How safe is your cat heater? - Fiberglass RV


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Old 01-29-2006, 09:00 PM   #1
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Judging by my OOPS this weekend, pretty danged safe.

When setting up this weekend on a chilly friday nite, I turned on my cat heater to take the chill off the inside of the trailer, knowing it would be a bit of time to run a line to the AC stub and getting my cube heater going.

Set up goes well, and I finally get the line run and turn on the cube, which runs all nite long.

Now, the cat heater has a thermostat, and the cube heater got the temp inside the trailer up enough for the cat heater to say "OK, I can shut down now". Of course, I don't notice this or even think about it. So.. I never shut the thermo down or the heater off.

Above my cat heater is a hook for my hat and my jacket *when the heater is not on*, as the jacket hangs against the grate of the heater. So, the hat and jacket go on it.

The next day, I go on a day trip, leaving my jacket behind. Cube heater goes off before I leave the trailer.

Coming back after several hours... I notice the "whirr" of the exhaust vent outside for the cat heater a .. whirring. The trailer temp dropped enough for the thermostat to say "Ok, back to work".

Open the door to find the heater at full tilt, jacket against the grate, and.. amazingly.. no damge of any sort. The jacket was warm, but not burnt.

Now, I don't recommend you try this test on your own, but it is re-assuring that should stupidity happen, there seems to be some element of safety built in.

And maybe a little luck.

I will remember to check the heater BEFORE I ever hang the jacket up again.
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Old 01-29-2006, 09:35 PM   #2
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Could have been a "Hot Cat on A Fiberglass Roof"
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Old 01-29-2006, 10:41 PM   #3
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Quote:
Above my cat heater is a hook for my hat and my jacket *when the heater is not on*, as the jacket hangs against the grate of the heater. So, the hat and jacket go on it.
Is that something like Cat in the Hat?
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Old 01-29-2006, 10:54 PM   #4
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That would be the Hat in The Cat.

I put the hook there in Oregon as it was a great place to dry my hat. It got just a little SOAKED every time I went out. My towels dry there as well.
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Old 02-05-2006, 02:03 PM   #5
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The only cat heater we carry is a JR namer Holly
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Old 02-07-2006, 11:15 AM   #6
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We have a small Coleman Sport Cat for the bathroom. It's output is enough to warm the bathroom toasty in about 10 - 15 minutes in the early morning.

I'm the early riser, so I pop up and get the cat lit, which is easy with just the turn of a valve and a push of the automatic lighter. Then I warm the rest of the trailer while boiling water for coffee and/or the furnace.

A warm trailer and especially a warm bathroom is a nice encouragement for my wife who isn't as much of an early riser. It eases the transition from repose to activity for the day. I admit, I like it too.

I am a little concerned about using the Sport Cat at night. Not for the fire hazard so much as for oxygen depletion and carbon dioxide build up. Others do it, I know, and have done it many times and lived to tell about it.

I'm considering installing a larger Catalytic heater to replace the standard propane furnace that I detest. Do any of you burn these all night? How do you provide for adequate ventilation?

What size would be recommended to take the chill off (say 60 deg F. when the outside temp is around 30 deg F.)?

What size would then be needed to warm the coach to 70 - 75 in about 15 minutes in the morning? Or would you just crack a vent a little more and run the stove burners?

Do the Carbon Monoxide detectors respond similarly to Carbon Dioxide (which is what buring propane produces)? Or is there a special one for Carbon Dioxide?

Incidently, we do have a cat (feline) that goes by the moniker Sadam, since she is a terrorist. Don't know if I should be mentioning this here, because I am aware that the government has a policy of sanctioning those who harbor terrorists. I don't know what it might be like to be sanctioned by the government, but it's possible I might like it. Has anyone on this forum been sanctioned by the government? If so, did you like it, or not?
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Old 02-07-2006, 02:05 PM   #7
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Quote:
...Do the Carbon Monoxide detectors respond similarly to Carbon Dioxide (which is what buring propane produces)? Or is there a special one for Carbon Dioxide?
...
I assume that the carbon monoxide (CO) detectors do not respond to carbon dioxide (CO2), since the generally harmless CO2 would interfere with detection of the problem CO.

I believe that instead of detecting CO2, what is desired is a measure of the reduction in available oxygen. Some heaters have built-in oxygen depletion sensors; I Googled "ODS heater" and got a bunch of hits, many quoting the US Government's Consumer Product Safety Commission Release # 02-179.
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Old 02-09-2006, 11:03 AM   #8
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I did a cursory Google search on Oxygen Depletion Sensors. My impression is that this is not a technology available cheaply to the masses, yet.

The only stand-alone units I saw were lab grade units priced over $1000. So their market certainly is not us lowly fiberglass RVers. If low priced units were made I would expect them to be all over the first Googled page.

The ones sold for propane burning appliances are available as a pilot light replacement assembly for around $50. I didn't see anything explaining how they work, but my impression is that the heat output of the pilot flame is dependent on the oxygen content of the air. When the oxygen level drops, so does the heat output of the pilot and the millivolt output of a thermocouple in the assembly. At some point the thermocouple output is just not enough to overcome the spring in the servo-valve electromagnet and the valve closes shutting down the system.

Follow that? It's intuitively obvious! Yeh, right.
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Old 02-09-2006, 11:13 AM   #9
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CO detector vs CO2 detector vs Oxygen depletion detector

The textbooks state that burning propane produces CO2 + water + heat. But there is always that caveat, "STP" (standard temperature/pressure) stated or assumed.

But in real life if combustion occurs at reduced oxygen levels, CO is also produced. So, by using just a cheap CO detector, one actually is accounting secondarily for CO2 and oxygen depletion.

The weather has suddenly turned quite warm and sunny for Western Washington, but I'm sure the rain will soon blow in and I will have time to research this out some more.
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Old 02-09-2006, 11:39 AM   #10
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There's always someone who comes into the discussion late. This time it's me. You people have to heat your cats? And you have special Cat Heaters? Don't the cats normally just fend for themselves?
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Old 02-09-2006, 02:09 PM   #11
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Northern Tool just put their heaters on sale today, 9Frb06.

www.northerntool.com
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Old 02-09-2006, 02:56 PM   #12
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That's a good point, Loren: the ODS feature of heaters can be tied into the behaviour of the combustion, and so the availability of ODS-equipped heaters doesn't mean you can buy a separate sensor economically. I think that since the typical cause of oxygen depletion is the propane-fired heater, having the heater shut down is enough, and the actual oxygen level is then not important to monitor.

While I'll accept that carbon monoxide (CO) can be produced because of oxygen depletion, it can also be produced when combustion is incomplete for any other reason. A separate CO monitor makes sense to me for this reason. I don't think the converse is true: that is, oxygen depletion doesn't necessarily mean enough CO production to trigger an alarm, so maybe the ODS feature of the heater is a good idea even in a trailer with a CO detector. Does anyone know if there are ODS-equipped propane stoves?

The whole ODS issue is relevant to unvented heaters. This category includes but is not limited to most of the catalytics which are the subject of this topic. Gina's has vented exhaust, but uses inside air for combustion - sort of partially vented. My Boler has a conventional Suburban direct-vent furnace, with outside air supply for combustion and venting of exhaust. It does not have an ODS, and this does not concern me, since furnace operation will not deplete interior oxygen and (unless the heat exchanger has failed) no combustion products are put into the heated space.

By the way, I don't see any reason why propane/air combustion cannot be complete at other than standard conditions; the only problem is that our appliances are set up for those conditions, so parameters such as orifice size (in a burner) would need to change to work with a different oxygen level. This is the sort of thing which is done to set up anything from furnaces to cookstoves to automotive carburetors to work at high elevations.
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Old 02-11-2006, 10:24 AM   #13
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You asked if there was a propane cook top with ODS. Along with my Propane Fireplace investigation I ended up purchasing a used "Force 10" 3 burner range with oven that is specially manufactured for marine use. I've got it all cleaned and polished and fixed some minor problems and its a beauty.

The place where I bought parts also has new stoves and heaters. They had on display a Force 10 heater with an identical burner to the ones on my cooktop. The heater was advertized as being ODS equipped. Now I'm wondering if their stove is also. Maybe it is a marine requirement.

I hear the ODS heaters cut out at high elevations. Is this going to be a problem? Is there some easy way to over-ride the function if you want to cook, or need heat in the mountains?
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Old 02-11-2006, 08:30 PM   #14
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That Force 10 hardware looks like good stuff, but this seems to be a marine equipment theme. I noticed two interesting items in their FAQ:

Quote:
[b]Q: Does a carbon monoxide detector need to be installed along with the heater?
[b]A: Yes, it is recommended, although Force 10 propane heaters are equipped with an oxygen depletion device which shuts off the heater when the oxygen level falls below 95% of normal.
There's the ODS reference, although in the context of a heater, not a stove or oven. It is relevant to this discussion of safety.

Quote:
[b]Q: My Cozy Cabin heater goes out after about 20-25 minutes of use. The pilot light is then very difficult to re-light. Why?
[b]A: The oxygen depletion sensor may be a little too sensitive. This device will turn off the pilot flame when the oxygen level drops to 75% of normal. When the pilot flame goes out, the thermocouple cools and shuts off the main valve. Solution: Using a screwdriver, slightly (1mm) pry the bimetallic strip away from the brass housing. This puts more pressure on the sensor not to react quite as quickly.
For one specific product, this is a method to change the [b]ODS calibration. The bimetallic strip reference suggests that the oxygen content determines the flame temperature (which makes sense to me) and that is the behaviour that is being used to indicated oxygen depletion. Since I have no actual experience with this type of appliance, I don't know if a temporary complete over-ride is possible.

Both of these FAQ items are in the section for heaters; I saw no reference in their web site to ODS for [b]stoves or ovens, but their electronic ignition burners do have thermocouple-based protective devices to shut down burners if the flame goes out (like the heater in the FAQ item). This is a good feature, in my opinion, although it means a stove which requires electrical power.
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