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Fire Code bans use of barbecues on decks of apts. and condos - HELP

So I'm not sure if this is the appropriate board for this but I'm desperate and need your help and suggestions... Moving at this time is not an option! We live in a condo (which is a hell in itself but that's another subject).

A couple of months ago we were notified in our association newsletter that a law has been enacted that prohibits the use of charcoal or propane barbecues on decks, balconies and patios with less than 10 feet of clearance from a combustible surface unless the area is equipped with automatic fire sprinklers. This law applies to anything other than a single dwelling or duplex.

Granted, there are many more urgent and important issues that we all face but this is vexing to say the least. We have been notified that the insurance company who covers our entire complex is threatening to cancel our insurance unless people remove their barbecues from their decks. At this point no one is using their barbecues but we're not taking them off our decks.

Does anyone have any idea how to try to fight this? I feel that we are being discriminated against as a class but I believe that we'll not be able to find a lawyer who believes this is worth the time to try to fight... I love to grill my food and feel that my personal freedom is being taken away from me!

Help me Chowhounds... (I know I can get one of those Weber 100 or 200 propane grills that uses the small propane canisters but I really dislike the product a propane grill produces plus we had just bought a new charcoal Weber that has a propane starter - a $300 or so product. Bought it just before we got the notification of the new law and had only used it 3-4 times... now it sits on my deck taunting me.

Here's the gist of what the code reads:

In 2007, California updated its Fire Code and adopted portions of the 2006 International Fire Code, including sections 308.3.1 and 308.3.1.1. Those sections effectively ban the use of open-flame cooking devices on combustible decks. This ban became operative on January 1st, 2008. The code is not available online, but you will find a copy of the code in most libraries. The sections read as follows:

308.3.1 Open-flame cooking devices. Charcoal burners and other open-flame cooking devices shall not be operated on combustible balconies or within 10 feet (3048 mm) of combustible construction.

Exceptions:
1. One- and two-family dwellings.
2. Where buildings, balconies and decks are protected by an automatic sprinkler system.

308.3.1.1 Liquefied-petroleum-gas-fueled cooking devices. LP-gas burners having an LP-gas container with a water capacity greater than 2.5 pounds [nominal 1 pound (0.454 kg) LP-gas capacity] shall not be located on combustible balconies or within 10 feet (3048 mm) of combustible construction.

Exception: One- and two-family dwellings.

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  1. Ever seen an apartment fire caused by a grill on the deck? Do you want that to happed to the unit above yours? Smoke and water damage can affect you even if the flames don't. Sometimes fighting for your 'rights' isn't worth the pain in the pocket book.

    How about switching to an electric grill? I've been eying of the the designs that has a water tray below the grill, and a grill surface that can be removed and cleaned (e.g. one by Sanyo). I wonder how much difference there is between such a grill and a propane one.

    2 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      paulj: yes, I know there are apt fires caused by grills - but there are apt and home fires caused by people deep frying in their kitchens - and apts and homes burn down from dropped cigarettes, candles and Christmas tree lights. Extension cords cause all kinds of fires. How about space heaters? Shall we ban all of these too?

      Accidents happen in all kinds of places and for all kinds of reasons. I'm just very frustrated by this...

      1. re: RWCFoodie

        Accident happens in a single home. One family is affected. Accident happens in a multi unit apartment building, many families are affected. Escape from fire in a single family house, relatively easy. Escape from fire in a multi story apartment building, relatively difficult.

        See the difference?

    2. I have friends who live in specific neighborhoods in Montreal with similar bans. I think its nuts and my heart goes out. I have two two grills, two smokers, and a pit and I don't know what I'd do in a similar situation.

      Fighting city hall may be an uphill battle that can't be won, or quite expensive, or last long after our final embers go out.
      My only suggestion would be to get around the law somehow.
      Can you make your balcony non-combustible?
      Perhaps an automatic sprinkler system (maybe 2 heads and a detector connected to your water supply) for the deck is an option?

      I know these suggestions sound far fetched...maybe they're not feasible, but maybe thinking outside the box is whats needed.

      Sorry dude, thats the best I have.

      My heart is heavy.

      1 Reply
      1. re: porker

        Porker: I agree that fighting City Hall is probably an impossibility. Circumventing the law is not doable, at least not from the standpoint of having an automatic sprinkler installed on our deck: the code reads that the entire complex would have to be so equipped. Talk the board and the other 40 owners into spending $$$ to do this? Yeah, right. Nor is having a fire extinguisher on your deck an option.

        I've been thinking about this now for the 3 months we've known about it...

      2. I feel your pain, yet understand the need to prevent fires. Yes, having an open flame under someone else's deck is indeed dangerous. I really don't see you winning a legal battle here.

        Does your condo have an outdoor communal area of some sort? Perhaps you and some of your neighbors can get together and place a few grills there. You can even chain them down to prevent theft.

        2 Replies
        1. re: mojoeater

          mojoeater: I did make a request to the board of our HOA to allow putting a bbq in either the pool area or somewhere else in the common area of the complex.... no response yet. But I believe they will not allow this.

          So my choice is to either defy the ban and risk a $500 fine from the fire dept., buy a new grill with the small propane tank or sell and buy a house! That's what I want to do but DH doesn't want to leave the area and I don't want to spend over a million and pay the associated property taxes in our area...

          Grrrrr

          1. re: RWCFoodie

            I would suggest instead, you defy the condo assoc and put something outside. Fl law also bans any grill above ground level ( I think) We kept several grills below for use when needed, but ours was a small unit (20)

        2. I live in an area with a 50' rule and can't say I know anyone who gave up the grill. It seems like most people just put the grill in an outdoor storage closet or garage. I know in my neighborhood we get warnings a few times a year but I still smell grilling on a regular basis.

          3 Replies
          1. re: queencru

            Which is great until a fire starts and the insurance company refuses to pay.

            1. re: BobB

              or the fire department finds an infant in a crib who died of smoke inhalation. Yeah, a barbecue on the deck is worth that.

              1. re: BobB

                I am not saying it's a great philosophy, but it's the reality of what happens in most communities when this rule is in force. With a 50' rule and older communities, there's not much option for a communal grill because everything is too close together.

            2. I think this change in the standard codes is getting adopted throughout the country. One of my employee's has a medium Big Green Egg, paid about $750 for it, she has to get rid of it now.

              Nobody ever said it was fair!!!