Can a Heater Make You Sick?

HVAC Logo IconBy Tom MoorDecember 13, 2023

Are you getting a fair deal on your HVAC quote?
Our independent team of HVAC industry insiders can score your quote

Sharing your quote takes less than a minute

Man with cold drinking tea at home

When the temperature drops, our reliance on heating systems increases to keep our homes warm and cozy. However, beyond the comfort they provide, heaters can also impact indoor air quality, potentially affecting our health. Can a heater make you sick? HVAC.com explains how your heating system could be causing you to feel under the weather this season and how to keep these issues at bay.

Understanding Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a critical aspect of a healthy living environment. It refers to the air quality within buildings, including homes, and is influenced by various factors such as ventilation, pollutants, and temperature. Poor IAQ can lead to a range of health issues, from mild discomfort to severe respiratory problems.

The Heating System’s Impact on IAQ

Heating systems play a pivotal role in our homes, especially during the colder seasons when the warmth they provide becomes a necessity. However, beyond their primary function, heaters can significantly impact IAQ, a factor often overlooked but essential for overall well-being.

Why Does the Heater Make My Nose Stuffy?

Heating systems, especially older models, may compromise indoor air quality. The inner workings of heaters create an environment where dust, allergens, and other particles can accumulate over time. This is particularly true for forced air systems that utilize ducts and vents to distribute heat throughout the house. As the system operates, it can propel these accumulated particles into the air we breathe, leading to a decline in IAQ.

Beyond visible dust, there are unseen threats that can thrive within poorly maintained heating systems. Mold, for instance, can find a hospitable environment in damp and dark corners of the heating unit, releasing spores into the air when the system is active. Dust mites, another common indoor allergen, can proliferate in dusty ducts, exacerbating respiratory issues for sensitive individuals.

Exposure to increased particulate matter and allergens in your living space can lead to health symptoms, such as:

  • Sneezing and a stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Respiratory issues
  • Itchy eyes

Can a Heater Make You Sick Due to Dry Air?

Heating systems, especially in colder climates, often contribute to dry indoor air. As heaters warm the air, they may also have the side effect of reducing relative humidity – this is more common in older systems or those that have not been properly maintained.

This drop in humidity levels can lead to an array of health concerns. Dry air tends to parch the mucous membranes lining the respiratory tract, making individuals more susceptible to respiratory infections and illnesses. The lack of moisture in the air can also exacerbate existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or allergies, causing discomfort and difficulty in breathing. Moreover, dry air can compromise the body’s first line of defense against viruses and bacteria – the mucous membranes – potentially increasing the likelihood of falling ill during the cold seasons.

To counteract these effects, you may need some help maintaining proper humidity levels in your home. Installing a whole-house humidifier in conjunction with the heating system can help you maintain optimal indoor humidity levels and ensure a healthier living environment.

Can a Gas Heater Make You Sick?

The type of fuel a heater utilizes also contributes to its potential impact on indoor air quality. Gas furnaces, for instance, can produce combustion byproducts, including carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas that can be harmful when not properly vented. Faulty gas valves and supply lines can also lead to gas leaks in the home. While modern heaters are designed with safety features, older models or those lacking regular maintenance may pose a risk.

Keeping These Issues at Bay

Regular maintenance emerges as a crucial factor in mitigating the impact of heaters on indoor air quality. Neglecting routine upkeep allows dust, mold, and other contaminants to accumulate within the heating system, which can then be released into the air.

  • Filters, often the first line of defense against airborne particles, should be inspected and replaced regularly to ensure they effectively trap pollutants.
  • Schedule professional heating system maintenance at least once a year. An HVAC technician can conduct a thorough examination of the heating system, identifying and rectifying potential issues before they escalate to minimize the risk of indoor air quality issues.
  • Have an HVAC contractor inspect the condition of the ductwork. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if the ducts are in dire straights, consider having them cleaned.

Investigate Health Concerns Right Away

Recognizing signs of poor indoor air quality is crucial for addressing potential issues. If you notice an uptick in respiratory symptoms, persistent coughing, or unusual odors, especially when the heating system is in use, it warrants investigation. These symptoms can serve as early warnings, prompting homeowners to take corrective measures before the situation escalates.

The relationship between heaters and indoor air quality is intricate and requires careful consideration. Acknowledging the potential impact of heating systems on the air we breathe empowers homeowners to take proactive steps. Through regular maintenance and staying vigilant for signs of compromised IAQ, we can ensure that our homes remain not only warm and comfortable but also have clean and healthy air.


Are you getting a fair deal on your HVAC quote?
Our independent team of HVAC industry insiders can score your quote

Sharing your quote takes less than a minute

HVAC.com is your trusted advisor for all things HVAC

Talk to an advisor

Available 8 AM - 5 PM Eastern Time