Kerosene vs. Propane Heaters: Which is Best For Indoor Heating?


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Last Updated: October 13, 2021

Want a portable heater that you can use during power outages or to heat a workspace?

Your two main options are kerosene heaters and propane heaters.  

Here’s what you need to know about kerosene vs. propane heaters so you can choose which one is better for your needs.

Quick answer:

For occasional or emergency use, propane heaters are the better option. Compared with kerosene heaters, propane heaters are easier to maintain, and you don’t have to worry about the fuel going bad.

For regular use, kerosene heaters are more convenient and cheaper if you have access to bulk kerosene.  However, it’s always smart to have multiple fuel types, so you have a backup.

See our favorite portable emergency heaters for indoor use: 

Cost of Kerosene vs. Propane Heaters

There isn’t too much difference between the price of kerosene and propane heaters. However, there may be a big price difference for fuel.

If you stockpile large amounts of fuel or use your heater regularly, the fuel costs can add up.  You’ll want to choose the heater which has cheaper fuel. Kerosene heaters are usually cheaper to run than propane heaters.

Kerosene vs. Propane Prices Per Gallon

When compared on a gallon-by-gallon basis, propane is almost always cheaper than kerosene.

Below are some 2021 retail prices for a gallon of propane or kerosene.  Note that kerosene prices are much lower at a pump.  1-K kerosene can cost more than $10 per gallon if you buy it at a hardware store.  Likewise, large propane cylinders are much cheaper per gallon than small canisters.

Vermont:

  • Kerosene: $3.43
  • Propane: $3.01

New York:

  • Kerosene: $3.57
  • Propane: $2.95

Colorado:

  • Propane: $2.44
  • Kerosene: $2.05

Cost per BTU of Energy

While heating with propane may seem cheaper than kerosene, you need to look at the cost per energy potential.

A gallon of kerosene has roughly 135,000 BTUs of potential energy, whereas a gallon of propane has roughly 91,333 BTUs of potential energy.

When you calculate the cost per BTU, heating with kerosene is much cheaper than propane.

To calculate cost per BTU:

  • Find the price per gallon of the fuel
  • Divide the price by the number of BTUs in the fuel
  • Multiply by 1000
  • This is the price per BTU

Other Fuel-Related Costs

Many other factors can affect the price of heating on kerosene vs. propane.  For example:

  • Fuel going bad: Kerosene will eventually go bad and burn poorly. By contrast, propane never goes bad.  When you factor in the cost of kerosene you may need to throw away propane can end up cheaper.
  • Additives: For long-term storage, you may want to put additives in your kerosene. These are an additional cost.  Propane doesn’t need any additives.
  • Storage tanks: Propane cylinders and underground tanks are expensive. Canisters and drums for kerosene are usually cheaper.
  • Accessibility: Kerosene is only cheap if you can buy it at a pump. If you have to travel far to get it, then the costs will add up.  By contrast, propane is usually easier to find, and even delivery service costs aren’t that high in many areas.

Kerosene vs. Propane Storage

When it comes to storing fuel, propane heaters are better than kerosene.  Propane tanks can safely be stored outdoors, even in the rain or snow.

While it isn’t generally recommended, you can even store a propane cylinder in a garage or shed.  You may need to paint the tanks to prevent rust occasionally, but they can theoretically last for decades.

By contrast, kerosene needs to be stored in cool, dry places away from sunlight. It should not be stored outdoors. The ideal place for storing kerosene is a shed, which not everyone has.

Also Read: How to store kerosene

Shelf Life

Propane has an indefinite shelf life, so you don’t have to worry about it going bad.  By contrast, kerosene typically does go bad within 2 to 5 years.  There are kerosene additives that will extend the shelf life, but these are an additional cost.  You can also clean old kerosene fuel, but it might damage your heater.

Read: Does kerosene go bad?

Maintenance of Kerosene vs. Propane Heater

Propane heaters require almost no maintenance at all.  They just need to be kept clean and checked for leaks regularly.

By contrast, kerosene heaters require much more maintenance.  You’ll need to empty the fuel before putting the heater away each season and completely clean it.  The wick also needs to be trimmed, cleaned, or replaced regularly.

Read:

Burn Cleanliness

Of the two types, propane heaters burn cleaner than kerosene heaters.  However, both can cause air pollution.  The main pollutants include:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Sulfur dioxide

For this reason, you must always have ventilation when using a kerosene or propane heater indoors.   You also must have a carbon monoxide detector.

Read:

Portability

Kerosene heaters are generally much easier to transport than propane heaters.  With propane heaters, you have to transport the heavy, bulky propane tanks.  By contrast, it is fairly easy to transport kerosene.

You can even store it in large drums and use siphons to transfer it to smaller, more portable containers, such as if you need to take it in your vehicle.

Moisture

One difference between kerosene and propane heaters that often gets overlooked is moisture.   Both kerosene and propane put off moisture, but kerosene puts off much more.

  • Kerosene: 1.1 gallons of moisture per gallon of kerosene burned
  • Propane: 0.98 gallons of moisture per gallon of propane burned

This might seem like a small difference, but it can matter in some situations.  For example, propane heaters are generally better in tents because less condensation will drip on you than with a kerosene tent heater.

What type of heater do you prefer?  Let us know why in the comments section below.

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