Health Impact of Gas Heaters

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Pliro
Written by Pliro
Feb 7, 2019 Last updated: Mar 29, 2019
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According to one of the most recent surveys (2012) on heating systems usage in Pakistan, around 20% actually use gas heaters. Around 40 million people will be near a gas heater this winter. These systems do their job very well but also can be problematic. Considering this, there are a few things that the general public should take into consideration:

Downsides of Gas Heaters

  • Gas heaters are devices that can potentially release dangerous gases.
  • They require some form of maintenance 1 every 2 years by an specialized professional.
  • They always come with instructions on how they should be used, not following them could lead to major accidents.
  • Faulty, old or very cheap gas heaters are much more likely to release toxic gases and in such cases, alternative methods for heating are recommended.
  • Although is not and universally affordable option, we recommend buying a carbon monoxide alarm (US or UK standards) with your gas heater as a safety measure.

Pros of Gas Heaters

  • They are not as costly as electric versions.
  • Electricity load shedding doesn’t stop them.
  • They make spaces warm faster than electrical heaters.

If you have or are considering to buy a gas heater, then this article is for you. They are excellent devices, but need regular maintenance and proper use. Here we also present a short list of alternative systems for heating during the winter.

Alternative systems

If you are looking for alternatives to gas heaters, here are some really good options:

Geothermal heating

This method consists on taking advantage of the naturally higher temperature of certain places´s soil or underground water. Cool air enters into a device connected to a series of pipes that carry a circulating solution that collects the heat from the ground or water and transfers it to the air. These systems are more expensive than gas heaters. They depend on how hot or cold are the spaces underneath your house, but are much safer.

This method consists on taking advantage of the naturally higher temperature of certain places´s soil or underground water. Cool air enters into a device connected to a series of pipes that carry a circulating solution that collects the heat from the ground or water and transfers it to the air. These systems are more expensive than gas heaters. They depend on how hot or cold are the spaces underneath your house, but are much safer.

Pakistan does have the geological characteristics to make this type of heating a very realistic option; however, the necessary infrastructure is still under development.

Heating oil

These systems are cheaper and produce more heat in less time than gas heater. The oil they burn doesn’t need to be very specific. some people use homemade oil. The commercial type is not that expensive. The main disadvantage they have compared to gas heaters is that they are less efficient, meaning that the amount of fuel converted to heat is at most 80%, the rest is lost, gas heaters usually convert 90% or more of their fuel into heat.

Pellet Stoves

These are a modern approach to the classic wooden stoves. Basically, these burn highly compressed wood or special biomass pellets. This creates a constant flame that can be used to heat an entire house.. At the moment, this alternative is among the most “green” in the sense that it uses renewable energy, plus, the cost of the equipment and installation is lower than for other systems. The main problem here is maintenance, these stoves require a lot of attention, which creates inconvenients.

Solar energy

For winter, the only practical form of solar heating is the type that employs solar collectors (panels).. These can work with water or air, can provide energy to the house and are eco-friendly; however, they are not as efficient or powerful as the other alternatives and is rare even in wealthy countries.

Under-floor heating

This system can be powered by electricity or a boiler.  It lies underneath the floor while transfering heat to it. Is perfect for those with allergies since no air is being pumped constantly, they also are known to be very efficient (low energy waste). The main problem with under-floor heating is the installation, is expensive and complicated.

Heat pumps

They are the exact opposite of air conditioners. These systems use electricity to move heat from one area (usually outdoors) to another (indoors). The problem is that they consume a lot of energy. Also, don’t work very well if the outside temperature is too low (some do but they still have operational limits) and need to be used under very particular conditions.

Wood burners

They are a less advanced version of the pellet stoves. They use normal wood as fuel and tend to be a lot cheaper. these burners can heat an entire house if used correctly and can heat both air and water. One of the primary inconvenients is the fact that only dry wood is usable, which means that you need to store enough for the entire winter.

Electric heaters

The main appeal of these is that they are small and cheap, but they will increase your electric bill by a lot, most won’t heat large spaces (you’ll need to buy several for a big house) and many come with unreliable thermostats.

Health problems of Gas Heaters

Gas heaters are not bad systems or inherently dangerous, but they need to be used correctly and replaced or properly repaired when they break down. The main consequence of having a malfunctioning gas heater in your home is exposition to 2 toxic gases (carbon monoxide and and Nitrogen dioxide). Note: Please check this page to identify problems with your gas heater.

  • Exposition to CO: This gas is entirely undetectable by humans. That is why CO alarms are usually recommended when there’s a gas heater in a home, specially if the space is not well ventilated. The long-term effects of exposition to low doses of CO are unknown, but high doses can cause headache, dizziness, weakness, stomach problems, vomiting, chest pains and confusion. Very high doses can make you lose consciousness and even kill you before experiencing any symptom.
  • Exposition to NO2: This gas is easier to detect. If its concentration is high it will be visible with a characteristic reddish brown color and a strong smell, but lower concentration can be completely undetectable for our eyes and noses. One can be exposed for a period of time without showing any symptoms, however, in time those expose will start developing cough and/or wheezing, irritated nose, throat or eyes, lightheadedness, headaches, shortness of breath, chest tightness/pain, choking and sweating. More severe exposure can cause blue lips, fingers or toes, rapid breathing, fast heart rate, fever and worsening of respiratory conditions.   

As we mentioned before, if you follow some basic recommendations then gas heater are a perfectly safe option. Pakistan at the moment is going through a particular period in which natural gas remains as an important energy source but its reserves are starting to decline. For now, the use of gas heaters during the winter makes sense but still, some alternatives should be considered by the population in case of and increase in cost or gas shortage.  

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