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Propane Heater Safety - Information That Could Save Your Life!
Imagine you and your family are camping, or you and your men are diligently working in the factory, when someone experiences a sudden headache. Another person becomes nauseous. Suddenly, you realize everyone around you is sick - even you!
These are the first warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from the improper, unsafe use of portable propane heaters. Advanced exposure to carbon monoxide can result in:
- Cardiovascular collapse
Clearly, the dangers of using a propane heater are real. However, does this mean all heaters that use this type of gas are dangerous? Should families stay away? Should commercial operations beware?
Not at all. The answer is the same as for any other space heating device; that is, propane heating is perfectly safe as long as you follow proper safety precautions. It's not difficult or time consuming to be safe. Thus, heating with gas is still an appropriate choice for a wide variety of home and commercial applications.
Continue reading for everything you need to know about proper propane heater safety, as well as propane heater benefits!
What is a Propane Heater?
Propane heaters can come in two specific forms - freestanding or attachment.
- A freestanding model is all-encompassing, comprised of a base, body, and propane tank attachment.
- The attachment type is exactly what its name implies, a handy attachment that can be attached to a standard LP tank.
Both types are portable, which is why this type of gas heater has become a popular choice for industrial and residential use.
Propane itself isn't alien, rather it is a byproduct of the same natural gas that flows through most homes and businesses throughout the world. It is a product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining. The type of fuel used in these units is known as LP or LPG (liquid petroleum gas), a hybrid mixture of butane and propane.
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Gas-Fired Forced Air Heater
You needn't be afraid of using a gas heating in your home or business. Propane is widely used as a fuel source to power many household necessities, such as water heaters, laundry dryers, furnaces, stoves, and many other appliances. A space heater is simply one of many devices using LP gas.
Are Propane Heaters Safe?
Yes they are safe, as long as you follow the proper directions. The danger of propane comes not from the gas itself, but rather from its organic byproduct of combustion - carbon monoxide. Propane has a strong odor, allowing you to quickly discover a leak with a simple sniff. Carbon monoxide (CO), however, is tasteless and odorless. This gas will compete with oxygen binding sites on the hemoglobin molecule, making it a safety hazard.
In other words, during - and only during - carbon monoxide poisoning CO replaces the O (oxygen) in human blood. Oxygen declines, but carbon monoxide increase in the body until the victim is rendered unconscious.
This all sounds very frightening, but the actual risk is slight and injuries are uncommon from carbon monoxide poisoning. Since the early 1990's, there have only been about 80 cases of serious carbon monoxide poisoning due to propane heater misuse. As noted above, it all depends on heating the smart way. So, how do you safely use a propane heater?
Propane Heater Safety Guide
Below you will find the most important tips to prevent CO poisoning due to inappropriate heater use. Be sure to follow these rules to prevent negligent operation.
Heating with gas is safe in outdoor settings. The science is simple - enough oxygen is present outdoors to render the CO harmless. These heaters are ideal for outdoor parties, construction sites, and workshops. In some cases, an appropriately labeled propane heater unit can be used indoors in spacious warehouses and factories.
As long as the propane combustion source is not present in a small, enclosed space you're safe. This is how you can safely use LPG stoves, portable gas water heaters, and propane fueled laundry dryers inside your home or business.
Never use this type of heater indoors or an enclosed space (such as a small, overcrowded factory) that's too small for the corresponding propane heater size. These units should never be operated within small campers or tents. Unless it is specifically labeled for indoor use, you should heed all safety codes and not operate the unit indoors.
A unfortunate scenario often involves a hunter that retires for the night with his propane heater inside a tent or small cabin. The radiant heater warms the space, but two other events begin that are invisible to the human senses.
First, the oxygen in the air depletes as the hunter sleeps because the heater consumes the O in the air. Second, CO is generated taking the oxygen's place. This is a natural, but unhealthy combination. As the oxygen level declines, it causes the hunter to become dizzy, confused, and possibly unconscious if nothing is done. The hunter has unwittingly caused the situation to unfold by using his heater indoors - contrary to the unit's safety instructions.
Propane Heater Safety by Size
These heaters comes in many different sizes. Your goal is to figure out the safe size for the space you want to heat. Compact, portable propane heaters usually produce 5,000 BTUs per hour or less. They attach to throw-away one pound LP gas tank and produce radiant heat. Often these are prime choices for campers and fisherman.
In a warehouse or construction setting, you may choose a larger unit to get the job done. These commercial propane heater units will produces upward of 10,000 to 45,000 BTU per hour of heat.
No matter the size, all propane heating units generate CO as a natural byproduct. The most important thing is to determine an appropriately sized heater for your application.
Not all models are alike, which is why you should shop smart. You have the ability to keep your family or business safe with consumer purchasing power. Check to make sure the model you choose is equipped with safety features.
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Gas Fired Heater
Some safety features to search for are:
- Locking burners
- Heat-resistant burners
- Rain or wind resistant shields
- Automatic safety devices
- Easy ignition systems
- Low-pressure burner system
- Lightweight body for easy handling
- Manual shut-off options
By far, the most important safety feature you should search for is an ODS or oxygen depletion system alert. When preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, an ODS alert can be your best friend. These alert systems are integrated into the heater body, alerting you to unsafe levels of low oxygen. The added protection can not only save lives, it can also simply provide peace of mind during everyday use.
Benefits of Heating with Propane
Why should you bother using propane if CO poisoning is a threat? The truth is, the benefits far outweigh the possible dangers. This is especially true since you control the power of prevention in your own hand.
These heaters extremely portable so they are great for a multitude of applications, home and commercial. A little propane can go a long way, so these heaters are ideal for quickly warming larger areas.
The propane is transformed into safe, infrared heat which is instant - so there's never any warm-up wait time. In addition, infrared burners can often be adjusted for heat settings (providing temperature customization) and directional versatility.
With a residential unit, this can mean the difference between a cold, uninviting yard and a cozy outdoor living space for entertaining guests. For commercial enterprises, the appropriate heater will spell the difference between an efficient work space and unsuitable working conditions.
So safely choose the propane heater that appropriately suits your needs while operating the unit according to the safety guide or owner's manual. Remember, never use a gas heater in an enclosed space unless it is specifically labeled otherwise.
Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning is simple, easy, and entirely in your hands. Enjoy the warmth your propane heaterprovides, but do so with this newfound knowledge and be safe!