Deadly Dangers of Using the Stove for Heat

Last updated: February 18, 2011 – 11:13 AM

During the winter season, MTO’s hotline receives numerous calls from tenants about a lack of heat in their units.  When we ask what steps the resident uses to address the problem in the meantime, a frightening number report that they are using their gas stoves as a solution.  Some residents leave the burners on, some continuously boil large pots of water, and others leave the oven door open.  All of these actions can and do lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

What prompted the writing of this post was a recent conversation with a tenant.  The tenant was following up to report the lack of heat in her unit.  She explained that not only was this problem irritating, but that her entire family has experienced constant headaches and she was even having trouble waking up, which was not normally a problem for her.  She mentioned that her sister had called her earlier and she hadn’t heard the phone ring.  Her kids – especially her daughter who slept in the back bedroom near the kitchen— was having a lot of difficulty waking up for school.  All of these incidences are major symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide can slowly put you to sleep and once asleep, you are unable to escape the hazard.  Hundreds of people die in a carbon monoxide induced sleep every year according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Those that don’t die from heating their homes with gas stoves still experience less than lethal, but still harmful, side effects.  “At low concentrations, [CO can cause] fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease. At higher concentrations, [CO can cause] impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea. Fatal at very high concentrations.” (USEPA)

So what should one do when it just gets too cold? Electric space heaters with safety mechanisms to prevent fires and other hazards are good options for small spaces. Tenants should also call 311, request a heat inspection, and get a reference number for their phone call. Generally, during the winter season, it may take up to three days for a heat inspector to conduct an investigation in your home.  For more information about your rights and possible remedies when heat or other essential services are not working properly, click here.


All 17 Comments

  1. If it’s do unsafe, tell me how it is then safe to use the same burners and/or oven to cook all day.

    1. First using your oven is very inefficient. Secondly gas ovens emit carbon monoxide. When cooking using a gas oven the door is closed which both limits the amount of carbon monoxide emitted in the room and also means the stove is not running full blast the entire time so cooking does not emit nearly the same amount of Carbon monoxide as running the oven with the door open to heat the home.

  2. I will call 311. There’s no heat in the house. The owner has been informed but he has done nothing. I will forward this article to the tenants that think it’s safe to use the burners.

    1. How many renters live in the building. We have had success when the tenants all work together to get the heat restored. What has happened. 311 is a great first step.

  3. I’ve been using heat from the stove because the central air conditioning don’t work properly. Lately I’ve had burning in my throat that makes me cough sometimes. Also dizziness. The stove has a weird smell so that’s kind of scary to. Can this all be from using the stove for heat?

  4. So what your saying is don’t ever, ever, ever use your stove for warmth. But what I’m hearing is if you’re absolutely freezing to death and you need heat then carefully use ANY source of warmth so you don’t freeze/die. Since starting a fire in your apartment is probably not an option, turning on the stove is the next best thing. Just make sure to stay close and keep an eye on it – maybe set a buzzer every hour, never sleep while doing this, and use the oven sparingly in intervals throughout the day so you can reduce the danger as much as possible. Because let’s be real, people are gonna use an oven to heat themselves in a bind when other options are nonexistent. That’s what we do. And while no one from an authority perspective will ever condone this activity, the truth is with proper precautions you can in fact use your oven for heat without dying. Yes – this can be accomplished without dying. Of course, minimize this activity as much as possible and definitely use caution – but you’re an adult too.

    1. Our recommendation stands. It is not just about dying but breathing unhealthy air. Purchasing a space or two and deducting the purchase cost from the rent once a tenant has contacted the landlord is safer and more effective (if the space heater is used properly).

    1. I am not sure what your question is. If you are asking if it is okay to use one burner to heat the house, the answer is no. The more burners one uses the worst that it is. Gas stoves let off pollutants. The main pollutants are carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and water vapor. The longer that you burn the stove the more the pollutants will build up in the kitchen and then spread throughout the house.

      If you are asking is it okay to use all 4 burners on your stove for cooking. I would check with the stove manufacturer.

  5. I heard if you turn on the oven and put a pot of boiling water on the stove that prevents accidents. Is this true? However,I don’t go to sleep with the oven and stove on. Everyone is awake when the appliances are on.

  6. When you’re canning or cooking, “all day” is really just part of a given day, and probably not over a period of days like heating a house or a room typically is.

    The exposure to carbon monoxide is cumulative, and if it’s low level it can take awhile before you realize what’s happening, like days or months. At which point you’ve really damaged your health.

    Plus when you’re at the stove cooking, you’re close by and paying attention, unlike when you’re using it for heat, you’re more likely to leave it unattended and not notice when something falls in or is nearby and heats up enough to catch fire. A fire marshall told me that they regularly see kitchen fires from unattended stoves or ovens heating up the surrounding cabinets or ceilings and catching them on fire.

  7. Why is it okay to run my stove all day long when I am canning.I have never had a problem.I live in a single person home

    1. Stoves are not made to heat a unit. Normally an oven only has to maintain a certain temperature and therefore is not running all the time. There is an increased fire risk and burning can put pollutants directly into your indoor environment.

  8. I am not a “fan” of electric heaters for many, and I think, obvious reasons.

    Of course, the City of Chicago is VERY concerned about heat problems, but tenants can also take steps to assure good heat at all times and without electric heaters.

    If covered by the RLTO, remedies exist to demand the heating be repaired or taken care of. Even if not an RLTO related lease, there are remedies, and they need to be discussed.

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