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Check County Fire Code Before Firing Up the Grill

by Katie Pyzyk May 2, 2012 at 1:55 pm 8,196 41 Comments

It’s National Barbecue Month, and as the weather warms up, more people are firing up the grills. But before getting caught up in grilling, it might be a good idea to make sure you’re familiar with the Arlington County fire code.

According to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Captain Gregg Karl, problems can arise with people in multi-unit residences, such as condos and high rise apartments, who may not even realize they’re violating the code.

No grills, combustible devices or open flame cooking devices are to be used or stored on balconies and rooftops. Fire pits and similar types of warming devices are also banned. Electric devices without an open flame are acceptable.

Most standalone homes and townhouses with ground level patios are exempted from the rules. However, the fire department still recommends trying to keep the device 15 feet away from the building, or as far as space allows.

“You do still have the potential for a fire if something goes wrong with the grill,” Karl said. “We want people to be aware of where they’re putting the grill and the potential dangers.”

Landlords are supposed to inform tenants, in writing, of all the fire code regulations upon move-in and lease renewal. After that, tenants are responsible for following the regulations.

Those who are found to be in violation of the code will be issued a notice and given the opportunity to remove the offending items. Failure to correct the violation could result in a citation and fine.

Karl encourages people with questions about the rules to call the Arlington County Fire Prevention Office at 703-228-4644.

  • nom de guerre

    In honor of National Barbecue Month the critically acclaimed Sam’s Corner will be featuring a Barbecue free range skirt steak sandwich with smoked provolone, avocado crema, and pickled ruby chard on ciabatta bread for tomorrow’s daily special. Only while supplies last.

    • South Awwlington

      How about free range BBQ backyard hen?

      Welcome to Arlington – land of backyard hens (but hamburger grilling is strictly prohibited in multi-family neighborhoods.)

      • nom de guerre

        Today’s special featured Grilled free range chicken with Asiago Pressato and arugula on black olive and rosemary focaccia with sundried tomato and macadamia nut pesto. We are trying to offer a variety of specials, so we won’t feature chicken on consecutive days-it’s just not sustainable based upon the sheer volume of our sales.

    • CW

      Excellent segue, nom, I was meaning to post.

      Today, on one of the rare occasions when I am home during a workday, I intentionally went past Sam’s Corner, the famous Arlington lunchtime landmark, purveyor of delicious large corporate orders, surviving bastion of all that was once good, warrior for the common man, vehemently defended on the boards by anonymous guardians against all who oppose it, and, at the prime peak lunch hour of 12:30 PM on a Wednesday, found it to be…closed.

      • nom de guerre

        Thank you for your kind words. Today’s arlnow.com article entitled “Chicken Resolution Flies the Coop” led to unforseen and overwhelming demand for our daily special of grilled free range chicken with Asiago Pressato and arugula on black olive and rosemary focaccia with sundried tomato and macadamia nut pesto. Regretfully we sold out by 11:47 AM. We respectfully ask you to try us again on another day and we appreciate your continued patronage.

  • Southeast Jerome

    What about ground-floor level units in condo buildings with a patio? I suppose in those instances – because its not a rooftop or a balcony – you are allowed a grill?

    • JamesE

      I am going with no, I think you are still forced to go with electric only.

    • Zimmy

      For patios, I believe that you need a minimum safe distance of 15 feet from the building. If you can provide that for your grill, then it is fine.

  • JamesE

    I cried when I found out I could only get an electric grill for my balcony.

    • arlcyclist

      I’ve lived in my condo for seven years with a charcoal grill on the second floor balcony year round. I’ve never had a problem and judging by the fact that half my neighbors have grills on their balcony the code isn’t enforced.

      • novasteve

        The moment the building burns down, they’ll enforce it.

        I’ve actually been to places in Montgomery County that has the same rule, and neighbors would call the police/FD on you if they see smoke, period. The party I was at just had people smoking cigarettes and there was a crockpot going outside.

        • nom de guerre


        • jackson

          Ah, the time honored tradition of hosting cigarette and crockpot parties. Just like our forefathers!

      • Fire Marshall Bill

        Where did you say you lived?

      • drax

        Well, if it’s been seven years without a problem, your building is 100% garaunteed impossible to catch fire! Start a small campfire in your living room too!

        • novasteve

          I do have a gas stove and gas oven inside, and I haven’t burned the building down yet.

          • drax

            It’s almost as if those appliances are intended for use indoors.

    • Concerned Citizen

      I cried when I realized I couldn’t afford a balcony….

      • novasteve


        me too. I really wish I had one.

    • CW

      I’ve pointed this out before, but if you plumb in a UL approved NATURAL GAS (not propane) grill off of your main gas line (I am joking here, I realize no one is going to do that) then it meets the code.

      • JamesE

        all electric no gas lines, maybe I can connect several arc welders and make an industrial electric grill.

        • CW

          Plasma grill!

          • Arnold

            Anything else?

            The Terminator: Phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range.

          • JamesE

            It would look something like this


          • nom de guerre

            That looks safe for grilling on a balcony.

          • JamesE

            What could go wrong?

      • drax

        That’s not a joke though. There are grills like that now. You can buy them at Home Depot.

  • j

    come to Fairington, every single balcony has a grill.

    • nom de guerre


  • Arlington, Northside

    The county does enforce this when it is brought to their attention. When I lived in Fairlington we got a warning citation, and our neighbors got a ticket when they cooked out after the warning. I have a feeling with j’s post, the Fire Marshall will be making a cruise around the neighborhood soon.

    I don’t think the Fire Department has the number of folks in the Education and Enforcement office as they used to, so that might be saving some of you.

  • Alex

    Tl;dr fire code. What about grills setup near (wood) fences? Anyone know if that is also prohibited or discouraged?

    • drax

      Common sense is not discouraged.

      • litaa4

        OK, then I won’t ask about our townhome’s middle-level wooden deck.

      • Alex

        The reason I ask is that my neighbor has his gas grill right up against our wooden fence. I’m curious as to whether or not there is an ordinance against this. I’ll have to query Arlington.

        • drax

          Can’t you just ask them to move it a few feet?

  • Suburban Not Urban

    So what are the regs about fire apparatus at businesses(IE pubs etc). Are there any differences between wood burning and gas burning?

    • nom de guerre

      Yes. Wood burning involves burning wood and gas burning involves burning gas.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    I actually just looked at the code – If I’m reading it right, 308.3.1(Exception 2) says if you have a sprinkler system on the balcony – you could have grills. That seems like a marketing opportunity opening for some place to differentiate it self(If you could get the insurance company to deal with it). Since the sprinkler system is generally required on all new construction, I would think the delta to cover the patio would be easy to recover.

    • CW

      I agree with your reading of the code, but doubt that to be the only impediment to developers and landlords. Insurance, for one, would probably be hard to come by when you explain that youre going to let a bunch of drunk yahoos on the 12th floor go burn things on their ten square foot balcony.

  • Michael H.

    Last summer I saw someone in the building across the street grilling on the balcony. Normally I can’t see many details over there because that building is a couple hundred feet away. But I clearly saw the 8-ft-high flames that shot up from the grill! The idiot came very close to starting a fire in the large apartment building.

    I contacted the other building’s front office to tell them about the immediate danger. I didn’t see any more out-of-control flames though. I guess the guy used too much starter fluid.

    Open-flame grills on apartment balconies are a bad idea.

  • Paco Wellington III

    A bigger problem is the fumes that will fill the apartments above the grill.

    I lived 10 floors above a person who liked to grill on his ground floor balcony. Without fail, my apartment would fill with lighter fluid fumes even with the windows closed and no AC on. It was awful. The fire trucks would come and tell the idiot to stop, which he thought meant only that moment. A couple of $500 tickets convinced him to stop grilling completely from his patio.


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