Exit signs consuming billions of kilowatt hours each year

Discussions about conserving energy typically focus on everyday energy guzzlers like incandescent bulbs, air conditioners and washing machines.

But one device goes largely unnoticed despite hogging loads of electricity each year: Exit signs.

Across the United States, more than 100 million of the siren-red signals hang above doors in office buildings, movie theaters and other public facilities. They consume more than 30 billion kilowatt hours of power each year nationwide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

That’s more electricity than 3 million U.S. households. In other words, it takes all of the homes in Texas’ 10 largest cities, from Houston to Lubbock – with their A/C pumping, refrigerators running and electronics charging up — to match the power consumed by the little signs pointing you to the stairwell.

Still, exit signs have come a long way in their energy efficiency, as Alex Wilson details at BuildingGreen.comFederal rules now require each sign built since 2006 consume no more than 5 watts each.

But there are a lot of doors in the country, so those watts add up. The price tag to keep those letters lit up for 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

A cool $3 billion a year.