Will Electric Heaters Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Winter has to be one of the most dreaded seasons in the world! People are always going out of their way to escape the nippy weather. One of the most effective ways to counter the cold is by installing electric heaters. But how safe are these heaters? Will Electric Heaters Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Fortunately, electric heaters do not burn fuel. Therefore, they pose no threat of emitting the deadly carbon monoxide gas into a home and would, therefore, not cause CO poisoning.

Electric heaters function through electric currents passing through metal or ceramic heating elements, producing heat. Nothing is burned up in this process to create heat. Therefore, carbon monoxide poisoning should be the least of your worries when using an electric heater.

There is much more to learn about electric heaters and carbon monoxide! This article will inform you about electric heaters, their safety, carbon monoxide poisoning, and its associated concerns.

Read on to find out more!

What Are Electric Heaters?

Will Electric Heaters Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Image of Electric Space Heater

An electric heater is a device used to heat rooms. You can use it for domestic central heating and material processing.

It functions by converting electric currents to heat through resistors. These resistors emit radiant energy.

In turn, the heat energy enables the electric heater devices to function as they do.

The resistors in electric heaters can entail metal-alloy wires, non-metallic carbon compounds, or printed circuits.

Electric heaters are considered the safest for home and office spaces as they require no exhaust vents.

Despite being considered “safe to operate,” you must take the necessary precautions to avoid the risks of fire or burns.

Such risks can result from accidental contact with the heating elements or hot surfaces of the electric heater.

One recommended precaution when using electric heaters is installing them away from flammable objects like drapes or curtains. You are also advised to keep it out of children’s reach and avoid using it during sleeping hours or when the area is unoccupied.

Electric heaters are impressively affordable! However, they are more expensive than combustion heaters. Electrical power also influences its cost in a given locality and how frequently one utilizes it.

These devices are specially designed to supplement a home’s primary heating system and boost the home’s temperature for a limited time frame. However, other types of electric heaters are used as primary heating systems in homes.

Electric heaters are heating apparatuses specially designed to warm the air for comfort.

Electric heaters are available in a wide variety. Listed below are some of them:

    • Electric fan heaters are made up of heating elements that generate thermal energy. They do this by passing electric currents via a resistive element, thus creating heat through the joule effect.
    • Electric infrared heaters. Unlike the typical heaters designed to warm the air in a room, electric infrared heaters are uniquely designed to heat objects or people directly in front of them. They are also referred to as radiative space heaters or electric radiant heaters.
    • Mica heaters, also known as micathermic heaters, are electric heaters whose heating elements are covered in mica sheet layers. The heating elements heat the mica stone, enabling the mica to function through convection and radiation.
    • Ceramic heaters. This is a form of an electric heater that uses an electric heating element made of positive temperature coefficient ceramic material. They are available in convective and radiant forms. The convective form uses a fan to transfer heat into a room, while the radiant form works similarly to an infrared electric heater.
    • Electric water heaters. This type of electric heater does not heat the air or space in a room. Instead, it heats water for bathing, dishwashing, and cloth washing, among other domestic purposes.
    • Electric floor heaters, also known as in-floor radiant heating, use electric heating cables or wires infused in a room’s flooring. This heating system uses both conduction and convection. It is an energy-efficient heating method that will make our room even more comfortable.
    • Electric fireplaces. These heaters resemble traditional wood-burning fireplaces. Electric fireplaces are fan-operated or radiant electric heaters. They use an electric heat element to generate heat, producing an electrically stimulated fire to function like a real fireplace.
    • Electric baseboard heaters. Like most baseboard heaters, electric baseboard heaters also contain copper pipes/tubing running through a heat exchanger from which hot water, through a boiler, is pumped to generate heat.
    • Electric heat pumps. They use a mechanical compression cycle to acquire heat from the outside air and use it to heat a home. They transfer heat into a home during cold seasons and reverse the heat transfer to function as an air conditioner during warm seasons.
    • Kickspace Heaters, also known as toe-kick heaters, use a motorized fan and an electric heating element to circulate warm air within a room. They work best in limited spaces, such as below cabinets or vanities.

All these electric heaters burn no fuel and hence pose no threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. Let’s explore carbon monoxide poisoning further.

What Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

According to the Mayo Clinic website, one may experience carbon monoxide poisoning when inhaling carbon monoxide gas (CO), which builds up in the bloodstream.

When this happens, the carbon monoxide replaces and displaces the oxygen in your red blood cells. This, in turn, causes severe tissue damage; it can also be as fatal as death.

So, what exactly is this carbon monoxide? It is a colorless, scentless, and tasteless gas. It is considered a “silent killer” because it will sip into a house and would hardly get noticed, sometimes until it is too late.

While everyone is at risk of experiencing CO poisoning, infants, the elderly, and people with chronic heart illness, anemia, or respiratory problems are more susceptible to CO.

Unborn babies are at a higher risk because fetal blood cells take up carbon monoxide more readily than adult cells.

Children are more susceptible to harm from CO poisoning because they take more frequent breaths than adults, hence will inhale CO more readily.

Elderly adults who experience CO poisoning are more likely to develop brain damage than younger and healthier people.

The common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Stomach Upsets
  • Vomiting/Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain/ chest tightness
  • Confusion
  • Poor muscle coordination.

If you inhale significant amounts of this poisonous gas, you will likely pass out or die in severe cases. Drunk people and those sleeping are more likely to succumb to CO poisoning before experiencing any symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asserts that at least 430 people in the U.S. succumb to accidental CO poisoning. It also states that approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. annually visit the emergency department following accidental CO poisoning. Alarming, isn’t it? 

This is why you are encouraged to take safety measures against CO poisoning, which we will discuss later in this article.

Is an Electric Heater Safe In a Closed Room?

As we said earlier in the article, electric heaters do not burn fuel. If fuel is burning, carbon monoxide poisoning will result from incomplete combustion.

Therefore, it is safe to use electric heaters in closed rooms. They don’t burn fuel, so they neither consume oxygen nor give off carbon monoxide.

However, there are other dangers associated with using electric heaters. 

One of the biggest fears associated with using electric heaters is the possibility of a fire crisis. Statistics show that electric space heaters cause about 55,000 fires, 450 deaths, and more than 1,500 injuries. Here is how they cause accidents and injuries:

  • All electric devices pose a shock hazard, regardless of whether you use them in a closed or open room.
  • Electric heaters also consume a significant amount of electricity. For this reason, they are more likely to overload circuits and cause a power failure or a fire crisis.
  • We always recommend installing heaters out of reach of children and pets because electric heaters can get quite hot! This puts children and pets at risk of getting burned, and adults can also accidentally get burned. It also increases the chances of clothes catching fire! Such an incident’s economic, physical, and emotional damages are unfathomable.

According to the HealthSite.com website, electric heaters are perfect for warming cold air. However, they reduce the moisture content in the air, thus making the air dry. This, in turn, will pose the following health threats to human lives:

  • Inhaling dry air results in respiratory complications such as asthma, bronchitis, and sinusitis. It also causes one to have nosebleeds due to unusually dried-up membranes.
  • Mucus membranes, the first defense lines against infections in the human body, are often moist. However, dry air will dry these membranes, thus trapping all dust and infection-causing agents. This, in turn, causes inflammation, which makes you more vulnerable to infections.
  • The several cases of dry and itchy skin during winter are unsurprising. We sing about skin hydration one too many times! However, the electric heaters dry the air, thus making it harmful to the skin. The issue is worsened b staying indoors with heaters since the dry air sucks out the moisture from your skin.

Now, with these negative implications, what do we do? We cannot ban electric heaters as they are crucial necessities, especially during winter. However, you can control the “dry air” situation and maintain moisture while enjoying the benefits of using electric heaters. Here are some tips:

  • Humidifiers or vaporizers are effective devices that would increase the moisture levels in your home.
  • Placing several water-filled bowls in several locations in your house is also helpful.
  • Hydrate yourself by constantly sipping warm or hot fluids like soups or teas. These will maintain the moisture in your nasal passages, airways, and throats.
  • You can also use natural moisturizers for healthy and hydrated skin.

Takeaway: Using an electric heater in a closed room is entirely safe. It burns no fuel, so it will not deplete oxygen in the air or emit the deadly CO gas. However, there are other risks associated with electric heaters, regardless of whether the rooms are closed or opened.

Do You Need Ventilation When Using an Electric Heater?

We must admit that keeping your family safe and comfortable is arduous! While electric heaters will keep us warm and cozy during winter, we can’t help but worry about their ventilation, especially in cases of malfunction or poor installation. So, do you need ventilation when using an electric heater?

Ventilation” describes the act of giving off exhaust due to the burning and combustion of fuel. Electric heaters do not need ventilation as they are powered by electricity. However, an electric heater only needs electric currents to produce heat, so it does not need vents.

Electric heaters differ from solid fuels like coal or wood, liquids like heating oil or ethanol, or gas like propane and gasoline, which require sufficient ventilation to function properly. For safety, ventilation is necessary for these heaters as some may produce deadly gases like carbon monoxide.

Described below is a snippet of the notable differences between electric and fuel heaters:

  • The primary difference between these two devices is that one is powered up by propane and gasoline to heat space, while the electric one only needs an outlet to function.

Electric heaters are more expensive than fuel heaters as they consume electricity, thus increasing the monthly electric bill. However, you can regulate this by turning off the central heating unit and only using the electric heaters in the room where they are kept.

  • Another primary difference between electric and fuel heaters is that fuel heaters require adequate ventilation, while electric ones don’t. This is because fuel haters combust fuel to heat a room. The ventilation should be deposited out of the house with a duct connected to the heater’s vents. Failure to vent these heaters will lead to the production of harmful fumes that can cause illness.

Here are tips on safely utilizing electric heaters at home:

  • Install the electric heaters away from anything that can burn, like furniture, curtains, bedding, etc.
  • Enforce a 3-foot rule about space heaters against your children. Also, avoid using electric heaters in the children’s bedroom.
  • Avoid using extension cords or power strips for your space heaters, as they could overload the circuits and cause an electrical fire.
  • Remember to turn off the heaters anytime you leave the room or go to bed.
  • Completely unplug the heater when you are not home to ensure the home’s safety and save money on energy consumption.
  • Avoid using an electric heater in a dump room like the bathroom or the mudroom unless they are specifically designed to work there.
  • Buy electric heaters only from duly certified manufacturers. Remember to read and follow all instructions from the manufacturer.

How Do I Know If Carbon Monoxide Is In My House?

Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and poisonous. It can get deadly upon reaching unsafe levels. While you can hardly smell the gas, several warning signs would alert you of its presence. Let’s discuss some.

  • Presence of Black or Yellow Stains Around Gas Boilers, Stoves, or Fireplaces

Sooty stains on your appliances signify a loose or faulty connection, and carbon monoxide leaks into the house.

The sooty stains can also be on front covers or panels on a gas fireplace.

  • Smoke Build up Anytime You Use the Fireplace

Smoke will not vent from your chimney if anything is blocking it. The presence of smoke increases the CO concentration levels in your home; therefore, if you leave the fire to burn, it will become deadly.

A chimney often contains an upward draft you can feel once you open the flue. However, if you cannot feel the presence of the draft, it could be a severe warning of CO gas building up around your home.

  • Presence of Yellow Flames on Gas Appliances.

Gas appliances often produce blue flames when burning properly. However, yellow or orange flames could be a red flag that carbon monoxide is building up. If the burners do not ignite fully, it could signify CO buildup.

  • Pilot Lights Blowing Out Frequently

The pilot lights are the small flames on furnaces, gas stoves, and water heaters that constantly burn to prevent gas leakage. However, if the pilot lights frequently flicker or cannot stay lit, it could mean that CO has built up in the air around them.

A blue color on the pilot flame could also indicate that the gas is not adequately burning and that CO is accumulating in the atmosphere.

  • Condensation Buildup on Windows Near Gas Appliances

The presence of water droplets on the inner part of the windows in a room with gas appliances could also signify CO build and the gas appliance not adequately venting.

  • Mild CO Poisoning Symptoms Similar to Flu or Food Poisoning

Once the CO levels rise to 50 parts per million (ppm), one will start experiencing flu-like symptoms. These symptoms include fatigue, confusion, difficulty breathing, chest pains, dizziness, stomach pains, and nausea.

These signs could indicate unsafe CO levels within your surroundings. Unlike flu, which is characterized by fever, you won’t experience any fever with CO poisoning.

Also, if everyone in your home, including pets, gets sick simultaneously, it could signify CO accumulation in the house. If it were the flu, one person would get sick and spread it to others.

If these symptoms disappear once you step out of the enclosed/home environment and return when you are back, it clearly indicates the presence of CO gas.

Understanding these signs can help you save a life. Watch out for the described signs of carbon monoxide and promptly take the necessary precautions.

What Are the 3 Most Common Causes of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Several household appliances burn fuel, emitting deadly carbon monoxide gas. However, using such appliances, especially when properly maintained, will not put you at risk of inhaling unsafe CO amounts.

However, if the fuel-burning appliances are used without proper ventilation, you will likely experience carbon monoxide poisoning. It can also happen if the appliances have malfunctioned or are poorly installed.

Gas space heaters, furnaces and chimneys, back-drafting, gas stoves, generators, other gasoline-powered equipment, and automobile exhaust from attached garages are the most common appliances that could cause CO leakage.

Let’s discuss the three most common causes of CO poisoning:

  • Gas Space Heaters

Most carbon monoxide poisoning occurs during winter since most people use gas heaters to warm their houses. If the gas heaters are not appropriately vented, they use combustible fuel and indoor air to heat the room. As a result, it will deplete the oxygen in a room and vent the gases it makes (CO included) into the room rather than outdoors.

Also, if the space heaters are poorly installed or malfunctioning, they release carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes into the room. If this happens, oxygen will be depleted, and CO levels will increase, causing asphyxiation.

  • Furnaces and Chimneys

Furnaces that heat air in a room can develop cracks on the heat exchanger due to expansion and contraction. The cracks, in turn, lead to incomplete combustion, allowing carbon monoxide to escape into the home. A broken chimney connector also contributes to CO buildup. This is due to reversed airflow in the chimney when the fireplace burns.

  • Back-drafting

Poorly vented appliances in a home will cause back-drafting. To avoid this, the CDC advises angling up horizontal vent pipes like those in water heaters. This will minimize carbon monoxide leakage, especially if the pipes or joints are not tightly fit.

Can Your Phone Detect Carbon Monoxide?

Installing a carbon monoxide detector is the safest way to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning. The device will sound an alarm once it detects higher-than-usual CO levels.

Thanks to technological inventions, smart carbon monoxide detectors have been invented! These devices come with mobile apps. These apps contain features that allow you to determine carbon monoxide levels on your phone and check the CO detector battery life.

The smart carbon detectors also give you options for how you want to be notified in case of a device issue or failure.

Therefore, it is possible to detect carbon monoxide using your phone.

Below is a least of the best smart carbon monoxide detectors:

  • First Alert Onelink Safe& Sound.
  • Google Next Protect Carbon Monoxide Detectors
  • First Alert Z-Wave Smoke Detector & Carbon Monoxide Alarm
  • Sitwell Wifi Smoke Detector
  • AEGISLINK Wi-Fi Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector

What Medication Is Used to Treat Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Visiting the emergency room is vital if you suspect you are experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning. Your doctor will test a sample of your blood before they diagnose you with CO poisoning.

TIP: If you develop any signs or symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, remove yourself from the intoxicated area to a place with fresh air—immediately 911 or emergency medical help.

According to the Mayo Clinic, you will receive the following treatment plans to counter CO poisoning:

  • Inhaling Pure Oxygen

While in the emergency room, you will be given pure oxygen through a mask placed over your mouth and nose. This will facilitate the movement of oxygen into your organs or tissues (CO gas deprives the tissues and organs of oxygen, causing some severe damage).

If you cannot breathe independently, a ventilator will be used to breathe on your behalf.

  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

This therapy involves the CO-affected patient spending time in a pressurized oxygen chamber. The pressure in this chamber is usually about two to three times higher than usual. Here, the patient will inhale pure oxygen, speedily replacing carbon monoxide with oxygen in the blood.

This treatment method is often used in cases of severe CO poisoning. During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the heart and brain tissues more vulnerable to CO poisoning are protected from damage.

The therapy will also help pregnant women intoxicated with CO since unborn babies are at a higher risk of damage from CO poisoning.

Final Thoughts

Electric heaters are a necessity during the brass monkey weather. However, we want to be careful not to harm our health in our quest for coziness. So,

Will Electric Heaters Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The answer is no. Electric heaters burn no fuel and hence will produce no carbon monoxide gas. Therefore, they cannot cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is among the most feared gases, as it silently enters the room with no smell or taste. The safest way to protect yourself from it is by installing CO detectors, which will alert you if the gas levels are above normal.

Despite the expenses involved, electric heaters are commendably safe. You do not need ventilation or extreme restrictions to use it.

Let’s stay safe during this winter by having our heat appliances installed by licensed professionals, doing proper maintenance, and installing CO detectors to alert us to a peculiar CO situation.

Best of luck!

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