With the flip of the calendar to November, the time of year has arrived (at least in New England) where we need to inevitably turn on the heat. Fall and winter bring their own set of fire safety challenges and users and code officials must be aware of safe practices to help ensure fires caused by heating devices are kept to a minimum. One of the most common hazards during this time is the use of space heaters. NFPA 1, Fire Code, provides requirements to regulate the use of these devices:
11.5.3 Portable Electric Heater.
18.104.22.168 The AHJ shall be permitted to prohibit use of portable electric heaters in occupancies or situations where such use or operation would present an undue danger to life or property.
22.214.171.124 Portable electric heaters shall be designed and located so that they cannot be easily overturned.
126.96.36.199 All portable electric heaters shall be listed.
During cold weather, portable electric space heaters are used in many locations, including under desks in offices. Although placing a heater under a desk or table lessens the chance of the heater being easily overturned, the heater also can easily be forgotten. A heater that is left on for an extended time can overheat combustible materials that might also be stored under the desk or table. Managers of facilities that allow the use of electric space heaters should be instructed to remind employees to shut them off at the end of the day and keep combustible material away from the heater.
In addition, because of the amount of electric current drawn by space heaters, electric heaters should be used only
where they can be plugged directly into appropriate receptacles or extension cords of adequate current capacity. (See 11.1.5 for requirements addressing extension cords.)
The AHJ is permitted to prohibit the use of space heaters where an undue danger to life or property exists. The AHJ can use past inspection findings, such as portable heaters that were left turned on and unattended, fire incidents, and other reasons to prohibit the use of such heaters.
For additional information on space heater safety, check out NFPA's Safety Tip Sheet.