In an indirect way, yes, a space heater is capable of making you ill. Just like any other heating device available in stores, space heaters produce copious amounts of carbon monoxide.
Sleeping with a space heater on carries a terrible risk of incurring carbon monoxide poisoning.
As covered earlier, carbon monoxide operates silently. The gas itself is odorless and colorless, and you will be unable to distinguish it from other ordinary gases as you inhale and exhale, especially when you are in the throes of sleep.
Since it is fatal and capable of killing within a handful of hours, you may not want to ignore the symptoms of potential poisoning.
The moment you feel lethargic, confused, out of breath, dizzy, nauseous or even begin to vomit and have blurred vision without any solid reason, you have most likely been poisoned by carbon monoxide.
If you suspect you have been poisoned, immediately call the emergency response hotline and get to the nearest hospital for treatment. It could be the only way to save your life.
What Should I Do To Protect Myself Against A Space Heater?
Space heaters are easy to install, use and maintain in general. But here are some quick pointers on how to use one safely and minimize the safety risks and fire hazards posed by a space heater:
- Position your space heater at least three feet away from any human or living being, especially children or animals.
- Always keep the space heater away from the direct pathway of walking and sitting humans. Keeping a space heater in the corner of the room, against the wall and away from the window is probably the best.
- Keep the space heater out of the reach of any flammable materials. This goes for anything made out of wood, paper and cloth, such indoor potted plants, bedsheets, curtains, carpets or even blankets.
- Always maintain an appropriate distance radius from anything that can pose as a fire hazard.
- Turn off your space heater before leaving a room and before going to bed. Never place anything on top of the heater either because this may cause it to tip and fall over.
- Do not plug your space heater into extension cords, even if they have surge protectors. Instead, plug your space heater directly into an electrical socket and test the socket to make sure it is not faulty.
- Most space heaters have been noted to use up to 1500W at maximum capacity. That is a lot of power! Plugging a space heater into an extension cord runs the risk of the extension cord overheating and causing an electrical short-circuit, which will then turn your space heater into a shock hazard.
- Install smoke alarms in your home. These alarms are capable of detecting even the faintest traces of smoke, carbon monoxide and are set to go off at a jarring beep if there is a fire in your house.
- Should your space heater start a fire in one of your rooms without your knowledge, your smoke alarm should give you sufficient warning to either put out the fire or evacuate your house.
- Always check the smoke alarm to see if it works. If the beeps have become faint, swap out the batteries and test it again.
- Invest in a carbon monoxide detector at your home. Try to install one for each level of your house, including your basement and attic.
- Each bedroom should harbor at least one detector, and check them periodically to ensure they are still working efficiently.
Watch this video – Chris Harvey from the Sacramento Fire Department shows you some space heater safety tips and importance of smoke detectors.
Can A Kerosene Heater Make You Sick?
Another type of heater that is commonly utilized in households is the kerosene heater. Although this type of heating is unvented and uses kerosene as a source of fuel, it is also portable and provides a good source of heat during wintry months.
Yes, it can. Inhalation of the gas byproducts of the kerosene heater can trigger serious health problems, especially in individuals who are sensitive towards the smell of kerosene and sulfur dioxide.
Respiratory problems such as breathing difficulties and asthma are a common occurrence in sensitive individuals who are exposed to a kerosene heater for a prolonged period of time.
Continuous exposure to the fumes may even lead to liver, kidney or neurological damage, and even cause blood clots in the heart.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in the US has also reported that some people experience gastrointestinal discomfort after suffering from kerosene poisoning – mainly by attempting to drink it. Unfortunately, most of these individuals are small children, who are prone to dipping their fingers in foreign liquid and licking them.
Individuals suffering from kerosene poisoning often showcase several symptoms such as coughing, stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhea.
In worst cases, they can even become unconscious. Since children are the most apt to be poisoned by ingesting kerosene, it is advisable to store your kerosene in labelled cans or tanks behind the doors of locked cabinets.
How Do I Choose a ‘Safe’ Space Heater?
The selection process is just as important as owning and maintaining a space heater.
Here are some things you need to watch out for when you hit the store to handpick your space heater:
Purchase space heaters that have the United Laboratories (UL) mark stamped on them, with a Quality Control (QC) sticker for added reassurance. This means that the heater in question is less likely to be defective or faulty, and is working perfectly fine.
Look out for space heaters that automatically shut off when they either overheat or are tipped over. Some space heaters come with built-in safety features that immediately stops a heater from functioning if they fall, or if the core temperature of the heater exceeds its maximum designated value.
Some space heaters contain thermal fuses that will automatically disconnect the device from a power source when there is an upsurge of current flowing through the heater.
This is extremely useful in the event of a power outage due to a storm, whereby a burst of electricity suddenly flows through the heater at once.
The sensor within the heater trips and the fuses melt, thus stopping the heater from short-circuiting further and becoming a shock hazard to anyone who comes into contact with the exterior casing.
Always select space heaters that have a low center of gravity. Do not be swayed by fancily-shaped heaters that are both tall and light.
Instead, purchase a heater based on models that emphasize a weighted base or one that is designed with a shorter stature and broader base.
A wider, weighted base contributes towards a lower center of gravity. This means that the chances of the space heater tipping over or being accidentally knocked over is far lesser, as compared to a model with a slim, lighter design.
Health Hazards Possessed By Gas Heaters
One of the main gases emitted by gas heaters is nitrogen dioxide. Nitrogen dioxide usually has a rusty red color to it, and a very sharp, pungent odor that can irritate the insides of your nose.
When inhaled at high concentrations for a prolonged period of time, it can cause a variety of symptoms including breathing difficulties and coughing.
If you inhale it continuously, you even run the risk of developing an asthma attack, exacerbating your Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) symptoms or even dying. Another two gas byproducts to watch out for are carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Both these gases can cause poisoning in their own respect, and you would require emergency medical attention at the hospital if you find yourself breathless, weak, nauseous or even unconscious.
This in turn will pose as a serious health risk, especially for individuals who are particularly sensitive towards the smell of kerosene.
Health Risks Of Using a Kerosene Heater?
Kerosene heaters produce a lot of heat. Unlike ceramic heaters which are protected by a tough plastic casing that servers as a bufferzone between curious hands and the internal plates of the heater, a kerosene heater offers no such protection.
Any fingers or paws that brush against the heater will be rewarded with an awful burn. Thus, it is recommended that the heater be kept isolate from small children and any of your four-legged furry friends.
Since all kerosene heaters are unvented, the combustion of gases within the heater releases toxic byproducts into the air. When a heater is placed inside a home and used without rest, the amount of gas byproducts builds up, thus elevating air toxicity.
As mentioned earlier, two of the major gaseous byproducts generated by a kerosene heater is carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.
Whilst carbon monoxide is odorless and inhaled undetected, sulfur dioxide produces a rank odor of rotting eggs, which makes it easily detectable.
The combination of inhaling these gases for a prolonged period of time can result in various symptoms such as asphyxiation, nausea, dizziness and vomiting which could lead to a trip to the emergency room at the hospital. In severe circumstances, prolonged inhalation of these two gases can prove fatal.