Thread Number: 73256  /  Tag: Other Home Products or Autos
Are gas wall heaters safe?
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Post# 967629   11/13/2017 at 01:03 by thomasortega (Los Angeles - CA)        

Guy, I've just leased a new apartment on Los Angeles and I have a question, as I'm not used to any kind of heaters or furnaces (except the one i had in my apartment in Dallas that was built in the wall together with the central air conditioner.)

The apartment has a double wall furnace by Williams. It's kinda popular here in Los Angeles area.

I've stayed in a hotel for a few days that had a similar heater. There's a small and simple thermostat in the shared wall between the living room and the master bedroom that darn thing is.

When i stayed in that hotel I could notice that thing gets really hot. (I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like a turkey in the oven).

There is no blower at all.

There is a "pilot" flame both in the bedroom and in the living room side. Actually I'm still not really sure if it's a double unit with two fronts or two separate units coincidentaly in the same position and sharing the same thermostat.

1) How safe it is? I haven't used the one in the apartment yet and the landlord said it was inspected by the gas company otherwise they wouldn't turn on the gas.
2) When I was at the hotel, i could notice a smell almost like "gas dryer vent". and the air was "heavy" to breath. I panicked and opened the door and windows to renew the air,turned that thing off and slept like a popsicle.
The idea of a gas appliance in the bedroom sounds kinda "stupid". Isn't there a huge CO poisoning risk? can I, for example, sleep with that thing running all night long during the winter?
3) Does it make any sense to buy two electric space heaters, use the gas heater only to warm up and then turn it off and use the electric heaters to keep the temperature? or that thing is safe enough and i'm being silly?
4) Both the living room and bedroom have ceiling fans. Couldn't the ceiling fan simply blow the pilot flame when the heater is off? Is it safe to keep the pilot on when the heater is off? I mean, during the summer of course i plan to keep the pilot off, but during the winter, is there any advantage of turning the pilot when the heater is not in use and light it only before adjusting the thermostat?

As last resource. is that thing so obsolete and dangerous that is better if I simply forget it exists and use only the electric space heater i have.

Post# 967630 , Reply# 1   11/13/2017 at 01:14 by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

Gas wall heaters like you describe seem to be the most common form of heat in California. They're perfectly safe as long as nothing combustible is near them, they're kept clean, and the flue vent is kept clear. I have seen them a few times where the flue was plugged and gases were spilling out the draft diverter into the room. Make sure that isn't happening. Otherwise there's really nothing wrong with them assuming it's not old and decrepit. I feel far less safe with a properly functioning electric space heater than I do a proper functioning gas wall heater.

And they do make a double wall heater


Post# 967638 , Reply# 2   11/13/2017 at 02:18 by rp2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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Yes, wall heaters are very common here.  We have one in our den.  We also used to stay at a little beach cabin that had a double back-to-back unit.  I don't remember the brand, but it was really old.  It had a pair of "panel ray" type vertical tubes that radiated the heat.  It kept that drafty cabin nice and toasty, and often we had to get up during the night and turn it way down, or off (no thermostat, just burner control knobs on the unit).  IIRC each unit had a separate pilot, but they shared the same flue. 


It takes quite a breeze to blow out a pilot.   I wouldn't worry about the ceiling fan's effects.   I prefer to place a small air circulator type fan on the floor in the corner of the room aimed straight up and set to its lowest speed.  They're inexpensive and effective.


You do not want to use an electric heater if you have the option to heat with gas.  Gas is far cheaper.  And, if Southern California Gas says the heater is safe, it probably is.  Gas companies will shut off or otherwise disable heaters and stoves if there's the slightest indication of a hazardous condition, and in your case the apartment management would have to correct the problem.


If  you stayed in the hotel on some of the first cold nights of the season, there would be dust on the burner and other hot components due to lack of use, which would cause an unpleasant odor as it burns off, but with continued use there's no chance for dust to accumulate in that quantity, and there's no more smell.



Post# 967660 , Reply# 3   11/13/2017 at 06:25 by tolivac (greenville nc)        

I now vaguely remember these-in very old Hotel rooms we stayed in while traveling and some older home trailers.

Post# 967676 , Reply# 4   11/13/2017 at 08:15 by Rolls_rapide (Scotland, UK)        
Ceiling fans and gas fires

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It seems they don't play well together. Fan reverse mode down-draughts can create pockets of low pressure, encouraging combustion byproducts into the room.

And 'Fan reverse mode' is intended for central heating installations only, to shift warm air from the ceiling back down to floor level.

Department of Trade and Industry report (Archived).

Click on the link, then click 'View the item you were looking for'.


Post# 967706 , Reply# 5   11/13/2017 at 12:39 by Dustin92 (Jackson, MI)        

If they are the ventless type, not a chance I'd use them. Sure they are made to burn clean, but you still have combustion byproducts from *any* fire. I wouldn't want to breathe that, especially in my bedroom. I'd pick up a couple of the oil filled electric radiators (usually $50 or less), make sure they aren't running on the same circuit and run the ceiling fans on low reverse to circulate the heat. Sure electric heating is more expensive, but your health/life is worth it.

Post# 967707 , Reply# 6   11/13/2017 at 12:45 by brucelucenta (Queen Roberta has blocked me from posting, so not likely to)        

If you hate it that badly find another apartment that has a different kind of heat. Doubtful that the landlord is going to keep a heater that is dangerous to tenants, considering the law suit they could suffer. Gas heaters are made so that the fumes go through a heat exchanger and out the vent to the roof and do not poison you with CO2. The gas company tests for that and makes sure there are no leaks or breaks in the heat exchanger so you will be safe. If you are still concerned about it you might get a C02 detector that you can purchase at any hardware store. It will go off like a fire detector if it detects C02.

Post# 967709 , Reply# 7   11/13/2017 at 13:05 by Yogitunes (New Jersey)        

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I have one in the works excellent...this one is ventless....which is
OK for living spaces, not bedrooms, those must be vented outside per code...

I have the option for an electric added to the heating.....but I just stick with the gas section...

only the gas fire is operated by thermostat....the internal fan is not, just off and on...

this unit is convertible to LP is needed...

not much different than the gas fireplace in the living room.....but that one is a sealed combustion, with a fan for forced air heat...optional Summer use for a fire without heat...this one has no thermostat for anything...

Post# 967711 , Reply# 8   11/13/2017 at 13:09 by wayupnorth (On a lake between Bangor and Bar Harbor)        

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I have a ventless gas fireplace in my downstairs rec room. It has a safety sensor that shuts everything off if the oxygen level of the room starts to drop towards an unsafe level. It has never set off my carbon monoxide detector. I have a vented thru the roof gas Hearthstone in my living room, that looks like a little woodstove, but both work without power. When the wind is howling and it blows down the chimney, the safety on the Hearthstone shuts off everything.

Post# 967723 , Reply# 9   11/13/2017 at 14:29 by Gyrafoam (Roanoke, VA)        

My old place in Atlanta had them. Big ones that were all vented. They were everywhere in the deep-south when I was growing up. There was a tiny POS in the bathroom I replaced with a ventless wall unit. The old houses were so poorly weather-proofed nobody even cared about the big ventless units.I brought the wall unit with me to Virginia and I installed it in the basement. Works great. Gas logs in the living room.

If the power goes out in a blizzard, I have heat, hot water, and can cook on the stove or grill since all are gas.

Post# 967729 , Reply# 10   11/13/2017 at 15:28 by Rolls_rapide (Scotland, UK)        

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I think you mean a 'Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector'. CO is the poisonous gas produced through incomplete combustion. It swaps places with oxygen in the blood.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the gas produced by normal combustion.

Post# 967845 , Reply# 11   11/14/2017 at 03:02 by thomasortega (Los Angeles - CA)        

Right now I'm in my room... First night here in the new home...

The landlord said the gas company came and inspected the heater. They are kinda paranoid about this kind of appliance because if they give the all clear, turn on the gas and something goes wrong, the first lawsuit will be against the gas company that authorized an unsafe appliance and turned on the gas in the property.

Ok, i feel safer.

There is also a CO detector in the bedroom and If i'm not mistaken, there's another in the living room. (not sure, need to check) But anyway, as soon as I can, i'll buy my own CO and smoke alarms, high end just to have an added security.

But anyway. That thing heats ok, but it's so noisy (clicks and metal bangs and "wooooop" when the burner ignites) that I think I'm going to use this darn gas thing only to help reducing the first heating costs and then turn the thermostat to off and use my silly ceramic heater that heats amazingly well and is silent.

It's impossible to sleep with that thing making loud noises right next to me.

Post# 967915 , Reply# 12   11/14/2017 at 12:53 by rp2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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Yes, you'll get noise with the metal parts expanding and contracting (unless you're a light sleeper you'll get used to it), but the "woooomp" sound might be fixable.  There's an adjustable mixture of air and gas going to the burner.   The adjusters appear as openings on the tubing or iron sections of the supply line feeding the burner, which are usually safely accessible while the burner is lit.  Adjust them all the way open and you'll probably get a roaring blue flame that may actually appear to be suspended in air above the burner.  Close them all the way and you'll get an inefficient yellow flame that produces soot and CO.  What you want is a quiet blue flame with a well-defined center (visualize the flame image on the panel of a vintage Maytag gas dryer). 


However, some burners just make that "woooomp" sound regardless.  Check to see what the flame on yours looks like, and if it's already appearing to be at optimum air & gas mixture (the So. Cal. Gas guy may have checked it and called it good), the sound of ignition may just be normal for it.

Post# 967916 , Reply# 13   11/14/2017 at 12:56 by jkbff (Happy Rock, ND)        

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So I was checking these out cause I'm curious.

Are they a ceramic heater or are they heating a flu/heat exchanger?

Post# 967917 , Reply# 14   11/14/2017 at 13:32 by Gyrafoam (Roanoke, VA)        

I never knew of one that makes a lot of noise. I used to turn them down at bed-time and crank it up in the morning. Just a low flame overnight was all I needed.

Post# 967921 , Reply# 15   11/14/2017 at 14:08 by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

I do recall the newer Williams wall heaters being pretty noisy at ignition. When my sister lived in a place with a wall heater in the living room where I slept when I stayed with her, I had no issue with the noise and sleeping. It wasn't very loud at ignition either. It was an older unit probably from the early 70s.

Post# 967943 , Reply# 16   11/14/2017 at 16:40 by rp2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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If the unit is controlled by a thermostat, there's no option to decrease the flame.  If it's not thermostatically controlled and just has knobs, then you can keep it on a low flame indefinitely and there won't be any cycling on and off.


The wall unit in our den is a +/- 1980 replacement of the original, which was from the early-to-mid '60s.  The old one used to make some serious noise as it heated up or cooled down.  The current one will make some rapid ticking sounds immediately after it kicks in as some of the sheetmetal parts heat up, but that's about it.

Post# 967945 , Reply# 17   11/14/2017 at 16:57 by DADoES (TX, U.S. of A.)        

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The paternal grandparents had one with a blower, in the wall at one side of the double doorway between the front living room and middle kitchen/dining area.  Dated to the 1950s most likely, or maybe 1960s.  Thermostat across on the other side of the doorway.  They typically had it running hot as hell ... somebody *always* promptly turned it off during the Christmas gathering.

Post# 968041 , Reply# 18   11/15/2017 at 05:11 by foraloysius (Groningen, the Netherlands)        

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Gas wall heaters overhere have two pipes through the wall (actually two canals in one pipe). That is mandatory. It pulls air from outside and the combustions are vented back outside. So no gas fumes can get into the room where the heater is. Together with other safety features, they are quite safe. They are becoming very rare though with central heating etc.

Here's an older gas wall heater with such a pipe.

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Post# 968056 , Reply# 19   11/15/2017 at 08:20 by Rolls_rapide (Scotland, UK)        

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Our gas fires and gas central heating boilers have to be vented outside.

In fact, gas fires seem to be dwindling, as local councils replace them with gas central heating and 'focal point electric fires' (the fan heater type).

The only non-vented types that I know of were the old portable paraffin heaters, and bottled Calor Gas Fires - which are still available. The trouble with these, is that condensation builds up in the room very quickly.

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Post# 968127 , Reply# 20   11/15/2017 at 15:16 by eronie (Flushing Michigan)        

Gas stoves are not vented an nobody worrys about them go figure.

Post# 968131 , Reply# 21   11/15/2017 at 15:46 by foraloysius (Groningen, the Netherlands)        

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Well, I have asthma and I prefer not to be in a kitchen where a gas stove is used.

Post# 968133 , Reply# 22   11/15/2017 at 15:56 by johnrk (Houston)        
Like DADoES,

my little granny had one of those that a couple of uncles installed in her home in the country, between the living room and the dining room. Now, that house was easily under 1000 sq ft so that thing was like the fires of hell when the doors were open.

Before that, and even after that was instilled, though, she had one of the little gas space heaters in her living room with the sort of ceramic bars that showed some flame. As a little kid I loved to go visit in cold weather and sit near it and just watch the glow. It was fired by butane, and there always seemed to be a distinctive odor in there...

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Post# 968149 , Reply# 23   11/15/2017 at 17:10 by cornutt (Huntsville, AL USA)        

If it's natural gas, that "whoomp" should be fixable. But if it's LP gas, that is the way it ignites -- all of a sudden. We have LP gas fireplaces and they do that. Scared the heck out of me the first time I saw it.

Post# 968159 , Reply# 24   11/15/2017 at 17:54 by CircleW (NE Cincinnati OH area)        

My grandfather in Mississippi had a couple of those gas heaters similar to the one John posted above. His were older models with fancier enclosures. For some reason, I thought they were scary when I was a little kid. Never saw them lit, as we were always there in the Summer. His house also had a fireplace.

Post# 968166 , Reply# 25   11/15/2017 at 18:11 by johnrk (Houston)        

Heaven only knows it could've caught us on fire, as they did with so many children in the past! I always wondered how much butane the thing actually used. My granny had a gas/butane stove and also a gas refrigerator, as she didn't get electricity in the country until around 1950.

The home my parents owned when I was born had one of these little space heaters in the bathroom, but like you, I never saw it lit.

Post# 968632 , Reply# 26   11/17/2017 at 23:40 by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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Yes, wall heaters are very common in California. As I recall, most of the flats we lived in SF in the 60's had no central heating, just one or more wall heaters, or, even more vintage, free-standing little metal heat boxes. It's a mild climate so it didn't really get all that cold most of the time. Most of them were simple on/off with no thermostat, although you could lower the flame a bit with the gas valve. Really old and funky heaters were recessed in the first floor of homes... the guts protruding into the crawl space or basement below. All that showed above was a floor grating. Woe to the sleepy kid who walks barefoot across a heater grate that has been on for a while! Most of these were turned on an off by a key, sometimes a couple of feet long.

I don't think ventless home heaters are legal in California. All the ones I've seen have flues.

I recall there was a tragedy in Berkeley in the 80's where the Indian owner of an apartment building, who used to rent to young women from India (for not entirely above board reasons, "to work in his restaurant") didn't maintain the heaters. Apparently there was some roof work done and it blocked the flue for one apartment. Multiple deaths from CO poisoning, despite a record of complaints from the tenants about the heating.

I've never seen a wall heater with a double flue like Louis describes. It's a very good idea, though, and prevents outside cold air from being sucked into the dwelling to feed the flame. The air for combustion comes from one of the dual flue pipes. I'm guessing the outer pipe space - the inner one being for exhaust. It serves another purpose - the incoming combustion air is pre-heated by the exhaust flow, making the heater all that more efficient.

My current home, built in '41, has gas forced air heating, which looks like it was installed in the 60's or 70's. I think it replaced an older ducted central heating system - possibly passive - that can be identified by the asbestos wrapped ducting under the house. I gather that column also accommodated a flue for the gas range in the kitchen - they used to have them for the ovens - but the kitchen was remodeled probably around the time the forced air heating was installed, and the stove area turned into an alcove for the fridge and electric wall oven. And I think the old central heating system replaced an original single floor heater in the living/dining room area, which has since been turned into a return for the forced air. I had to do some work on the forced air system when I moved in... cleaned some of the ducting, and added 1" fiberglass insulation around all the ductwork in the crawl space. There are two floor returns, and I had to modify both to accept updated Filtrete air filters, including a long large rectangular cross section return duct. Used to be there'd be a loud tin can bang when the forced air shut off and the return shuddered. Now it's just a barely noticeable thump.

Post# 968640 , Reply# 27   11/18/2017 at 02:30 by foraloysius (Groningen, the Netherlands)        

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That's correct Rich, the outer pipe is for the air giong in and the inner pipe is indeed for exhaust.

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