Kerosene Space Heaters

Q: Is it OK to heat my home with a kerosene space heater if my furnace isn’t working?

A: An indoor kerosene heater should only be used in emergencies, like your heat being temporarily out during extremely cold weather. If you are worried about the pipes freezing, drain them or choose another way to heat your home. It is not worth the health risk.

Here are a number of other ways to stay warm:

Many families in North Carolina make tough financial decisions. Replacing a furnace may be further down the list than food or rent. There are a variety of nonprofits, government agencies and places of worship that are able to offer assistance to families with limited income. Reach out for help in your community, or if you are able, give time or money to keep your neighbors warm this winter.

Using a kerosene heater, unvented gas fireplace or any unvented gas appliance inside for an extended period can cause or worsen a variety of health problems. In extreme situations, it could cause death from fire or asphyxiation.

Combustion appliances such as kerosene heaters put out gases and water vapor that must be removed from your home. Your woodstove has a chimney and your furnace has a flue, but gases and water vapor from a kerosene heater will leave your home only if you have “adequate ventilation.” Unfortunately, there is no way for you to confirm if your home is leaky enough to provide “adequate ventilation.”

The health effects of exhaust gases, including carbon monoxide, vary based on concentration, exposure time and personal susceptibility. Children, pregnant women, the elderly and individuals with circulatory or respiratory problems are most at risk. Carbon monoxide is dangerous because you cannot see, taste or smell it. A carbon monoxide alarm will only sound when levels are near fatal, not when you are enduring low-level poisoning symptoms, such as a headache, nausea or dizziness.

Another health consideration is water vapor created by the combustion process. Water vapor trapped in your home will lead to mold growth.

If your only option is a kerosene heater, there are a few steps you must take to stay safe.

  1. Only use a heater that is meant for indoor use.
  2. Make sure that your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are operable. Preferably, use a carbon monoxide monitor that displays parts per million (ppm), so you know to open a window or turn off the heater before experiencing low-level poisoning.
  3. Read and follow heater instructions thoroughly.
  4. Never leave the heater unattended. This includes turning it off while you are sleeping.
  5. Use the heater in a well-ventilated area. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, this means operating the heater in a room with a door open to the rest of the house. If you must operate your heater in a room with the door closed to the rest of the house, open an outside window approximately one inch to permit fresh air to effectively dilute the pollutants. This also applies if your home is relatively new and tight or older but has been winterized to reduce air infiltration from the outside.