By Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox NewsDecember 31, 2019
Officials at the Fort Knox Directorate of Public Works are asking folks to refrain from using space heaters in workspaces during cold winter months.
The issue is twofold, said R.J. Dyrdek, energy manager at DPW: they affect the temperatures in other offices, and they can potentially be a fire hazard.
"The problem is getting significant," said Dyrdek. "We have a rash of space heaters, and the dominos of using them are beginning to put a strain on DPW and its workforce."
At issue are people calling in and complaining of heating in their offices not working. Other tenants are calling in because they have lost power to a wall outlet.
When staff come out to check these issues, they are finding space heaters running in offices near those without heat. They are also finding that those who have called in with a power outage have space heaters and other appliances plugged into a power strip.
Pat Walsh, DPW director, said many of the buildings have a modern HVAC system with temperature sensors that actively analyze multiple offices rather than room by room. When employees plug space heaters into one office because they feel a little uncomfortable, the thermostat reads their office temperature compared with others and determines there is no longer a need to heat them. This causes temperatures in those other offices to drop.
"The unit is working perfectly fine because the thermostat's telling it the truth, but that's not what your neighbor is feeling," said Dyrdek. "We recently had situations where units have kicked on air conditioning in the middle of the winter because when the space gets to be 80 and 82 degrees, the unit will fix that overheated condition by switching over to air conditioning.
"That's defeating the whole purpose of having functional HVAC -- many times it's related to space heaters."
Dyrdek said another pressing matter is a heater sharing power strip space with other appliances.
"If tenants are calling us because their plugs are no longer powered because circuits have been tripped and knocked offline, we have to spend time determining if we can safely turn that circuit back on, and then determine if anything has been damaged by overloading that circuit," said Dyrdek. "Those workers are spending quite a bit of time when they need to be doing more important things."
While time and inefficiency are problems, the immediate danger is fire.
"When the tenants are plugging in space heaters, microwaves, refrigerators and power strips into circuits that were never designed for that, we're going to end up with a really bad circumstance," said Dyrdek. "DPW isn't capable of following that around and policing up the problem."
The Army standard for office temperatures is roughly 72 degrees, plus or minus two degrees.
According to Walsh, the solution to a perceived cold office is a simple one: call the Energy Office at 502-624-2604. This alerts the team to a problem, which will then give them the opportunity to fix it.
In the case that the problem can't be fixed, safe space heaters -- those that run on enclosed, sealed oil -- can be authorized, either temporarily until the problem can be fixed, or permanently.
"Don't just add space heaters to fix a problem. They are not the solution," said Dyrdek. "We don't want you to be uncomfortable, but we also don't want you to be unsafe."