Propane Heaters and Carbon Monoxide – What You Need To Know

During the winter season, your central heating system might not be up to par to keep your family comfortable. If so, getting some propane heaters for the most used room in your house might be the best idea, especially if you are looking to save money on electricity.

One question you may be asking yourself on this journey to find the perfect heater for your home is, can you get carbon monoxide poisoning from a propane heater? Here is all the information you need to know to make the best decision for you and your household.  

Propane heaters are some of the most cost-efficient heaters on the market. However, when it comes to using propane or any fuel-reliant heaters, carbon monoxide poisoning is something you need to keep an eye out for. Propane heaters are capable of producing carbon monoxide if they are faulty or improperly kept in good condition.

This article will discuss the pros and cons of having propane heaters in your home and safety tips while also talking about the early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. There will also be other tell-tale signs that your heater may be burning its fuel improperly. Let us go over them more thoroughly in detail.

Can You Get Carbon Monoxide Poisoning From A Propane Heater?

Carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for nearly 25% of all propane-related deaths around the world. Carbon monoxide or CO2 is the result of fuel not burning completely.

Propane is no exception to this. Propane, when burning purely, will only produce water vapor and carbon dioxide or CO2, both of which are considered not toxic and are chemicals we encounter in our daily lives and are part of the air we breathe.

Carbon monoxide in itself is a deadly chemical if breathed over sustained periods. The scary thing is, carbon monoxide is undetectable by smell.

Keep in mind propane is not the only source of carbon monoxide. Any natural gas that burns impure will result in carbon monoxide being produced in your home.

While operating a propane heater indoors, you should know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning just in case your ODS or Oxygen Depletion Sensor is malfunctioning. Many of these symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Breathlessness
  • Collapse
  • Loss of consciousness

The signs of carbon monoxide poisoning adhere to the list provided. So if you use vented or vent-free propane heaters in your home, be sure to look out for these symptoms in yourself and your family.

It is highly advised to use propane heaters to purchase some carbon monoxide sensors and install them in your home where you are planning to use said heaters.

This will provide better safety in your home if you happen to neglect to inspect your heater for signs of carbon monoxide exhaust.

How To Tell If Your Propane Heater Is Leaking Carbon Monoxide

Some of the most obvious signs of carbon monoxide being produced in your home are easy to tell if you inspect your heater when it is on or off.

When it is lit, if your propane is burning any other color than blue, like yellow or orange, turn it off immediately and call a propane technician because your propane heater is producing carbon monoxide due to an impure burn.

At the same time, CO2 does not make a smell of any kind if you happen to be picking up a funky smell from your propane heater that may be coming from the source of your unclean burn. Once again, please turn it off and call a propane technician.

If you were to inspect your propane heater while it is off, you might find some smoke or black coloring on or around the pilot of your flame. This is again another sign that your fuel is not burning true and thus is producing carbon monoxide.

If this is the case, then make sure you call a propane technician to come and inspect your heater and possibly your carbon monoxide sensors as well.

Is It Safe To Run A Propane Heater Indoors?

Propane heaters are generally not recommended to be used solely indoors. However, when used properly with adequate ventilation, propane heaters are perfectly safe to use indoors. 

Here this article will provide plenty of helpful safety tips you should follow to make sure you are using your indoor propane heater safely:

  • Check for safety features like an ODS (Oxygen Depletion Sensor), a high-temperature coated safety guard, overheat protection, and an automatic shut-off switch if your heater is accidentally tipped over when you buy it.
  • Look for the correct markings from the following safety testing companies: Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL), or a CSA International certification when purchasing space heaters.
  • Before you set up and use your vent-free propane heater, read the user manual thoroughly.
  • Even vent-free propane heaters need adequate ventilation. This can be accomplished by opening a window or turning on your central air conditioning. Make sure the exhaust from a vented heater is correctly vented externally.
  • Ensure your indoor propane heater is placed away from heavy foot traffic, on a flat surface to avoid tipping, and at least 3 feet away from anything that may catch fire due to the heat, such as bedding, curtains, and furniture, among other things.
  • Nothing should ever be placed on top of a propane heater.
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the rooms where your heater will be used as a backup sensor to the ODS may include.
  • If you purchase a portable heater, make sure it is never left unsupervised when you leave the room; even if it’s just for a minute or two, turn it off.
  • Please turn off your heater before going to bed and do not leave it running all night.
  • Avoid using the heater for the whole day to avoid malfunctions.
  • If the flame on your indoor propane heater is yellow or orange rather than blue, switch it off right away and call a propane technician.
  • Never use an indoor heater to dry wet carpet or furniture.
  • Before you do something with your heater, make sure it’s switched off and cool to the touch.
  • Never use air fresheners, deodorants, aerosol sprays, and hair spray near a propane heater because they are flammable.
  • A propane technician should inspect your vented and vent-free indoor propane space heaters once a year.
  • When using your indoor propane heater for a fast exit, if there is a fire, make sure all routes and departures are clear.
  • Before you start using your indoor propane heater, make sure you understand proper propane safety.

What Is A Vent Free Propane Heater?

Vent-free propane heaters are essentially the same as a regular vented propane heater minus the noticeable vented portion.

These heaters focus more on burning your propane as pure as possible. In fact, these heaters have a surprisingly clean record when it comes to propane heater safety concerns.

While these heaters still require some ventilation, such as an open window or running your central air on a fan setting, if you have one to help circulate the air in the rooms you have these heaters in, this would be a great option.

This is mainly used for safety in malfunctioning heaters. However, while burning, propane heaters produce water vapor in excess amounts, upwards to a quarter of a gallon or more per hour.

Without ventilation in the rooms where these heaters are set up, you can start to see and feel the walls and furniture in the room dampen, which can cause damage to your property after a while of usage. 

The good thing about vent-free propane heaters is that it is a guarantee that your heaters will come with an ODS or Oxygen Depletion Sensor, which will automatically shut off your heater when the oxygen in the room drops below 18%.

This will ensure that in the rare circumstance where your vent-free heater is producing more carbon monoxide, is malfunctioning, or is improperly maintained by the owner; the heater will automatically shut off. If this happens, allow your heater to stay off for at least an hour before turning it on again.

Final Thoughts

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a dangerous and deadly thing. However, correctly kept propane heaters are not only a cost-effective option for keeping you and your family nice and warm but are also very cost-efficient.

When using any indoor propane heater, be sure to follow the safety tips provided in this article. If there are any signs of your propane burning, impurely turn off your heater and contact a propane technician to help.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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