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Electric heater giving me a headache?

davidmeiland's picture

Recently completed and moved into my new office, which is a 100 SF space adjacent to my shop. It's a fairly airtight drywalled room with a couple of very good windows, and the door is weatherstripped to try to prevent dust from coming in from the shop.

I just installed an electric heater, a Convectair 'Mezzo" (see ) that has an aluminum block heating element. When I first turned it on it smelled a bit, which was unsurprising--hard to describe the smell, not quite a burning smell but easily identifiable as something electrical). I ran it at full for a few hours to try to burn it off.

A few weeks later it seems like the room still smells and sometimes I notice a low grade headache if I spend a few hours working in there. The heater doesn't run very much because it hasn't been that cold, but it does run a bit.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? I assume the smell is a surface coating from the manufacturing process that has to burn off. I could also be getting a headache from hearing about so many new Federal bailouts on the news.

(post #115551, reply #1 of 12)

Dave, recently painted room?  Oil perhaps?

The burnoff shouldn't take more than a couple heat ups I wouldn't think.  But that the room is closed up might contain that smell for a while.

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


(post #115551, reply #2 of 12)

A new space? Maybe you have off gassing from furniture, various materials, or finishes in that space and since it is fairly tight, it's retaining that 'stuff'. Off gassing can occur from a lot of different materials including carpet ... was it glued down? Paint will off gas. Even your new office chair may be offgassing (e.g. the one you have may be very fresh off the factory floor and didn't get a chance to sit around in the warehouse or whatever).

Your heater sounds a bit unique (to me). Don't think there would be anything there ... unless the heater had something on it that is offgassing  ... oils or solvents from the factory. A elect fitting w/ a dab of adhesive or some such on it (I ain't no electrician).

There ain't NO free lunch. Not no how, not no where!

(post #115551, reply #3 of 12)

Electric resistance heaters can cause in increase in positive ions, and your tight room can exacerbate that increase.

Positive ions can cause physiological increase in pulse rate, increase in blood pressure, an increase in metabolic rate, these things can lead to headaches, dizziness and fatigue.

The ion generators that are commercially sold do the opposite, they increase the number of negative ions in the air, that has an opposite, usually beneficial effect on the body.

Your case is not the first I've heard of. A couple of people I know (my brother being one of them) have changed to the oil-filled radiator types of space heaters and their symptoms went away.

Increased ozone levels can also cause irritation, usually to the eyes and throat. I'm not sure if resistance heaters increase the level of ozone, but I have heard of tightly sealed offices where increased ozone was a problem, the additional zone was generated by the computer equipment in the office.

There are 10 kinds of people in this world; those who understand binary and those who do not.

(post #115551, reply #4 of 12)

A little more info: room was sheetrocked, painted, and the floor tiled early this year. Cabinets and countertops (laminate, melamine, etc.) installed in the spring. Door installed and painted a month ago (oil enamel). Obviously there is a computer set up, a few other office machines, and the heater. The door is mostly glass but there is a short panel at the bottom, and 1x4 casing. Not a lot of surface area. Baseboard installed but not painted, windows not trimmed out yet but they are wood with a tung oil finish.

(post #115551, reply #5 of 12)

Yeah, it's not unusual for an electric heating element to smell when initially powered up. The oils used in manufacture need to be burned off. And after being off for a time (months) elements tend to collect a film of dust and whatnot that needs to be burned off.

I'd recommend that you take the unit into the shop, plug it in, and let it run full bore for 24 hours. (Meanwhile air out the office as well as you can.) If the heater still smells when you bring it back in then likely it's Chinese junk and you're smelling the lead mixed into the aluminum or some such.

Federal bailouts don't cause a headache, they cause an upset stomach.

The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one. --Wilhelm Stekel

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

(post #115551, reply #6 of 12)

That explains why I keep puking in my mouth. I knew the heater wasn't causing that...

(post #115551, reply #7 of 12)

low grade headache if I spend a few hours


If the room is really well sealed as you describe, it is possible the headache is due to increased localized CO2 increase from your own metabolism.

(post #115551, reply #8 of 12)

Choking on my own excretions... like a proper rock star.

So, there are three possible air issues. Heater, paint, CO2. I guess I can isolate the first by turning off the heater. The paint is a month old and I can't see how ~15 square feet of surface area is much of an issue, but I could be wrong or getting sensitive. I'm tempted to send an air sample for testing. I believe the place that does my well water also does air.

(post #115551, reply #9 of 12)

"Airtight" room? Maybe you are the cause of your own headache.

Breathe in, breath out. You don't want to be inhaling what you just exhaled. With a tightly sealed room, where's the bad air going to go? If, perchance, you happen to smoke .... well, that tiny fire isn't helping maintain the oxygen contact either!

You need ventilation. A window fitted with a furnace filter, if nothing else.

Ventilation, though, generally means TWO openings - especially if they are small. Air in, air out.

(post #115551, reply #10 of 12)

Maybe something in the "new" office walls/ceiling is off gassing when it's brought up to temperature. It doesn't have to be from the heater itself.

(post #115551, reply #11 of 12)

Want to feel better? Stop listening to the news!

(post #115551, reply #12 of 12)

Here's my $0.02.  It's the anti-rust powder coating.  They put it on to prevent rust when shipping all around the world.  What your most likely experiencing is the lack of oxygen (I am not kidding).

I have experience with portable oil-filled heater which have the same problem.  When I contacted the manufacturer, the rep let on not to put them in a kids room (which I did the night before).  I got an awlful headache when I went in there to check on my son before I went to bed.  

At that time I found a warning on a British manufacturers web-site that said how it affected the oxygen.  I am unsure how long it will take to burn it off.  Am not trying to alarm you, but only that you may want to call the company on it and complain.