Can You Change a Propane-Fueled Construction Heater Over to Natural Gas?

Home construction and repair projects may go on well into the cold months. It’s at these times that the use of a construction heater can keep work going instead of coming to a halt until the cold spell breaks. Construction heaters are available in many different types and operate on a variety of fuels. However, it is not always advisable to try to change units to use an alternate fuel source, such as converting a propane-fueled heater to a natural gas unit.

  1. Propane Construction Heaters

    • Propane construction heaters are used on job sites where propane gas is available. These heaters are available in a number of types, and each has its own advantages. Radiant and infrared heaters warm people and objects instead of the air around them. Convection and forced-air heaters work by warming the air around the workers. Smaller propane heaters can work off of 20-pound cylinders of propane. Larger models may require a 100-pound propane tank of fuel.

    Natural Gas Construction Heaters

    • Natural gas construction heaters are used in locations that already have natural gas lines piped to the site. Natural gas heaters are also available in radiant, infrared and convection types. Some construction heaters may work on both natural gas and propane gas. These units are often direct-fired heaters that are ideal for varying conditions on work sites.

    Converting Construction Heaters to Another Fuel

    • Most manufacturers design their construction heaters to operate with just propane or natural gas. The differences in flow rate and burning capacity of these two fuels make it inadvisable to attempt to change from one fuel to another. Though other types of heaters used around residential properties, such as patio heaters, space heaters, gas log fireplaces and other such units, often have conversion kits provided by the manufacturer, the conditions under which construction heaters are used may be too hazardous to allow conversion of the units. Contact the manufacturer for recommendations about converting the particular unit. Some manufacturers may allow conversions done by certified heating contractors. In addition, construction heater conversions may require inspection before being put into service, according to the Canadian Propane Association.

    Dangers of Construction Heaters

    • Heaters that can burn fuels, such as propane and natural gas, have inherent dangers from the toxic waste products that are produced and can build up in the air. Both carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are emitted in the combustion process for these fuels. These gases can remove available oxygen from the air and overcome workers in the area. Construction heaters are designed to work outdoors. When used indoors, operators should ensure that adequate ventilation is available or there is venting to the outdoors. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion and unconsciousness, according to the Construction Safety Association of Ontario website. If these symptoms are evident, remove workers to a ventilated area immediately and seek medical attention.

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