• Jacque Coe

Restaurants can now use electric heaters with properly rated extension cords

Restaurants managing outdoor dining and tents were struggling with restrictions prohibiting electric heaters to be powered with extension cords. Your government affairs team gave the City that feedback, and can now share that during the COVID emergency operations period, the Fire Marshal will allow electric heaters powered through extensions cords in tents. No permit required.

The extension cords must be the right type of cord to handle the power draw but this will still be a lot easier for restaurants. No need to get a dedicated outlet installed for them to plug into during the pandemic emergency operations. Extension cords must be properly rated based on the high power draw of the heating appliances. See the latest guidance document from Seattle Fire on our Resource page here.

With respect to heaters fueled by propane, the national and model fire codes restrict use of propane in tents, as does the Seattle Fire Code. In addition, the City of Seattle is following the Governor’s emergency orders related to the pandemic, and guidance for restaurants/outdoor dining appears to prohibit use of propane in tents. See the guidance here. Thus, the City is not able to make the exceptions that have been contemplated in some other states.

Here’s a summary of the modifications the Seattle Fire Marshal has made for heating specifically to meet the needs of restaurant owners:

  1. Waiving fees for permits and on-site inspections for set up when a business or organization is moving services outside. The City will provide education, inspection and permit at no cost to the business owner. This is applicable to tent permits, propane/LPG permits, and diesel permits. The City wants to help restaurants move their businesses outside safely.

  2. Allowing restaurants to get started operating as soon as they apply for permit and receive a permit with conditions in mail, as long as the posted conditions are followed. Permit holders do not need to wait for the inspection; the City will still get out to your site as quickly as possible.

  3. Extending the duration of these free permits through until October 2021.

  4. Removing set back requirements between a tent and a building to make it easier for restaurants to set up tents on sidewalks and patios.

  5. Most recently, removing code prohibitions against allowing extension cords to be used with electric heaters during the pandemic—electric heaters may now be powered by a single 12-gauge extension cord (or higher if recommended by the manufacturer of the heater). Electric heaters do not require a permit.

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