Neon signs have been a popular choice for businesses around the world, ever since George Claude demonstrated neon lighting at the 1910 Paris Motor Show. Between the 1920’s and 1960’s neon signage took off in the US, with iconic installations in Times Square, and of course Las Vegas.
The brilliant glow of neon signs made them perfect for businesses, who wanted an eye catching presence, even at night. They lasted a long time too, with some tubes working for years, even decades. The oldest operating neon sign is said to be located at the Lake Worth Playhouse in Florida. It was installed in 1929.
However, over the years, signage experts have come to realise there are dangers to operating neon business signs. Today, we’re talking about how to use neon signs as safely as possible.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Neon signs run at 15,000 volts
Neon signs run at a high voltage, which means it’s vital you handle your neon business signs with extreme care. Neon signs also operate at extremely hot temperatures, which means they can be a major fire hazard.
- Never allow your neon sign near water.
- If less than 3 metres off the ground, ensure it is protected and covered.
- Never operate a neon sign close to flammable items.
- Always have your neon sign routinely checked by an expert.
Routine maintenance is vital for any business that operates a neon sign, since faults can result in fire, or even electrocution. We recommend having a signage expert check your sign every 12 months at least, to ensure your neon remains safe.
2. Never repair a neon business sign yourself
Neon signs are made of long gas-discharge tubes, which contains inert gas (usually neon, argon, xenon or krypton). Electrodes are connected to the tubes, which are fixed to a robust backboard with electrical wiring.
When the circuit is electrified, the atoms in the gas become excited, which causes them to produce energy. This energy is what makes neon lights glow. And, the different colours are caused by different combinations of gas atoms.
Most of the time, when a neon sign breaks, it is not dangerous. The gases within the tube are inert, which means they are not explosive and will remain stable, even outside their housing.
However, mercury is used in some neon lights to create the colour blue. If mercury is inhaled, or if it touches your skin, it can be very toxic. If you accidently damage a neon light with mercury inside it, you are putting yourself at risk.
The gases in a neon light are also odourless, which means you may not notice if there is a leak. If you’re in a space with poor ventilation, escaped mercury could cause dizziness, headaches or even suffocation.
We recommend having an expert check your neon business lights regularly, to make sure there are no undetected leaks, and to ensure you don’t endanger yourself, or the public, by accidently damaging the neon sign while handling it.
In most cases, neon signs are completely safe. However, they do require routine maintenance to limit risks and to ensure you and the public remain safe.
3. Are there alternatives to neon signs for my business?
Although neon signs are still being used by businesses around the world, many are choosing to replace them with LED signage. LEDs or Light Emitting Diodes use a semi-conductor device, which converts energy into light.
LEDs exist in a polymer tube, which makes them safer and easier to use. LED lights are also thinner and more flexible than neon lights, which means they can be used for more detailed work.
They are also better for the environment than neon lights, as they require far less power to operate. Plus, LED lights have a similar aesthetic to neon lights, so if you like the look of your neon, but want a safer and more affordable alternative, you may prefer LED.
If you’d like to talk about switching your neon business signs to LED, we are happy to discuss the cost and scope of your project. We can also provide you with information on maintenance for your neon business signs.