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Best Indoor Propane Heaters for Emergency Preparedness


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Last Updated: May 22, 2020

It’s one thing to go without light, internet, and appliances during a power outage.  While you might be inconvenienced, it’s usually not a matter of life-or-death.

But it’s another issue to go without heating during a winter power outage.

At best, you’ll be uncomfortable.  At worst, you could suffer severe hypothermia or even death.

Getting an indoor propane heater is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to make sure you can heat your home during a winter power outage.

Why Choose a Propane Heater?

There are plenty of ways to heat your home during a winter power outage.  The most popular ones include: Kerosene heaters, generators, fire places, and wood stoves.

Compared to these other methods, propane heaters are usually easier, cheaper and more convenient to use.

If you are looking for a long-term preparedness solution, it is worth looking into wood stoves and generators.

However, if you want to get prepared for a winter power outage quickly, a propane heater is probably your best choice.

Best Indoor Propane Heaters

There actually aren’t many indoor propane heaters I can recommend with a good conscience.

Most aren’t rated to use indoors, or they are made for commercial spaces like warehouses and factories (Hint: You don’t want a 30,000BTU heater with a powerful fan blowing in your living room!).

All of the following propane heaters are rated for indoor use, have safety features, and are easy to use during power outages.


Big Buddy Heater by Mr. Heater

Big Buddy Heater

Features

  • Type: Convective
  • Max BTUs: 18,000
  • Settings: 3
  • ODS: Yes
  • Tip-over shutoff: Yes
  • Thermostat: No

  • Fan: Yes
  • Wall mountable: No
  • Weight: 7lbs
  • Run time on high (20lb tank): 23 hours

Why Choose It? It’s an affordable propane heater which is incredibly easy to use.

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Review

The Big Buddy by Mr. Heater is one of the most popular portable indoor propane heaters.  It is small and lightweight, but still powerful enough to heat most rooms in your home.

There are three settings (4,000, 9,000, and 18,000 BTUs) so the heater is suitable for various spaces and temperatures.

The heater is very affordable to buy and you can use it with two 1lb propane canisters or get a hose to connect it to a 20lb tank.

Not only is the Big Buddy heater very affordable, but it has lots of built-in features which make it incredibly easy to use.

There’s no need to worry about getting a regulator or a filter since these are built into the heater.  The design makes it less likely to clog than other propane heaters.  As for safety, there is a tip-over switch and an ODS shutoff.

The Buddy heaters are also available in smaller sizes.

However, the Big Buddy is probably the best choice for power outage prepping.  The other sizes also don’t have a built-in fan (uses four D batteries) for blowing hot air throughout larger spaces.

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Corporation 30,000 Infrared Heater by Mr. Heater

Corporation 30,000 Infrared Heater

Features

  • Type: Radiant/infrared
  • Max BTUs: 30,000
  • Settings: 5
  • ODS: Yes
  • Tip-over shutoff: No
  • Thermostat: Yes

  • Fan: No
  • Wall mountable: Yes
  • Weight: 24lbs
  • Run time on high (20lb tank): 14 hours

Why Choose It? This is one of the few portable propane heaters with a built-in thermostat.

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Review

This propane heater is also by Mr. Heater. It is completely different than the Big Buddy heater listed above though.

For starters, it is a radiant heater, meaning it heats objects in front of it rather than the air.  For emergency preparedness or situations where you won’t be moving around a lot (like sitting on your couch), this is a much more efficient way of heating.

They also make a convective version of this heater (see our #3 pick).

One of the standout features of the Corporation Infrared heater is it has a thermostat.  You will be able to set the temperature and it will shut off once the space reaches that temperature, sparing you the hassle of cycling the heater on/off and saving you fuel.

The only real downside is you need to get a separate pressure regulator for it.  Don’t connect it directly to the propane tank without the regulator or it could be damaged!

The 30,000BTU model might also be too large for your space, but luckily they also make a 10,000BTU version.

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Corporation 30,000 Blue Flame Heater by Mr. Heater

Corporation 30,000 Blue Flame Heater

Features

  • Type: Convection
  • Max BTUs: 20,000
  • Settings: 5
  • ODS: Yes
  • Tip-over shutoff: No
  • Thermostat: Yes

  • Fan: No
  • Wall mountable: Yes
  • Weight: 24lbs
  • Run time on high (20lb tank): 14 hours

Why Choose It? When you want a convection heater with a built-in thermostat.

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Review:

“Blue flame” is the convection version of the Corporation heater listed as #2.  The heaters are identical in terms of features, so I won’t harp on those again.

The difference is in the way they heat: Choose the Blue Flame convection version if you want to heat the entire space.  Choose the Infrared version if you want to quickly get warm by huddling in front of the heater or if the space is poorly insulated.

Note the Blue Flame Corporation heater does not come with a built-in blower fan.  Fans aren’t necessary for infrared heaters, but are more important for convection heaters since you are heating the entire room.

If you have a large space to heat, then it is worth it to buy the optional blower fan (F299201 on Amazon)

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DynaGlo Cabinet Heater

DynaGlo Cabinet Heater

Features

  • Type: Convective
  • Max BTUs: 18,000
  • Settings: 3
  • ODS: Yes
  • Tip-over shutoff: Yes
  • Thermostat: No

  • Fan: Yes
  • Wall mountable: No
  • Weight: 7lbs
  • Run time on high (20lb tank): 23 hours

Why Choose It? The caster wheels make it easy to move the heater and tank around your home.

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Review

This DynaGlo radiant heater has a back compartment where you store the propane tank.  Because the heater is on wheels, you can easily move the heater and the tank around a room.

Don’t take this feature for granted!  

Radiant heaters only heat what is directly in front of them, so it is really a great benefit to be able to easily relocate the heater as you move around the space.

The heater also has all the safety and usability features you’d want, like adjustable heat settings, ODS shutoff, and tip-over shutoff.

At 18,000 BTUs, the heater will be able to heat even large-sized living rooms.

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Olympian Wave 8 Catalytic Heater

Olympian Wave 8 Catalytic Heater

Features

  • Type: Catalytic
  • Max BTUs: 8,000
  • Settings: 3
  • ODS: Yes
  • Tip-over shutoff: No
  • Thermostat: No

  • Fan: No
  • Wall mountable: Yes
  • Weight: 14lbs
  • Run time on high (20lb tank): 53 hours

Why Choose It? It’s the safest and most efficient indoor propane heater.

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Review

The Olympian Wave Catalytic heater isn’t as well-known as the others on this list, but it is one of the best choices for disaster prepping as well as camping and RVs.  Compared to other propane heaters, the Wave catalytic heaters are much more efficient and safe.

As talked about later in the buying guide part of this post, catalytic heaters are much more efficient because they produce heat without a flame and at a lower temperature.

Olympian claims flame based heaters waste 45% of energy whereas their Wave heaters are 99.98% efficient. It isn’t just the company making these claims though.

One user did a test and found the Wave 8 on the low setting (4,300BTU) was able to keep his bedroom at 68F.   By comparison, the guy was only able to get his bedroom to 62-64F with a 25,000BTU furnace heater.

Even with the Wave 8 running constantly, it still ended up using 3x less fuel.

As far as safety goes, Olympian Wave heaters operate at lower temperature: 720F versus 2,100F with traditional propane heaters.  This makes the heater less of a fire hazard.

Wave catalytic heaters also produce virtually zero CO gas.

They do require oxygen to operate though, which means you could end up with dangerously-low oxygen levels.  There is an ODS shutoff feature to protect against that but you will still need to ventilate.

There are a few downsides to the Wave catalytic heaters.

First off, they are fairly costly.  If you need something for your RV or supplemental gas heating for your home, then the price is well worth it.  Not everyone will want to invest this much in a heater for occasional power outages.

The other downside is catalytic heaters like the Wave 8 are sensitive to dust. You must keep it covered when not in use or the catalyst plate can easily get damaged.  The plate is also sensitive to humidity, so it might not be the best choice for very humid areas.

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Pleasant Hearth Dual-Fuel Compact Vent Free Stove

Pleasant Hearth Dual-Fuel

Features

  • Type: Radiant
  • Max BTUs: 20,000
  • Settings: 5
  • ODS: Yes
  • Tip-over shutoff: No
  • Thermostat: Yes

  • Fan: No
  • Wall mountable: N/A
  • Weight: 58lbs
  • Run time on high (20lb tank): 21 hours

Why Choose It? It is an attractive, permanent heater which you will enjoy using on a regular basis.

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Review

Propane vent-free stoves are becoming more popular as an alternative to fire places. There are many models which could be used for power outage prepping, but this one by Pleasant Hearth is one of the best choices.

Compared to other vent-free stoves, the Pleasant Heart Compact stove has many interesting features.

For starters, it is compact in size at just 25.5 inches tall, 23 inches wide, and 11 inches deep.  It is free-standing on four legs, so you can put it virtually anywhere in your home.

It’s heavy at 58lbs, but not so monstrously heavy that you couldn’t move it to another room if necessary during a power outage.

There are five heat settings, each of which is controlled by a thermostat.  The heater will cycle on/off based on the room temperature, which means you save fuel in the long run.

Note the blower fan is sold separately.  If you need to heat a large room, you’ll want to purchase the fan.

The stove does require a 100lb tank or larger with a two-stage adjustable regulator.

You might need professional setup and is meant to be a permanent installation in your home.  It comes with ceramic logs and the flames are a pretty yellow.

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Is It Safe to Use a Propane Heater Indoors?

 

So long as you take precautions against fire and provide ventilation, most propane heaters are perfectly safe to use indoors.

Fire Hazard

Any heater – including portable space heaters as well as gas heaters – pose a fire risk.  If they topple over, they can overheat and start a fire.

Likewise, if anything gets too close to the heating element, it can also catch on fire.

However good indoor propane heaters have features to make them safer.

The most important one against fire is an automatic tip-over shutoff; the heater will automatically shut off if it falls over.  Some heaters also have overheat detection and will shut off if they get too warm.

Regardless of how many safety features your propane heater has, you should always make sure there is at least 3 feet of space around it.  Keep it well away from any fire hazards like curtains and blankets.

If you have small children or pets, you will want to be extra careful.

Consider using duct tape to attach the heater’s base to a heavy platform to keep it from getting knocked over and never leave the heater unattended.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is released during the combustion process.  Even though today’s propane heaters burn very clean, they will still release some CO gas.

This is a serious issue: Many deaths occur during power outages due to CO poisoning, especially because of improper use of heaters.

Follow these guidelines to prevent CO poisoning when using propane heaters.

Only Use Propane Heaters Rated for Indoor Use

It is important you only use propane heaters rated for indoor use!

Studies like this one have shown propane heaters rated for outdoor use produce CO levels of 100ppm within at little as 50 minutes of use.  Exposure to these levels can result in sickness.

Levels of 150ppm can be deadly in just 8 hours (see chart here).

By contrast, indoor-rated propane heaters have automatic shutoffs which keep them from reaching these high levels.

Ventilate

You will need to leave a window cracked open while using a propane heater, even if it is rated for indoor use.

The ventilation requirements vary depending on the BTUs of the heater.

For example, the Mr. Heater Big Buddy requires 18 square inches of ventilation (4.25 x 4.25 inches).

Check the heater’s user manual to see how much ventilation is required.

Cracking a window might seem to defeat the purpose of a heater.  However, the heater will produce more heat than is lost through the window.

Even if it is very cold, always ventilate!

Look At the Flame Color

When the heater is burning the fuel efficiently, it will produce less CO gas.  The color of the flame will give you a clue to how cleanly the propane is being burned. (source)

  • Blue flames: This is what you want to see. The fuel is being burned cleanly with little CO gas being produced.
  • Red, orange or yellow flames: If you see these colors, it is a sign the propane is not being fully burnt and more CO gas is being produced.

Use a Battery Operated CO Detector

Good indoor propane heaters have built-in CO detector and shut off automatically if levels gets too high. However, CO poisoning is too serious to be trusted to built-in detectors.

I recommend also getting a battery-operated CO detector to use whenever you are operating your heater or other fuel-burning devices.

Oxygen Depletion

Propane heaters require oxygen to burn the fuel.  Over time, an indoor propane heater could use up too much oxygen in the space, resulting in dangerously-low levels of oxygen.

This is a completely separate issue from CO poisoning.

Many indoor propane heaters have built-in oxygen depletion sensors (ODS) which will cause the heater to shut off if oxygen levels go below 18%.  This feature also protects against CO poisoning (source).

Even with automatic ODS shut-off, you still need to ventilate the space to provide oxygen.  It’s not worth the risk.

Note: Heaters with ODS will not work at high altitudes because of the lower oxygen levels there.  If you live somewhere above 4,000 feet, you may need a heater without the ODS safety feature.

What Size Propane Heater Do I Need?

Propane heaters are sized in British Thermal Units (BTUs). The higher the BTUs, the larger of a space the heater will be able to heat. You can use the following formula to determine your BTU requirements.

  1. Find the cubic feet of the space you want to heat. This is done by multiplying length x width x height.
  2. Determine how many degrees you’ll need to increase the temperature. For example, if it is 20F outside and you want it to be 50F inside, then amount is 30F.
  3. BTUs required = Cubic Feet x Temperature Increase x 0.133.

*For Celsius, use this equation: BTUs required = Cubic Feet x Temperature Increase x 0.2394

Unless you are prepared to stockpile large amounts of propane, it is usually impractical to heat your entire home with a propane heater during a power outage.

Instead, you will want to gather everyone into one room and heat this room.  Shut doors and hang heavy blankets over them to prevent heat from escaping.  Put rolled-up towels at the bottom of the doors to keep air from escaping through the gap there.

Here’s an example:

The average living room size in the USA is 319 square feet.  Standard ceiling height is 8 feet.  That means a typical living room is 2,550 cubic feet in size.

In Upstate New York where I grew up, temperatures regularly get down to 17F in January.  To make life comfortable during a power outage safe, you’d want to increase the temperature to around 50F, so a temperature increase of 33F.

2,550 x 33 x 0.133 = 11,191 BTUs required

Get a Larger Propane Heater than You Need

In the example above, I’ve made the calculation using average January low temperatures.  However, temperatures do get a lot colder than this – like during the 1994 blizzard when the temperature dropped to -11F!

To play it safe, you’ll want to get a propane heater with a higher BTU than you actually need.

However, don’t get too large of a propane heater, especially if it doesn’t have a thermostat.  The room will heat up too quickly and you’ll have to constantly cycle the heater on/off to get the temperature right.

Further, a very large heater in a small space might produce too much CO gas.

Tip: Choose a propane heater with multiple heat settings.  This way you can choose a lower setting to save fuel and only use the higher setting when it’s really cold out.

How Much Fuel Do I Need?

Use the following equation to determine the amount of fuel needed:

  • Look at how much propane the heater uses per hour. This can be found in the heater description or user manual.
  • Calculate how many hours per day you will be using the heater. In a blizzard situation, this number will probably be 24 hours per day.
  • Determine how many days you want to prepare for. At the very least, you should have enough fuel to get you through a 2-week power outage. It’s probably advisable to have at least 30-days’ worth of fuel stockpiled for extended power outages though.
  • Multiply these numbers to get the amount of fuel required.

For example: the Mr. Heater Buddy uses 0.099 gallons of propane per hour at the 9,000BTU setting.  If you were to use it 24 hours a day for 14 days, it comes out to:

0.099 x 24 x 14 = 33.264 gallons

 

You can also calculate how long your propane tank will last. 

  • One gallon of propane contains 91,502BTUs (source).
  • Multiply this by how many gallons of propane you have.
  • Then divide by how many BTUs your heater produces.

For example: A 20lb tank of propane contains 4.7 gallons of propane for a total of 430,059 BTUs.  A propane heater operating at 18,000bBTUs would last 23.8 hours (430,059 ÷ 18,000 = 23.8).

This isn’t as exact as the first method because some heaters are more efficient than others, but it still gives you a rough estimate of how many hours a propane tank will last. 

Propane Tank Sizes in Gallons

  • 1lb canister = 0.2 gallons
  • 5lb tank = 1.2 gallons
  • 11lb tank = 2.6 gallons
  • 15lb tank = 3.5 gallons
  • 20lb tank = 4.7 gallons
  • 30lb tank = 6.8 gallons
  • 100lb tank = 25 gallons

(Source)

*You can drastically reduce your fuel requirements by heating a smaller space or keeping the temperature lower. Remember it’s better to be safe than sorry. You don’t want to run out of gas and end up freezing – so stockpile adequate amounts of propane for your heater.

Convective vs. Radiant vs. Catalytic Propane Heaters

Propane heaters heat a space using convection or radiation.

A convective heater will heat the air in the room.

By contrast, a radiant heater (also called infrared heater) heats objects in front of the heater.

Catalytic heaters are a type of radiant heater which don’t rely on a flame to produce heat.

Convective Heaters

Convective heaters (sometimes called blue flame heaters) work by heating the air around the heater.  The hot air rises to the ceiling and will eventually heat the entire room from the top down.

Pros

  • Heat the entire space: It can take a while, but the entire room will get to a warm temperature.
  • More options available: Which means more features to choose from.
  • Cheaper: Convective heaters are usually a bit cheaper than radiant heaters.

Cons

  • Less efficient than radiant heaters: You lose a lot of energy heating air around the ceiling.
  • Not suitable for drafty spaces: A draft will carry away the hot air instead of allowing it to heat the space.
  • Work best with fans: The fan blows the warmed air around the room. This is a downside because the fans are often sold separately, annoyingly loud, and are prone to breaking.

Radiant Heaters

A radiant heater (also called infrared heater) will heat whatever is in its path.

Think of it like a campfire which you huddle around.  They will eventually heat an entire space, but only by heating the objects in the space.

Pros

  • Much more efficient: Since they directly heat whatever is in front of them, they will keep you warm with much less fuel.
  • No loud fans: No fan is required, so they are quieter to run.
  • Instant warmth: Just sit in front of the heater and you will get warm. No need to wait for the air in the room to warm up.
  • Better for drafty spaces: You aren’t trying to warm the air in the space, so radiant heaters work well for drafty spaces.

Cons

  • Not good for warming entire rooms: They only warm objects in front of them.
  • Need to huddle around the heater: This is great for situations like sleeping, but not for doing tasks in the room.

Catalytic Heaters

A catalytic heater is a type of radiant heater, meaning it will also heat objects directly in front of it.

The difference between a catalytic and radiant heater is the way they produce heat.  Radiant heaters have a visible flame.  By contrast, catalytic heaters rely on a chemical reaction which uses a very low temperature and doesn’t produce CO gas.

Pros

  • Flameless technology and low heat: This means there is almost no fire risk.
  • Virtually no CO gas produced: The low temperature means almost no CO gas is produced.

Cons

  • Not many options: The Olympian Wave is one of the only propane catalytic heaters you’ll find.
  • Pricier: Be prepared to invest in one of these heaters.

Which to Get?

A convective propane heater is usually a better choice, especially if multiple people will be sharing a space for a long period of time and the room is well-insulated.

Radiant heaters are a better choice for individuals who don’t mind huddling around the heater to stay warm.  Likewise, choose a radiant heater if you are unable to stockpile lots of propane and thus efficiency is a bigger concern.

If you are in a very small space, such as a van or RV, then a catalytic heater is the best choice.

Tips for Using Propane Heaters during Power Outage

  • Be sure to have flashlights and spare batteries: You’ll need flashlights or headlamps for setting up the heater in the dark. It’s best not to use candles around propane heaters in case you experience leaks.
  • Have supplies for sectioning rooms: Indoor propane heaters are meant to heat small spaces, not your entire home. Have supplies like heavy blankets for hanging over doorways and towels to go under door cracks.
  • Test your heater before you need it: You don’t want a winter power outage to hit and only then realize you don’t know how to operate your heater. Read the manual and test it out as soon as you get it.
  • You still need warm blankets and clothes: During a winter power outage, your primary source of warmth should be your clothes and emergency blankets or sleeping bags. Make sure you have these ready and you won’t blow through all your propane to heat your home.
  • Have a CO detector and spare batteries: As mentioned before, don’t rely on the heater’s built-in shutoffs. Use a separate battery-operated CO detector.  Make sure you have spare batteries for it and test them before operating your heater.

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