Portable Space Heater in Unoccupied Space

Q: We have a contractor who wants to use a propane gas-fired portable heater to warm an unoccupied space that is currently under renovation in the hospital. The central heating system has been removed for replacement and the contractor is worried about freezing water pipes. What concerns should I have about this arrangement?

A: There is a lot to be concerned about. First of all, section 19.7.8 of the Life Safety Code (LSC) does not allow portable heating devices where the heating elements exceed 212°F in patient care areas. The Joint Commission has interpreted that to say portable heaters are not allowed in the same smoke compartment where patient care is provided. So, if the unoccupied space is also in a smoke compartment that includes patient care activities, then it is not permitted. Section 19.5.2.2 requires heating devices to be designed and installed with a proper chimney for venting, and the combustion air must come from the outside. An approved, suspended unit heater would be permitted in this application provided it is mounted high enough to be out of the reach of persons working in the area, and it would have to be installed with the appropriate safety features to immediately stop the flow of fuel and shut down the heater in the case of extreme temperature or ignition failure. Combustibles will have to be removed and not allowed to accumulate.

NFPA 241 Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations (1996 edition) requires all temporary heating equipment to be monitored for safe operation and maintained by properly trained personnel.