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Gas Space Heater Hazards

by Mark Thomas, Milwaukee Home Inspection

Do you use a space heater to keep an area of your home or apartment warm in the winter? If you do, you’re not alone. But there are some precautions you may want to take. Riverwest is a community of older homes, many built before central heating systems. Gas space heaters are prevalent for economic reasons. They are cheap and easy to install, inexpensive to operate, and tend to have long, fairly trouble-free lives. But there is a price in safety that is often overlooked. Old space heaters get very hot. Hot enough to burn children and even start fires. There is an open flame present in the living space, and not just when it is heating. In the summer an open flame called the pilot light is burning. Fumes from solvents can ignite or explode. Old space heaters can also produce an invisible, silent killer. CARBON MONOXIDE. When heating gas burns completely, it emits harmless carbon dioxide and steam. If some of this exhaust were to spill into your home, you might notice water condensing on cold windows. If the gas burner is not burning properly, the carbon dioxide is replaced with carbon monoxide (CO). If all the exhaust goes up the chimney nobody gets hurt, but if the exhaust spills into the living area, people could get sick or die. There is good news for people with gas heaters. You can monitor their output to ensure the exhaust isn’t spilling into your living space. Effective, inexpensive carbon monoxide detectors are available. Some are battery operated (for those of us without enough outlets) or 120 volt that plug into the wall. I prefer the type with digital readout. The detector should usually read zero. An alarm rings at 100 parts per million carbon monoxide. A reading on the detector may not indicate a heater problem. Cigarettes and gas cooking stoves can also emit carbon monoxide. Gas space heaters have long provided reliable heat in Milwaukee winters. Annual tune-ups and safety checks, teaming with a CO detector and our own attention to safety, minimizes their risks. Here’s to a warm and safe tomorrow. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 3 – March 2003
by Mark Thomas, Milwaukee Home Inspection