-amp breaker, and loosen the front and back screws on the switch. Wrap the end of the black wire around the screw at the front, or centre end, of the switch. Tighten the screw to hold it in place. Wrap the white wire around the screw at the rear, or outside end, of the breaker and tighten it.

Fit the breaker into an open bay. Snap the front clip onto the vertical rod running up the centre of the box, press the rear down firmly to snap it onto the similar connector toward the outside of the box. Replace the cover on the breaker box, and install the mounting screws. Restore the main power, and turn the breaker on. Allow 24 hours for the battery to charge, then flip the breaker to the "Off" position to test the light.

Things You'll Need

  • Junction box
  • Stud finder
  • Drill
  • 1 5/8-inch treated deck screws
  • Tape measure
  • Metal shielded cable
  • Cable clamps
  • Wire stripping pliers
  • Screwdriver
  • Hammer
  • Wire nuts
  • Emergency light fixture
  • Circuit breaker
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About the Author

Mark Morris started writing professionally in 1995. He has published a novel and stage plays with SEEDS studio. Morris specializes in many topics and has 15 years of professional carpentry experience. He is a voice, acting and film teacher. He also teaches stage craft and lectures on playwriting for Oklahoma Christian University.