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Are Gas Heaters Detrimental To Your Health?

Heating your home is essential for warmth and comfort during winter and for people living in colder climates. Gas heaters need to be installed professionally and regularly serviced to reduce the risk of any potential hazards like air pollution with carbon monoxide, which can be dangerous to health.

Hazards resulting from indoor air pollution are often associated with unflued gas heaters, and this can affect our health. In this article, you’ll learn how an unflued gas heater can affect your health and the ways to reduce hazards associated with gas heaters.

Unflued Gas Heaters

Heat is produced in gas heaters by burning gas fuel, and when the fuel is burnt, it produces water vapour and air pollutants. Flued gas heaters are designed to vent the water vapour and air pollutants outside the home through a flue or a chimney. With an unflued gas heater, this will be released directly into your home, thereby causing indoor air pollution in your home, and this can adversely affect your health.

Having an unflued gas heater will expose you to greater levels of air pollutants in your home. This includes nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. In general, the level of these pollutants that an unflued gas heater produces can vary depending on the following:

  • How often do you service the heater
  • The type of heater you use
  • Correct use of your heater
  • Installation and gas supply

Also, the level of air pollutants in your home can vary depending on the following:

  • The number of unflued gas appliances in your home
  • The amount of clean air entering your home
  • The size of the rooms in your home

In addition to air pollutants, water vapour is also produced, but this is not regarded as a pollutant. However, it can lead to moisture build-up in your home, and this can serve as a medium for the growth of microorganisms that can affect your health.

Health Effects Of Exposure To Air Pollutants

The health effects linked with exposure to air pollutants can be instantaneous or delayed. These effects also depend on the amount and types of pollutants. Also, individual susceptibility to these pollutants varies, which is why some people can suffer the effects of these pollutants more easily than others.

The primary air pollutants resulting from unflued gas heaters are carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. It is not easy to detect carbon monoxide in homes because it is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas. However, its effects on the body can be harmful. Carbon monoxide in the body can alter the supply of oxygen in the body and impair reflexes and thinking.

A heater that lacks fresh air or one that is poorly installed will cause an increase in the levels of carbon monoxide, thereby causing carbon monoxide poisoning. The second air pollutant is nitrogen dioxide, which is also difficult to detect because it is colourless and tasteless. However, nitrogen dioxide has a distinctive odour, and breathing in this odour can cause shortness of breath and irritation to the respiratory tract.

Health Problems Associated With Faulty Gas Heaters

As mentioned earlier, a faulty gas heater can lead to different health conditions. Sometimes the health problem may only occur when the gas heater is on, and there’s a significant fault leading to a build-up of carbon monoxide, and in other cases, the health problem may be more severe.

Since individual susceptibility varies, people with higher risks include older people, pregnant women, children, and people with chronic lung and heart diseases.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness

It is essential to note that the effects resulting from long-term exposure to carbon monoxide, even at low levels, are harmful. Such exposure can lead to impaired concentration and thinking, impulsiveness, irritability, and emotional changeability.

Another thing to note is that the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are not specific, and sometimes it may be mistaken for food poisoning or flu. When exposed to higher than average levels of carbon monoxide, it can cause seizures, loss of consciousness, and death.

How To Reduce Exposure To Air Pollutants

There are different ways to reduce or even avoid air pollutants from a faulty or unflued gas heater. To avoid exposure to these air pollutants, you can either switch entirely to electric heaters because they do not produce any indoor pollutants or purchase a flued heater.

Here are the ways you can reduce exposure, especially if you have an unflued gas heater:

  • Avoid using unflued gas heaters overnight, and in any room, you intend to sleep in
  • Do not ignore instructions for use when using a heater. Always read the labels to understand how it works.
  • Frequent inspection and maintenance improve its functioning
  • Only use the correct size of gas heater in your home
  • If you prefer an unflued gas heater, you might want to ensure that it has an electronic ignition
  • Only a qualified gas fitter should install the gas supply system in your home

How To Use A Gas Heater Safely

The most crucial thing to do when using a gas heater is to ensure that you follow the operating instructions. If you don’t have a flued gas heater, you should reduce its use frequency and opt for a safer option.

Here are some things to always do when using your gas heater:

  • Avoid drying clothes inside or be extra cautious. All flammable substances should be at least a metre away from the heater.
  • Ensure that your home is adequately ventilated. This is important because it allows the inflow of fresh air and outflow of fumes.
  • Keep children out of the reach of hot surfaces
  • Clean the gas heater regularly to minimise the build-up of dust and other particles
  • Do not run an exhaust fan if you use an unflued gas heater

Here are some things to avoid when using your gas heater:

  • Avoid using outdoor appliances indoors
  • Avoid leaving the gas heater on overnight
  • Do not dispose of refuse like cotton buds, tissues, or other similar things in the gas fire
  • Avoid storing aerosols, pressure packs, or solvents near the gas heater
  • Refrain from using an unflued gas heater in bedrooms, caravans, or bathrooms

Regular Servicing For Gas Heaters

Gas heaters require servicing every two years, and a licensed gas lifter should do this. Checking and servicing the gas heaters regularly will make it easier to detect carbon monoxide spillage.

Whether it’s in your home or in a rented apartment, it is vital to have the gas heater serviced at least every two years. For rented apartments, the rent provider is required to have the gas heater properly installed and all the fittings checked regularly by registered or licensed gas fitters.

The need to ensure that a licensed gas fitter does the servicing cannot be overemphasised. Also, ensure that they have the right equipment before booking their services. Here’s how to know when your gas heater is due for servicing:

  • If you notice signs of trouble in any of the heating components
  • You’ve not serviced the gas heater in 2 years
  • You notice soot stains around the heater
  • A sooty or yellow flame
  • Your walls are excessively hot whenever the gas heater is on
  • Signs of heat damage like change in colour of heater panels or walls

If you are unsure about your agent, you can contact your supplier or manufacturer. They usually have licensed gas fitters and can recommend one for you.

Using Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Another way to ensure gas safety when using any gas appliance is by using carbon monoxide alarms. Since carbon monoxide leakage is not easily detectable, an alarm will be a helpful safety alert system. However, this should not be considered as an alternative for proper installation and regular maintenance of your gas heater.

Manufacturers generally advise people to connect carbon monoxide alarms in rooms with gas appliances. Also, this should be positioned in areas where it can be audible enough. When buying a carbon monoxide alarm system, it is best to go for one that offers both audible and visual safety alerts.

Replace Old Gas Heaters

In addition to proper installation and maintenance, another thing to note is that gas heaters don’t last forever. Some parts become entirely worn out and are beyond repair, requiring replacing only the parts. However, the entire gas heating system will need to be replaced in other cases, especially when it’s old.

A gas heater that is around 20 years is regarded as old and may not function properly. You might need to replace your gas heater if it is about 15 to 20 years old. Also, it is best to replace old unflued gas heaters with split systems or flued gas heaters.

In general, old unflued gas heaters don’t meet emission standards. They emit combustion products into the areas where the heater is located, which can cause health problems and even death.

Gas Heater Safety Tips

Before installing a gas heater in your home, there are different things to consider. First, you’ll need to ensure that there is an appropriate outlet, even before purchasing the gas heater. You’ll also need to understand that installing a gas heater is not a DIY task unless you are a licensed gas fitter.

Issues like carbon monoxide poisoning, fires, and fumes are usually because of improper installation of the gas heater. The need to take gas heater maintenance seriously cannot be overemphasised. Below are some beneficial tips to assist you in maintaining your gas heater.

Keep children and pets away from the gas heater

Children are always curious to discover things in their environment, and as such, they may approach the gas heater if it’s within their reach. Since they don’t understand the potential dangers of gas heaters, it is best to keep them away.

A child can innocently turn on the gas, and this can cause gas leakages in your home. Any tiny flame can be disastrous.

Keep the gas heater away from flammable items

Never forget that you should never place the gas heater near anything that is flammable. This includes furniture, clothing, towels, books, and papers. If your heater is to be installed by a hired professional, they already know the best way to position the gas heater and would ensure that it is kept in a safe place.

Other safety tips

  • Never use a gas heater that has not been certified for use. Gas heaters usually come with labels showing that they are approved for use. Always check the label before buying.
  • Ensure that power cords and gas heater hoses are not close to doorways
  • Do not attempt to service the heater yourself
  • If an electrical connection or your gas hose is damaged, never open the heater yourself. Always hire qualified personnel to do the job.
  • Do not use outdoor gas heaters indoors because they may cause carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Avoid placing covers or other items over the gas heater
  • Avoid sitting next to heaters or getting too close to them
  • Avoid leaving the gas on overnight. Always turn it off before going to bed.

Here’s what to do if you notice any weird gas smell in your home:

  • Don’t operate any electrical appliance, light switches, or even your phone
  • Turn off the gas and leave the windows and doors open
  • Do not light any flame
  • Have your gas checked by a professional gas fitter
  • Allow the gas to completely dissipate before returning to your room
  • Do not use your electric fan
  • Report the leak to your supplier
  • Always remember that air is lighter than LPG, and as such, LPG can get accumulated in basements and other low regions

A Gas Heater Is Not All That Bad

A properly installed and maintained gas heater is not bad for health. Health issues only arise when there’s a fault resulting from an incorrect installation or a poorly maintained gas heater. This can lead to the production of air pollutants like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, both of which are harmful to health. Contact a professional gas fitter for your gas heater installation and servicing to avoid such problems.


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