Since February is half over I can now say we are closer to March, which means we are closer to spring, which means warmer weather. But, who’s counting? But, until then, the inevitable cold winter weather means a more frequent use of portable electric heaters (space heaters) and other heating appliances to get us through. While it may seem like a harmless practice, portable heaters come with a risk. Both users and code officials must be aware of safe practices to help ensure fires caused by heating devices are kept to a minimum.
NFPA 1, Fire Code, provides requirements for portable electric heaters in Section 11.5.3 as follows:
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.
Portable electric heaters are used in many locations, including a common used 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.) Just the other day I was at a Doctor’s appointment and the room that I was in had a space heater to supplement what I was told was unpredictable temperatures throughout the building. Most rooms that I poked my head into had their own space heater, too. Fortunately, they were plugged directly into a wall receptacle, were not near combustible materials and were clear of anything that could potentially fall onto them or knock them over. While I was waiting to be seen I even checked that they had a mark from a recognized testing laboratory (they did!)
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.
Within Section 11.5, the Code also addresses the installation of stationary liquid fuel-burning appliances, including but not limited to industrial-,commercial-,and residential-type steam, hot water or warm air heating appliances; domestic-type range burners; and portable liquid fuel-burning equipment. In addition to compliance with Section 11.5, these devices are to be installed in accordance with NFPA 31, Standard for the Installation of Oil-Burning Equipment. For the installation of gas-fired heating appliances, in addition to compliance with Section 11.5, they must also comply with NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code. NFPA 54 addresses the installation of fuel gas piping systems, fuel gas utilization equipment, and related accessories, including piping systems, operating pressure, installation, combustion, ventilation air, and venting. The use of unvented fuel-fired heaters is prohibited by NFPA 1 and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, in numerous occupancies, unless they are approved units that comply with NFPA 54. The use of such equipment is prohibited in all residential board and care occupancies regardless of compliance with NFPA 54. To view all the requirements for heating devices you can use our free access feature to read NFPA 1 at www.nfpa.org/1.
Thanks for reading, stay safe!