When outside temperatures drop below the comfort zone this winter, turning on an inexpensive but hardy space heater may not be the best option.
Campus energy and safety experts recommend other options that may be safer and smarter. While the university policy forbidding all office space heaters is gone and several models are approved for office use, there are still guidelines for improving the comfort of one’s workspace.
When thinking about plugging in a space heater, the first step should be a call to facilities planning and management (FPM) to make sure a mechanical problem in the building isn't responsible for a chilly workspace this time of year.
Call 515-294-5100 or use FPM's report a problem online option to get in touch with FPM quickly.
Brian Housholder, assistant director for facilities maintenance and operations, cautioned against using space heaters before an FPM team has a chance to look into the problem. Sometimes, FPM staff can even fix a problem remotely when it's brought to their attention.
Housholder said putting a space heater in a room can actually increase the cold issues because if the room is set for 68 or 70 degrees and someone is trying to heat above that, the air conditioning or its equivalent will try to kick in.
"The two systems are ignorant of each other," Housholder said in a press release "You might as well open your window and throw $100 bills out. It can get quite expensive, quickly. Departments may not see that bill, but colleges do."
Older buildings like Gilman and Science I halls often have systemic issues in the heating/cooling system for which people assume there's no solution, according to Housholder.
"They'll plug in space heaters to treat the symptom," Housholder said in a press release. "Where it's appropriate, we're happy to let people use approved space heaters, but sometimes people just ignore the bigger problem.
Housholder said if the issue that needs to be fixed requires funding, his team can put it on a to-do list until they have the funding.
The fire safety team in environmental health and safety has approved two space heaters for office use. Both can be purchased from the Grainger catalog in cyBUY, which now is accessed through the procurement icon in Workday. The two models are:
The portable electric heater by Dayton, Grainger item #3VU33, costs $80.
The portable electric heater by TPI Corp., Grainger item #31TR33, costs $64.
The Dayton space heater also is available through the university's Central Stores.
Troy Carey, fire safety officer in environmental health and safety, said space heaters used in campus buildings have to meet standards set by the state fire marshal. These requirements include:
It is Underwriter Laboratories (UL) listed and labeled.
Its heating element must not exceed 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
It's plugged directly into the wall, no multi-plug power strips or extension cords.
Combustible materials, including wastebaskets, are at least three 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. Carey said he is in the final stages of approving another similar model by TPI Corp and in the future, 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 in a press release. "We'd just like them to ask before they buy them."
Carey said he has rejected a few models for not meeting fire marshal standards, but employees may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org that includes a link to a product website and he will review it.
Another problem with space heaters is they overload electrical circuits, particularly in older buildings on campus. Multiple space heaters in an office suite will trip breakers. Power strips are not rated for space heater use and most are intended for office equipment, such as desk lamps or computer monitors, not space heaters.