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There is some misleading information on the web about whether electric fan heaters burn oxygen.
The real answer is that they don’t. Some other types of heaters do, but these heaters work differently. This article explains the reasons why electric fan heaters:
- do not burn oxygen
- do not reduce oxygen levels in a room
- do not produce carbon monoxide
Do Electric Fan Heaters Burn Oxygen?
Electric fan heaters do not burn oxygen when they are producing heat. Oxygen is only burned through the combustion of fuel and electric fan heaters don’t burn fuel.
Instead, they operate by running electricity through a heating element.
How these fan heaters work
Let’s get into this in more detail. What happens when you plug in your appliance and turn it on?
- The heater passes an electric current through the heating element inside the unit
- The resistance in the element transforms the electrical energy into heat energy
- The element heats up rapidly
- The appliance draws in air from outside the unit
- The fan in the unit passes the air over the heating element
- The heated air is blown out of the vent and into the room
Here is a simplified diagram that shows the inner workings of the fan heater.
The heating element is either metal or ceramic. It’s usually stretched into a coil. We’ve shown it in the diagram as a short piece of coil. In reality, it’s more like a wire mesh surrounding the electric motor.
Why isn’t oxygen consumed by this process?
Oxygen is only consumed when fuel is burned. At no point during the operation of fan heaters is there any burning of material.
The high resistance of the heating coil causes the electric current to change into heat energy.
The metal or ceramic coil doesn’t burn. It just heats up to a high temperature very quickly.
What are metal heating coils made of?
In order to convert electricity into heat, the coil must consist of highly resistant material.
Modern appliances usually use a metal alloy called Nichrome.
An alloy is a combination of several different elements. Nichrome is made up of eighty percent nickel and twenty percent chromium. It’s sometimes referred to as “nickel-chrome”.
Nichrome has two big advantages. Firstly, it’s what is known as “ductile”: it can be drawn out into very thin wire. This is why the heating element inside your appliance looks like a mesh.
Secondly, it has a very high resistance. This means that even a small amount of electric current makes it heat up quickly. You’ll also find nichrome heating elements inside toasters and hair dryers.
What about ceramic heating elements?
Some heating appliances use ceramic heating coils. Pelonis makes some of the most popular brands in America (although Pelonis is not an American company).
The same principles that I’ve already described apply.
The ceramic wire has a high resistance and heats up when an electric current passes through it.
Other types of heaters that burn oxygen
It’s important to understand the difference between electric fan heaters and other types of fan heaters.
If you have a non-electric fan heater that uses fuel, then this does burn oxygen. The common fuels are:
- methane gas
- heating oil
- solid fuel
Fuel-based heaters run on a completely different process than what I described above. They use a combustion process that burns the fuel and converts some oxygen into CO2.
The picture below shows a kerosene fan heater.
Do Electric Fan Heaters Reduce Oxygen?
I mentioned that the appliance draws in air, passes it over the heating coil, and pushes it out to heat the room.
The appliance moves air within a room, but it doesn’t deplete the level of oxygen in the air. Simply warming air doesn’t reduce oxygen content.
Only burning fuel will reduce oxygen.
Technical note: the metal surface of the heating element oxidizes and corrodes a little over time (think of rusting). Yes, this technically affects oxygen but this is irrelevant to the main question here.
I continue to be surprised that there are articles and answers on the web saying that it does.
Some pet owners have concerns about this topic, but their fears should be allayed. If you want to know more, check out our article on whether fan heaters are safe for birds.
Do These Heaters Produce Carbon Monoxide?
When fuel-based heaters burn the fuel, they convert some oxygen into CO2 (carbon dioxide). As the oxygen level reduces, some carbon monoxide (CO) is formed.
It’s important to be aware of this if you’re using that kind of heater, especially in a small space.
However, you should also know that electric fan heaters don’t produce carbon monoxide.
That is why they are popular for quickly heating small rooms without worrying about carbon monoxide build-up.