When outside -- and sometimes, office -- temperatures dip this winter, resist the impulse to turn on your inexpensive but hardy space heater. Campus energy and safety experts recommend safer, smarter options. While the university policy forbidding all office space heaters is gone and several models are approved for office use, there still are guidelines for improving the comfort of your work space.
The first step should be a call to facilities planning and management (FPM) to make sure a mechanical problem -- in your building or neighborhood -- isn't responsible for a chilly workspace this time of year. Call 294-5100 or use FPM's report a problem online option, said Brian Housholder, assistant director for facilities maintenance and operations.
Call 294-5100 to request a check on your building's heating system. Send questions about space heaters to Troy Carey, EHS, 294-9495.
He cautioned against using space heaters before an FPM team has a chance to look into the problem. Sometimes, FPM staff even can fix a problem remotely when it's brought to their attention.
"You can put a space heater in a room and actually exacerbate your cold issues," he said. "If the room is set for 68 or 70 degrees and you're trying to heat above that, the air conditioning (or its equivalent) will try to kick in.
"The two systems are ignorant of each other. You might as well open your window and throw $100 bills out," Housholder said. "It can get quite expensive, quickly. Departments may not see that bill, but colleges do."
Gilman and Science I halls are examples of older buildings with systemic issues in the heating/cooling system for which people assume there's no solution, he said.
"They'll plug in space heaters to treat the symptom," Housholder noted. "Where it's appropriate, we're happy to let people use approved space heaters, but sometimes people just ignore the bigger problem.
"Even if the solution is complicated, that doesn't mean we can't do it," Housholder said. "If it requires funding, we can put it on the list until we have the funding."
Approved space heaters
The fire safety team in environmental health and safety (EHS) has approved two space heaters for office use. They can be purchased from the Grainger catalog in cyBUY, which now is accessed through the procurement icon in Workday. The two models are:
- Portable electric heater by Dayton, $80, Grainger item #3VU33
- Portable electric heater by TPI Corp., $64, Grainger item #31TR33
The Dayton space heater also is available through the university's Central Stores.
Troy Carey, fire safety officer in EHS said space heaters used in campus buildings have to meet standards set by the state fire marshal. Two key requirements have to do with the appliance itself:
- It is UL listed and labeled.
- Its heating element must not exceed 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
Three others are about correct use of the space heater:
- It's plugged directly into the wall (no multi-plug power strips or extension cords).
- Combustible materials, including wastebaskets, are at least 3 feet away.
- It's operated only in the manner for which it is listed.
Several years ago, when a radiant heat panel was the only approved model, Carey's team approved its first fan-driven space heater, the Dayton product. He said he's in the final stages of approving another similar model by TPI Corp. And there could be others.
"We would look at whatever someone wants to send us, check out the product specs and give them a yes or no," Carey said. "We'd just like them to ask before they buy them."
He said he has rejected a few models for not meeting fire marshal standards. But employees may send an email that includes a link to a product website and he'll review it.
From a utilities perspective, Housholder said another problem with space heaters is they overload electrical circuits, particularly in older buildings. Multiple space heaters in an office suite will trip breakers. Power strips aren't rated for space heater use, and most are intended for office equipment, such as desk lamps or computer monitors.