Dangers Of Ventless Propane Heaters

unvented heaters, also popular as unvented gas heater or vent-free heaters, are considered some of the most efficient gas heaters. Some are up to 99.9% efficient. So, Dangers Of Ventless Propane Heaters?

The high efficiency means that they waste very little fuel. Only 0.1% or less of the natural gas goes to waste – a significant advantage over vented units that are mostly around 90% efficient. It’s often the main attraction among consumers who choose vent-free gas heating over vented options.

unvented gas heaters are also easier and cheaper to install. Since you don’t need to budget for the venting system, the installation process is smooth. They’re also generally less expensive compared to their vented counterparts.

Unfortunately, vent free appliances are also inherently riskier compared to vented models. Since they vent all byproducts inside the heated space, any poisonous materials in the byproducts can pose a risk to you and your family.

If you’re considering purchasing one, you may want to learn about the potential risks so you can make an informed decision.

What is a Ventless Propane Heater?

Ventless propane heaters are gas appliances that provide an alternative form of heating for homes without chimneys or venting systems.

Ventless propane is used to replace existing furnaces, boilers, and stoves. The combustion process takes place inside the heating unit itself, with normal household air serving as the primary source of oxygen intake.

Unlike traditional gas furnaces, ventless propane heaters are the most effective heating devices. Ventless propane heaters have a high energy-to-BTU ratio. This means that they can put out more heat per unit of gas than most other appliances.

However, ventless propane heaters also come with inherent dangers. Such include; carbon monoxide poisoning, toxic fumes, and fire risk if not used properly. If a unit malfunctions, there is no vent for combustion gases to escape through.

How Ventless Propane Heaters WorkDangers Of Ventless Propane Heaters

Let’s begin with a recap of how unvented gas heaters work to determine the potential byproducts and why you should be concerned.

As the name suggests, the unvented heating appliances are gas heaters that don’t vent fresh air outside the house. Two things usually define the heaters;

  • They draw the oxygen level needed for complete combustion from the room: This is different from vented systems with vents that bring combustion oxygen.
  • They vent all combustion byproducts inside the room: This is also different from vented systems that have chimney vent pipes that ferry combustion products outside the house.

The heaters produce water vapor, few incomplete combustion products, and carbon dioxide often making over 99% of the byproducts.

Direct Vent vs. Vent-free Propane Heaters

A direct vent heater is also a propane heater. However, it uses the air from outside as an additional source of oxygen for combustion. It is different from a vent-free gas appliance, which does not have any provision for expelling gases to the exterior of your home. 

A ventless propane heater has a lower installation cost than that of a direct vent. It also does not require any permanent installation, making it easy for homeowners to move their units from one location to another. Additionally, you don’t need any chimney or venting system to expel combustible gases from your home while using the ventless propane heater.

However, the direct vent heater is more expensive than its counterparts. They are among the propane heaters that require ventilation systems, such as those with built-in fans. It also comes with higher installation costs, as it requires you to have a permanent venting system installed in your home.

The ability of the ventless heater to relocate from one position to another, where needed the most in the homes, offers flexibility. On the other hand, the direct vent propane heaters do not offer the same since they require permanent installation.

Benefits of Ventless Propane Heaters?

Yes, there are benefits to ventless propane heaters. They are efficient and cost-effective during installation. This is because they are ductless and do not require any installation work.

Unlike other appliances that consume large fuel volumes per hour, ventless propane heaters also use smaller amounts of gas.

Ventless propane heaters have a low environmental impact. In addition to being cost-effective for homeowners who want an alternative form of heating their homes, a ventless propane heater is used without the need for chimneys or venting systems. 

Additionally, they can be easily moved from one location to another in the house, depending on where you most require them. The ventless propane heaters are also portable and do not need permanent installation. This factor makes it easier for homeowners to use their units during the winter season but remove them when heating is unavailable.

The propane heater is used in smaller spaces such as bedrooms and living rooms. It provides instant heating without any delay or seasonal difficulties that you might experience due to cold weather. 

Dangers Of Ventless Propane Heaters

Unfortunately, even the most efficient ventless propane heaters produce a few toxic byproducts that may be harmful to your health and the health of your loved ones. That’s why you need adequate ventilation in your home.

Some of the byproducts can also cause damage to your home. The most common safety concerns are as follows;

1. High CO2 levels can be risky

Although carbon dioxide is the fourth most abundant natural gas on the earth’s surface, prolonged exposure to high gas supply levels can be harmful to your health.

First off, a high concentration of carbon dioxide in the air can displace oxygen. This is a significant problem considering that, as we’ve seen, indoor ventless propane heaters depend on indoor air quality for combustion. If the combustion process depletes oxygen in the room and then you have carbon dioxide displacing the little oxygen left in the home, you’re in trouble.

Common symptoms of overexposure include depression of the central nervous system, eventually resulting in rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, clumsiness, emotional upsets, and fatigue. As the oxygen levels deplete further, nausea and vomiting may follow. Beyond that, collapse, convulsions, and death are possible.

2. Excess water vapor is also bad for your health

Water vapor is harmless in small quantities. However, unvented heaters produce a lot of water vapor. Studies show that a 20,000 BTU ventless propane heater produces about ¼ gallon of water vapor per hour when running.

Overexposure to water vapor increases a person’s susceptibility to upper respiratory disorders. The reason is that mold growth and fungi that trigger respiratory symptoms thrive in conditions with 60% humidity. Dust mites, bacteria, and viruses also enjoy conditions with 60% humidity or higher.

Worse still, even typically risk-free items such as carpets tend to emit toxic chemicals in excessively damp conditions in a process known as off-gassing. Off-gassing is caused by increased concentration of noxious chemicals when there’s overexposure to water vapor. It can make people experience skin, eye, and throat irritation.

3. Risk of carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is typically produced when there’s incomplete burning. In most cases, it happens when there’s not enough oxygen for the combustion process. Therefore, instead of producing CO2 and water, the combustion process produces traces of carbon monoxide.

The good news is that the high-efficiency levels of vent free fireplaces often mean that the likelihood of carbon monoxide is very low. However, “low” doesn’t mean it can never happen – and CO, even in small quantities, can be very dangerous.

According to OSHA, carbon monoxide, when breathed, displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, brain, and other vital organs of oxygen. It means that overexposure to carbon dioxide at high concentrations can overcome you in minutes – causing suffocation and loss of consciousness.

Even in small doses, CO inhalation causes a tight chest, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. After some time, you may also experience vomiting, confusion, and muscle weakness. Even death is possible.

4. Nitrogen dioxide poisoning

Another ever-present byproduct of ventless heater is nitrogen dioxide. It’s a reddish-brown gas that has a sharp, harsh odor at high concentrations.

However, at low concentrations, the color and scent aren’t apparent. This is usually the case in ventless gas heating. The extremely low levels of NO2 often mean that the natural gas is colorless and odorless or of yellow flame.

Unfortunately, nitrogen dioxide, even at low concentrations, can be dangerous. The gas is known to irritate the mucous membrane, potentially triggering or worsening respiratory issues such as lung disease, asthma, and obstructive pulmonary disease. Bronchitis, pneumonitis, and dyspnea are also potential risks.

Remember that nitrogen oxide also forms nitric acid when it comes in contact with water. This means that it’s even more toxic than nitric acid, though nitric acid may kill faster at lethal concentrations. The acid can scar bronchioles in the lungs resulting in a life-threatening episode.

The level of damage depends on the concentration levels of the inhaled NO2 and the duration of exposure. 

5. Potential damage to the property

Finally, vent-free gas heating isn’t just bad for your health. It can also cause significant damage to the property and your items.

  • Water damage: First off, we’ve seen that vent-free heating results in a lot of moisture. Moisture can damage your books and other paper-based items such as documents and cartons. It doesn’t end there. Moisture can also condense to form water that can pool on the floor, causing further damage.
  • Mold formation: When the moisture condenses on the walls, it can form a breeding ground for mold and mildew. Mold and mildew are known to trigger allergies and cause other respiratory issues. Mold can also weaken wooden structures.
  • Wall damage: Both mold and water can damage your walls. Whether you use wallpaper or paint, the damp conditions can make it come off, while mold can destroy it. Moisture can also seep into the wall and weaken it when using a wall heater. Read more on how to get rid of molds here.
  • Potential smoke damage: Most ventless space heaters are so efficient that they don’t produce smoke. However, as oxygen levels deplete, you may notice traces of smoke. Smoke can affect your health and is just as bad for your home as it blackens everything, from the walls to your items.

Alternatives to Ventless Propane Heaters

Electric Heaters

Electric heaters are considered the top alternatives to propane heaters. However, they do not offer as much heating power as that of a ventless propane heater. 

Additionally, electric heaters need you to have an electrical outlet installed in your home for them to function effectively. The cost of installation that comes with the electric heaters is also high.

Wood Burning Furnaces

When it comes to a ventless propane heating alternative, wood-burning furnaces are among the best options. These furnaces are not dependent on oil or gas to function. 

They are very effective at heating homes, especially during winter seasons without the need for electricity. Instead, they use the heat from burning wood to warm your home. Wood-burning furnaces are also pocket-friendly.

Vented Fire Places

These are also effective at heating your home. However, you need to fire up the fireplace whenever you want heat which can be a hassle. Lighting the fire might take too much effort and time on your part.

Moreover, vented fireplaces require installation because they come with chimneys or vents that help expel exhaust gases inside your home. Unfortunately, they also tend to lose more heat outside while expelling the gases out. This can lead to your home is colder than it should be indoors.

Be Warned

The dangers listed above don’t mean that safe ventless gas heating is impossible. Even vented gas heating systems are dangerous to a degree. It would be best if you were more careful.

Experts recommend that you begin by acquiring an Oxygen Depletion Sensor (ODS) to track oxygen levels in the home. This way, you can shut off and fix the propane heater whenever needed to prevent poisoning and relevant damages.