Use of Portable Space Heaters and Storage and Information About Egress Corridors

August, 2002

Information Bulletin 02-16

Use of Portable Space Heaters and
Storage and Obstructions in Egress Corridors


This bulletin provides information and regulatory clarification regarding the use of portable space heaters in bedrooms of health care facilities, and storage and obstructions in egress corridors.

Use of Portable Space Heaters:

Minnesota's winter can get very cold. During past cold days, some facilities have requested to use portable space heaters in rooms where warm temperatures have been difficult to maintain. Portable heaters are specifically prohibited by NFPA 101 (Life Safety Code), 1985 edition, Section 13-5, paragraph 13-5.2.2. Portable space heaters can overload a facility's electrical system. In addition, portable space heaters can become a tripping hazard or be covered with combustible materials such as sheets, blankets, or pillows, which may result in a fire. Cords for these heaters can be damaged during routine use and maintenance of bedrooms.

Where the facility, in consultation with the Department of Health and the State Fire Marshal, has determined that temporary supplemental heat is needed, an hydronic space heater may be permitted provided that:

  1. The heater is Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) listed.

  2. The heater is permanently mounted to the wall.

  3. The heater is hard-wired to the building electrical system in accordance with the National Electrical Code (NEC).

  4. The surface temperature of the heater does not exceed 159 degrees Fahrenheit.

A hydronic heater is an electric space heater that heats a liquid in a closed piping system. The liquid circulates and dissipates the heat through fins that surround the piping system. These heaters have no glowing element.

Inability to maintain temperature in an area of a building is usually indicative of an inadequate or malfunctioning heating system. If this situation is persistent, facilities are encouraged to consider upgrading their heating system. Alternatives may include temporarily relocating residents to a warmer area in the building or dressing residents more warmly. With a doctor's order, electric blankets may be used provided that they are new (dedicated to that resident only), UL listed, and are plugged directly into an electrical outlet (extension cords are not permitted).

The Department of Health expects Intermediate Care Facilities for the Mentally Retarded (ICFs/MR) to comply with the above criteria as a matter of client safety.

Storage and Obstructions in Egress Corridors:

On August 23, 2000, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Region VIII, issued a Regional Information Letter regarding storage in egress corridors. The substance of this letter is applicable to all states. The letter cites several sections of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, which leads to the conclusion; "Therefore, the practice of items being stored in egress corridors is not allowed due to the above and the potential for problems with evacuation in an emergency situation." The letter further states; "Exception is taken to items which are being actively used and attended such as a housekeeping cart while rooms are in the process of being cleaned. Corridors are intended for means of egress and internal traffic, not storage spaces." The letter also indicates that it not acceptable to keep items "only on one side".

Placement of furniture and the storage of carts, lifts, wheelchairs, and other equipment in the corridor has been an issue for providers, the Department of Health, and the State Fire Marshal for many years. The installation of various fixtures and equipment on corridor walls has also been a concern. These obstructions not only hamper an evacuation, in many cases, they also block access to the corridor handrails. In recent years, the number of carts, wheelchair, lifts, and other equipment has increased dramatically, with little or no commensurate construction of storage space.

It is recommended that facilities review their practices regarding the placement of furniture and the storage of equipment in the corridors. While it may not be practical to remove everything from the corridors, obstructions must be kept to a minimum. It is expected that equipment and carts positioned in the corridors be actively in use for the care of residents and patients. "Actively in use" means carts are frequently moving to facilitate distribution of linen, medications, and other products to bedrooms and service rooms. It also means that staff are frequently using the wheelchairs, lifts, and other adaptive equipment to assist residents.

Facilities are also encouraged to periodically review their storage needs and existing storage capacity to assure that capacity is keeping up with need. This may require changes in the physical plant to provide additional capacity.

The Life Safety Code restricts the mounting of objects on corridor walls. The Code does permit the installation of handrails on both sides of a corridor provided that the handrail does not project more than 3-1/2 inches from the wall. An increasing number of facilities are installing a wall-mounted, fold-down writing surface on corridor walls. In the up (storage) position, they are a relatively small protrusion into the corridor. In the down (use) position, they create a significant protrusion. It is expected that the surfaces be stored in the up position and that the automatic recoil mechanism be maintained in proper operating condition. Wall-mounted, fold-down writing surfaces found not in use and improperly stored will be subject to the issuance of a federal deficiency.

This Information Bulletin was authored by the Minnesota Department of Health, Health Regulation Division, and the Department of Public Safety, State Fire Marshal Division.

If you have any questions regarding this Information Bulletin, please contact:

Engineering Program
(651) 201-3710

Deputy State Fire Marshal Supervisor
(320) 685-8559