The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

The leaves have begun to turn color. There are the beginnings of a bite in the air. The mornings are brisk and there is a little more rainfall than the previous months. Fall has finally come!

If you live in the Midwest you have made it to a more comfortable season to be in. The summer’s heat with high humidity has lifted. You no longer feel as if you are wearing a wet blanket after being outside for just a few moments. With Midwest conditions, summer is a difficult time to get out and enjoy camping. To enjoy camping in the summer more, I have escaped the great state of Missouri for higher elevations regularly. It’s important to enjoy this time and get outside now while the weather lasts.

Fall is a very short season for us in Missouri, like many places in the Midwest, and I begin to prepare for camping in the much cooler temperatures of winter very quickly. There are safety considerations for staying warm in cooler temps, but I want to address one particularly in this article: propane heaters.

If you camp with your family, it is probable you may reach for the trusty propane heater this winter to warm up your loved ones. Propane heaters are great options for camping. They use a common fuel and produce decent heat for the small space they are designed for.

There are a few different brands. One popular brand used are Little Buddy heaters. They have a couple variants that differ mostly by their BTU output and physical size.

BTU stands for British Thermal Unit. BTU is defined by how much heat is required to bring one pound of water up one degree Fahrenheit.

Little Buddy Heaters
Courtesy of #KCSnowrunner

Although these heaters are nice for camping, they can be very dangerous. Below are a few hazards you should be prepared to mitigate if using them.

The heater uses a ceramic heating tile which can be very hot to touch. Little Buddy has already taken a step to help by having a grill over the face of the tile. Small children, curious in nature, could be burned if allowed too close to these units.

If they are placed in precarious positions the heater could fall. Again, Little Buddy has attempted to fix this issue by having a tilt switch to turn off the unit if it falls over. The guard also assists by creating distance to the ceramic tile. It would be a terrible misfortune for it to ignite the material it lands on. The unit should be placed on a stable platform to prevent tipping.

Additionally, these types of heaters produce carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas, and is poisonous for humans and animals. When carbon monoxide is in high concentrations it can cause carboxyhemoglobin, which removes the space needed to carry oxygen in the blood to the entirety of the body.

According to the National Institute of Health, the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may resemble other types of poisonings and infections, including symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, and a feeling of weakness. Affected families often believe they are victims of food poisoning. Infants may be irritable and eat poorly. Neurological signs include confusion, disorientation, visual disturbance, syncope (fainting), and seizures.

Little Buddy does have an Oxygen Depletion Sensor. Should oxygen levels become too low the unit is supposed to shut down. If this sensor did not did not work you would not know it in the middle of the night and could be a very deadly mistake. It is strongly advised to be mindful of proper ventilation when using these heaters.

Having the risk of a fatality, I would not advise using only the internal controls and safeties on the heaters themselves. For as little as $30.00 you could add additional safety by purchasing a carbon monoxide detector.

Courtesy of #hectic_1
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Photo of CO monitor in truck camper

These small detectors are great for alerting you should the PPM (Parts per million) of carbon monoxide reach dangerous levels. Since we can experience some of the adverse side effects mentioned above at 50 PPM, make sure the detector you select is able to detect lower levels. The detector should also have an audible alarm to alert of the dangerous levels.

When using my propane heater, I try to use it to pre-heat my sleeping area before I lay down for bed. Sleeping in 10 degrees is comfortable for me when I sleep with thermals, a stocking cap, and use a sleeping bag with liner. In future articles we will explore ways to stay warm when sleeping in freezing temperatures.

Hopefully this article helps you consider the hazards of using a propane heater and how to use them in a safe way.


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