Perilous Pastime: Barbecue Grills on Balconies and Decks

On most residential buildings, neither gas nor charcoal grills can be used underneath other floors.

According to the NFPA, “In 2011 – 2015, fire departments went to an annual average of 9,600 home fires involving grills, hibachis or barbecues per year, including 4,100 structure fires.” About 7 out of 10 American families own a grill.

A fire this week in Rome, New York, for example, was started by a barbecue grill left too close to a wood-sided house.

While firefighters may be aware of obvious unsafe situations arising from barbecue grills, one of the biggest problems is often ignored–the use of grills on multi-story decks. Specific code rules vary, depending on whether the municipality has its own fire code, or some version of the NFPA Life Safety Code.

Florida, for example, has strict rules about both storage and use of barbecue grills:

Cooking on Balconies. The Florida Fire Prevention Code prohibits any cooking on a balcony of an apartment or condominium. The only exception is for fixed permanent cooking appliances.
.* Listed equipment permanently installed in accordance with its listing, applicable codes, and manufacturer’s instructions shall be permitted.

Storage of L.P. Gas or Gas Grills. The Florida Fire Prevention Code prohibits the storage or use of L.P. gas in quantities greater than 2.7 LBS in any apartment or condominium. The specific code sections are as follows:

10.11.6 Cooking Equipment.
For other than one- and two-family dwellings, no hibachi, grill, or other similar devices used for cooking, heating, or any other purpose shall be used or kindled on any balcony, under any overhanging portion, or within 10 ft (3 m) of any structure. For other than one-and two-family dwellings, no hibachi, grill, or other similar devices used for cooking shall be stored on a balcony.(FFPC-2014; NFPA 1,2012 Edition)

In other States, the level of restriction on grill use and storage depends on which Fire Code is in place. In Vermont, which uses NFPA 1, grills ARE allowed on decks, but only if they can be operated 10 ft. from the structure, and a person must attend them at all times during operation. But like Florida, you can’t operate one on a balcony or under any kind of overhang.

Massachusetts has similar rules in place:

•Grills cannot be used on a porch, balcony or deck with a roof, overhang or wall
(other than the exterior of the building).
•Grills can only be used on open first floor porches, decks or patios if there
is an outdoor stairway to the ground, or the porch is at ground level.
•Grills must be 10-feet from the side of a building unless the manufacturer’s
instructions say it can be closer. Make sure grills are not underneath
overhanging branches.
•Grills cannot be used on fire escapes.

The code is clear on grills. They don’t belong under wood structures or on balconies. But for homeowners who really want one, and have enough enencumbered deck space, there is a workaround: Install a permanent outdoor appliance that meets stricter code specifications.


Other Data on Grilling Hazards (NFPA)

July is the peak month for grill fires (17%), including both structure, outdoor or unclassified fires, followed by May (14%), June (14%) and August (13%).
In 2012-2016, an average of 16,600 patients per year went to emergency rooms because of injuries involving grills.** Half (8,200 or 49%) of the injuries were thermal burns.
Children under five accounted for an average of 1,600 or one-third (35%) of the 4,500 thermal non-fire grill burns.These burns typically occurred when someone, often a child, bumped into, touched or fell on the grill, grill part or hot coals.
Gas grills were involved in an average of 7,900 home fires per year, including 3,300 structure fires and 4,700 outdoor fires annually. Leaks or breaks were primarily a problem with gas grills.Twelve percent of gas grill structure fires and 24% of outside gas grill fires were caused by leaks or breaks.
Charcoal or other solid-fueled grills were involved in 1,300 home fires per year, including 600 structure fires and 700 outside fires annually.

Source: NFPA’s Research, Data & Analytics Division