Portable catalytic heater - Fiberglass RV


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Old 10-10-2007, 08:38 AM   #1
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I just bought a Coleman SportCat Catalytic Heater for my 13' camper to take the edge off and now I'm beginning to think that I might have air quality issues. They say it's fine for in tents and homes but...

Anyone have any feedback?

Paula
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Old 10-10-2007, 09:22 AM   #2
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I have a larger version of it. (Black Cat) I have heated my 13 completely with it in yucko weather. Condensation is a concern sometimes. They also consume oxygen.

You'll get many "don't do it's" and many "it's OKs".. it's a controversial subject.

I never sleep with mine on, and I always have 2 small sources of fresh air coming into the trailer. Cracking a front and back window 1/2" will work.

PS.. the heater will stink for the first couple of uses. I recommend you sit it outside and let a whole canister run to burn the new smell off. I have heard reports of it taking a couple canisters for some.

It's nothing to worry about, once it's gone.. i's gone.
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Old 10-11-2007, 07:54 PM   #3
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If you read the instructions carefully, there should be a specific statement about how many square inches of ventilation is required (IIRC, it is ten for the Black Cat) to keep the unit running. It will shut itself down if the oxygen level gets low.

What I do in my Scamp is slightly open the little kitchen and door windows on opposite sides so there is some cross-ventilation, plus I often open the roof vent a little to let the hottest (and most vapor-laden) air escape.
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Old 10-11-2007, 08:37 PM   #4
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I feel better now! I figure that I too would only use it while awake. I noticed that just heating the water for coffee heats the 13' quite a bit so it shouldn't take the heater long to get the chill off. Where I want to camp in a couple of weeks is at 9-10,000 ft and I'm sure it'll be below freezing. I've gotten soft in my old age!

Thanks guys,

Paula
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Old 10-11-2007, 09:05 PM   #5
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We run our black cat even while sleeping when its cold. We have the roof vent open a crack plus the gap under the door . In below 0 conditions get yourself a good sleeping bag or someone to snuggle up to. The black cat keeps the boler at an ok temperature but its cranked on high. In the morning its out of gas so we have still frozen on more than 1 occasion. Making coffee in the morning warms the boler nicely and melts the icycles.
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Old 10-11-2007, 10:00 PM   #6
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Below 0, shoot! That's cold!
Oh, you are in Canada! So it's not that cold! I just have to remember the centigrade fahrenheit dealy.

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Old 10-12-2007, 09:17 AM   #7
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Condensation and ventilation are not the only problems to be concerned with. One week ago this past Saturday night, while camping in the far hills of Idaho, WAAAAY out in the boonies, I experienced a different problem. I had my Coleman catalytic heater turned on for about 30 minutes and had just finished reading a book. When I looked up I saw a fire burning near the ceiling above the stove near where I had the heater sitting . Not a roaring, crackeling fire, but a roiling, twisting, animal like thing. I had to make 3 efforts to get out because I had locked the door. When I finally did get out there was a flash fire throughtout the entire camper but ONLY near the ceiling. After the flash, the fire extinguished itself and there was only smoke left. I had pulled the heater out with me when I exited the camper and immediately turned it off. Waited a few minutes then went back in and turned on the ceiling vent fan to get rid of the smoke. Waited another 5 minutes then went back in expecting to see a lot of damage and smell burnt stuff....this wasn't the case at all. There was NO smoke/burning odor and the only damage was the the ceiling covering now feels like a stiff plastic. I received 2nd degree burns on the entire right side of my forehead and on the heel/thumb of my right hand and 1st degree burns on the entire left side of my forehead. The heater had a small double D battery fan mudule, and the ONLY damage to the heater is that module; the plastic grill being quite distored and the fan blades are completely gone. Except for that, the heater has NO evidence of being burnt. The entire fire was localized near the ceiling, not a bit of damage anyplace else, not the walls or the floor. I had plenty of ventilation while the heater was turned on and the propane detector did NOT go off. There was no leak at the heater or anyplace else that I can discern Obviously there was a vapor of some sort and the heat source to start the fire had to be the catalytic heater, BUT, I'm unable to come up with a clear explanation of what happened. When I got back home, I set up the interior of the trailer exactly as it was at the time of the fire and had the local fire chief/investigator take a look, he had no explanation. I make it a practice, always, to never sleep when the catalytic heater is on. Had I been asleep and zipped up in my sleeping bags the way I normally sleep when it's cold, I most certainly would have died. One other thing I now do and that is to NOT lock the door while I'm cooking or have the heater on.

Russell
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Old 10-12-2007, 09:45 AM   #8
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Wow, William. So glad you are ok.

Thanks for reminding us of the dangers.
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Old 10-12-2007, 09:46 AM   #9
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Is it possible that the heater, when sitting on top of the stove, was too close to the ceiling material? Overheating it? Or is your stove area enclosed so that what little vapors these give off were trapped in a small area.. convection *boom* from overheated vapor.. meaning the heat build up in the area couldn't escape fast enough?

Mine always sits on the floor in an open area.
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Old 10-12-2007, 12:08 PM   #10
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Russell.........
Sure glad you got out of that camper..........i was just looking at those coleman cat heaters and your experience sure is a wake-up.
If you ever figure out what happened please let us know. and again glad you got out in time and hope your injuries heal fast.
Joe
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Old 10-12-2007, 06:20 PM   #11
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Just read a post on another forum of a family of four who died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a non vented heater in a trailer and they had the roof vent open....... it seems carbon monoxide gas does not rise and the roof vent did nothing for that gas.
Now i'm wondering if the carbon monoxide tester should be close to the floor instead of up near the roof where i have it now
Joe

the story:
http://www.casitaclub.com/forums/ind...showtopic=9321
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Old 10-12-2007, 07:12 PM   #12
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Even if the stuff you want to exhaust rises, only opening a roof vent won't work well, since the replacement air has to come in somewhere. One opening low and one high seems like a better idea to me.
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Old 10-12-2007, 07:26 PM   #13
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Gina: The stove IS in an enclosed area, but the heater was actually on the floor in FRONT of the stove - it's just that the "FIRE" was initially at the ceiling in the area of the stove. The ceiling at that location has a metal cover similar to a stove hood. Obviously the stove area collected vapors of some kind and I don't know from where nor what. I like your explanation best but it doesn't explain the heater fan module damage. Other than the fan module there is NO damage from the floor to about 4 feet high. Any damage above 4 feet is so minimal that you can hardly find it The damage, if you can call it that, was a melting of the fuzzy part of the ceiling covering. It is still resilient but instead of being soft and fuzzy it now feels like a skin of melted plastic.

Russell
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Old 10-12-2007, 07:45 PM   #14
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Glad you got out william! Hope your recovery is speedy.

I use a Sport Cat to "take the chill off" out at Big Bend in the spring. I open the overhead vent & a window in the rear of the camper. I also use a "4 gas monitor" from work. It checks for O2, LEL, CO, & H2S. I've found that it usually alarms on low O2 1st, but I have been keeping it mid-way up the wall on the TV shelf.

After reading of william's mishap, I will buy & install a dedicated CO monitor & install it close to the floor---AKA the "girl's bed.

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Old 10-12-2007, 09:57 PM   #15
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Glad you got out. Very scary and close call.

I guess my next investment will be various detectors. I do know that when installing CO detectors at home they suggest to keep them low. Mine is about 2 feet off the floor. But I think that CO "blends" in more too.

A friend and her husband would have been dead if a neighbor hadn't been walking home late from a bar. He heard the alarms going off in the house and was banging on the windows above their bed and couldn't wake them. Evidently they had been so sound asleep when the CO had built up that they didn't hear the alarms go off. That's when I bought my alarm/monitor.

Paula
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Old 10-13-2007, 09:36 AM   #16
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Glad you were okay and hope the burns are feeling better.

Is there some sort of paint on the metal ceiling where the fire started? Paints even latex I believe can cause flashover. Fire can travel a great distance over paint on a soild cement wall once a certain temperature is reached.
Possibly the fan quit causing the heater to overheat and gave off some fumes which you couldn't smell. Doesn't make sense but I guess anything is possible.
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Old 10-13-2007, 09:50 AM   #17
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If Russell's heater is a Coleman ProCat like mine, use of the fan is optional. It is not required for operation, it just help distribute the heat. Without the fan, I believe that it should not overheat.
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Old 10-13-2007, 11:57 AM   #18
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This is a very hard one to figure out. Up till now I would have worried much more about the heater taking all the oxygen in the trailer. Even if you are awake it would be very important to have proper ventilation as I'm sure you would just go to sleep without realizing you were short of oxygen till it was too late. Even your counter top propane stove can take all the oxygen if there is no ventalation.
As people have said proper detectors are very important.
Probably a good idea to try to not put heaters between people and the door in case of such an emergency.
A little extra caution can go a long way.
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Old 10-13-2007, 12:04 PM   #19
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My take on the original question is this: Any unvented gas/fossil fuel burning device is inherently less safe than a vented one, and the margin for error is also less. Combustion is combustion, bottom line, and it emits unwanted and unsafe byproducts.

There are probably several reasons not to install a regular vented furnace in a trailer without one: available space, cost, hassle, current draw. This has to weighed against the potential hazard and how much care needs to go into assuring safety. Mistakes can be made, and the consequences can be significant.

I was lucky, in that the installed furnace was a regular vented one. It is also the smallest one Atwood produces at 9000 btu, but I can not foresee any wintertime camping when it would not be adequate. It is also reasonably quiet, and the current draw is significantly less than the average unit.

Even so, I like a small waft of icy air on my face when sleeping, so the overhead vent gets cracked just so, and the window above my head likewise. For extreme situations it would be safe to close everything up.

The detectors are installed according to the instructions for each: smoke alarm near the ceiling, the propane detector near the floor by the heater, and the carbon monoxide at head level when sleeping. I think that combined units may be a placement compromise which I find unnecessary.

I can understand the first two, possibly even the first three reason I mentioned as deterrents to installing a vented furnace, but I am not convinced that the current draw issue is as valid. It might be better to bulk up the electrical system instead to handle the draw. A solar panel to provide a continuous supply of power for boondocking is in my future, but as an example I just finished a 5-day camping trip drawing only on the original battery charge (nighttime temperatures at around 40 degrees, so this was not extreme). The final usage drew the charge down to 52%, but with one battery that would have been near 0% (and probably partially destroyed).

It is not without reason that these devices are vented: hot water heater, space heater, refrigerator. The one remaining unvented one in mine is the cooktop, but the overhead vent and a window is always open when it is used, and I'm counting on being awake and alert when using it (Dometic has a vented, flat gas cooktop likely available only in Europe at an exorbitant price and with significant installation difficulties, and I think it is partially in recognition of the unvented safety concerns).

Unvented fuel burning devices? NIMLBIICAI (not in my little Burro if I can avoid it). Don't want to sound like I'm risk averse, but I'll admit to being unnecessary-risk averse.
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Old 10-13-2007, 04:53 PM   #20
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Neil: There is NO COATING on the metal of any kind...good thought though. Also, as mentioned in a later post from someone else, the fan was an enhancement from an earlier model and not REQUIRED for the heater to heat properly.

And thanks, I'm feeling significantly better now...two weeks away from the incident.

Thanks to all for the sympathetic comments....I think I'll do as someone else mentioned and that is to keep myself between the door and the heater....if I'm not carefeul with all this I'll sell all my camping stuff and just live in my basement away from EVERYTHING that might cause me harm..........NOT LIKELY....

Russell
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