Play it Safe When Using Space Heaters in NIH Buildings

Each year at this time, questions arise concerning the use of space heaters at the NIH.

Before a space heater can be considered for an area, any difficulties in regulating or maintaining a comfortable temperature must first be directed to the Office of Research Facilities (ORF) to have a building engineer attempt to make mechanical adjustments to the heating system. If it is determined by ORF that an area cannot be adequately heated, written approval will be provided by the ORF Facility Manager assigned to the building to support the purchase and use of a space heater in designated areas only.

Space heaters are not permitted, under any circumstances, in laboratories, patient care units, or clinics.

Prior to installing any space heater, ORF must also verify that the electrical service to the area is adequate to safely accommodate the heater. Space heaters can easily overload electrical circuits in a building, therefore, additional circuits may need to be installed. If electrical work is required, the occupant's IC should initiate a work request. If ORF has available funds and it is clear that the building is not capable of providing reasonable levels of heat (70 degrees) in that particular room, ORF will fund the electrical work.

The Division of the Fire Marshal, Office of Research Services, does not endorse any particular brand or manufacturer of space heaters; however, a convection-type heater is preferable. Convection models slowly warm the air around them and pose less of a burn hazard since their surface temperatures are generally lower. Prior to purchasing the heater, be sure that the unit is equipped with ALL of the following features to minimize fire hazards typically associated with these devices:

* A multi-directional tip-over switch - space heaters can easily tip over. This switch automatically turns off the unit regardless of which way it may fall.

* An overheat sensor - this sensor limits the heat output of the space heater and automatically turns off the unit if it becomes too hot.

* A visible on/off indicating switch and light.

Proper placement of the space heater is important for safety as well as for comfort. Make sure the unit is placed on a hard, non-combustible surface instead of carpet. All combustible materials (e.g., paper, plastics, wood,
etc.) must be stored away from the heater. The power cord must not be covered by carpeting or other materials and extension cords should not be used. Never leave the heater in operation when an area is unoccupied.

If you have questions concerning the selection and use of space heaters, please contact the Division of the Fire Marshal, Office of Research Services at 301-496-0487.