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Building Signage

Building signage is a crucial concern for the visibility and public perception of a business.

Building-mounted lettering is a popular form of building signage. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Building-mounted lettering is a popular form of building signage.

Building Signage

The right building signage is a more effective advertising tool than radio, television and print advertisements; word of mouth; or a listing in the yellow pages, according to the International Sign Association. The trade associations Web site lists statistics that suggest that new businesses can expect about 50 percent of their clientele to be drawn in by their signs and 33 percent by word-of-mouth referrals. For businesses located in high-traffic areas, building signage is significantly less expensive than other advertising techniques, when using the marketing standard of estimating cost per 1,000 exposures.

Types of Building Signage

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, building signage is categorized into three types: building-mounted signage, freestanding signage and interior signage. Building-mounted signage is any sign that is attached or applied to the buildings structure. This type of signage includes awnings, window signs, roof signs, wall signs, sign bands and marquees.

Freestanding signs include pylon, pole, high-rise pole and directional signs. Electronic messaging signs are also typically freestanding. Monuments, which are low signs that sit directly on the ground, are also a popular form of freestanding signage. Unlike building-mounted signage, freestanding signage is not limited to the company's premises. Directional signs are often located near highway exits, and joint-tenant signs can be placed in a parking lot shared by several businesses.

Interior signage is as important as exterior signage. Signs mounted within a building allow visitors to successfully navigate the premises. Interior signage must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which sets requirements for a signs placement, size of lettering, tactile lettering and use of Braille. For businesses in malls and shopping centers, interior signage has the same responsibility of drawing in customers as exterior signage. Directory signs, regulatory signs, directional signs and point-of-purchase signs are all examples of interior signage.

Building Signage Permits and Ordinances

Business owners should research what the local sign code allows before installing a sign, according to the New York State Small Business Development Center. Every municipality has its own ordinances regarding exterior building signage. Business owners can either contact their local code enforcement office or hire a sign manufacturer familiar with local codes to ensure compliance before selecting a sign.

If a code-compliant sign will be blocked by buildings, trees, traffic or other obstructions, the business owner can apply for a variance, which grants an exemption from the code. Furthermore, municipalities may consider it in the best interest of the community to grant a variance if the construction of a compliant sign would severely impact natural land features. Variances are also granted if the placement of a code-compliant sign does not give motorists enough time to safely react or if the sign impedes the visibility of motorists. A business owner has an argument for a variance if the size of nearby signs reduces the advertising impact of the business's code-compliant sign or if the size of the sign does not make architectural sense regarding the scale of the building.

Readability of Exterior Building Signage

Location, size, height, lettering and illumination all affect the readability of an exterior sign. Signs that are perpendicular to the roadway are easier for motorists to read than signs that are parallel to the roadway. According to the International Sign Association, parallel signs need to be at least 70 percent larger than perpendicular signs to be read at the same distance. Businesses located on roads with high-speed traffic also need larger signs than businesses on roads with low speed limits. Raising the height of the sign is another way to increase the distance from which it can be read.

The general rule for selecting the right size of lettering for building signage is one inch in height for every 25 feet of distance. Simple fonts are easier to read than a fancy script, so larger lettering is recommended for more complex fonts. Businesses with long or complicated words in their name should also consider larger lettering.

In order for signs to be effective in poor weather and at night, they must be illuminated. Local ordinances may limit how bright a sign can be and the methods used to illuminate a sign. Lighting a sign can be as simple as mounting lights near it. Other methods include internal illumination and incorporating exposed lights into the signs design.

Building Signage Construction and Installation

Many sign manufacturers specialize in specific types of construction. For example, sign companies may offer only hand-carved wooden signs or only billboard-sized illuminated signs. For the business that needs a variety of signage, several manufacturers may be needed. When selecting the materials for a sign, business owners should take into consideration the environmental elements the sign will need to tolerate, although most signs are fabricated to withstand extreme weather. Following Hurricane Katrina, new consideration was given to the wind loads signs can bear. As a result, the American Society of Civil Engineers has put in place new regulations requiring hardier signs. However, because of this, consumers can expect to pay higher sign construction costs than in previous decades.

Building-mounted signage or building marquees often require retrofitting the building. When hiring a sign installer, the business owner should look for installers who have successfully completed similar projects. Installers may handle tasks such as submitting permit applications and receiving utility clearance for excavating. If not, it is the business owner's responsibility to secure all necessary paperwork prior to the installation.

Building Signage Maintenance

When choosing a sign manufacturer, business owners should consider the services they expect to receive. Services range from simply fabricating signs to long-term full-service maintenance programs. When comparing prices, business owners should ask manufacturers how long they expect the sign to last and the level of maintenance required to keep the sign in good condition. The annual cost of maintenance should be kept in mind when considering the signs overall cost.

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