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When you picture a portable propane heater, you may envision using it in a solitary and sub-zero place far off the grid – ice fishing in a cabin on a frozen lake, hunting deep in the woods on a winter morning, or camping on a cold night. And while it’ll definitely keep you warm in those extreme situations, everyone should keep one of these top-rated portable propane heaters in their home emergency preparedness kit, too. After a power outage, natural disaster, or even a malfunction of your regular heating source, having a good portable propane heater on hand can quickly bring the temperature back up until everything is restored.
How Do Propane Heaters Work?
As the name suggests, the best propane heaters run on propane, rather than needing to be plugged in. That makes them more portable than regular space heaters, and a great way to keep warm in a garage, backyard or outdoor site (say, for camping or construction). The best portable propane heaters can be used indoors too.
Heat is measured in BTUs — British Thermal Units — and these are a reliable indicator for how powerful a heater is going to be. Low is considered to be 4,000 BTUs/hour, medium about 9,000, and high is 18,000 or above. Depending on the square footage of where you’ll be using this heater, BTUs are a good place to start looking.
For spaces without insulation, such as a garage or patio, most heaters should be fine to be on full-blast. But not all heaters are created equal when it comes to being indoor-safe, so be sure to carefully check if you’re planning on using it in an enclosed, inside space. Even if it is indoor-safe, it’s still highly advised to have a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector in the room, just in case. Also never use these on a table, and having at least a little fresh air entering the room is advised as well (since propane emissions cause a high condensation when they start to burn off, which can increase the humidity and dampness in the room, creating a puddle underneath the heater).
What Are Alternatives to Propane Heaters?
Other than propane, kerosene heaters are an option too. Kerosene is a lamp oil from distilled petroleum, and is widely used in everything from heaters to jet engines. However be aware that kerosene heaters, even the ones that claim to be indoor-safe, can still give off smoke and smells, so It’s especially advised to let these run outside when you first get them, in order to burn off any leftover factory oils and chemicals on the metal grate before bringing it in.
As another bonus perk, these heaters can often save you money too. If your home heating and/or electric bills are sky-high in the winter, consider getting one of these in the draftiest parts of your house.
No matter how it’s powered, a safe portable heater can be an absolute lifesaver when the thermostat starts to drop. We’ve selected four units here to keep you warm all winter long.
1. Mr. Heater Blue Flame Heater
When temperatures drop, this unit is definitely a good option to have around. Not only that, but this propane heater is plenty big too: 26 pounds and a powerful source of heat that can warm spaces up to 750 square feet. But safety is no afterthought here, and protection measures are in place all over. The self-shutoff cuts the power when it senses low oxygen, so you can get warm without getting worried.
The Blue Flame Heater runs on propane tanks, using the natural convection of the burn flame to circulate warm, comfortable air. Unlike infrared portable units, it doesn’t radiate heat, but instead warms all the air around you. This means you can use the heater in narrow or smaller living spaces, since the hot air will rise and heat the room from the ceiling down.
It’s also versatile, able to be mounted to a wall with the supplied bracket or stand on its own on the floor with the supplied feet.
Theses come with a battery powered electronic ignition, so it can start up quickly for such a bulky and powerful heater.
2. Dyna-Glo Infrared Heater
This wall unit provides up to 18,000 BTUs of infrared radiant heat in large areas, to warm up more than 700 square feet of space. It also requires a 100-pound propane tank, so if you know you’ll be using this for an entire season, it’s a much more economical (and convenient) choice than constantly replacing little one-pound tanks.
The heat settings are adjustable, and it’s easy to light with a battery-assisted ignitor. Though heavy, especially with a full tank, you can purchase separately sold base legs for floor mounting and a fan to improve circulation in rooms up to 1000 square feet.
3. Kero World Indoor Kerosene Heater
This heater is fueled off of kerosene, a commonly used fuel for heating and lighting – and that’s exactly what this unit provides a lot of: both heat and light.
10,000 BTUs illuminate and blast out heat in every direction, while a protective grill envelops the hot surface areas, creating a safety barrier for kids, pets, and protection from overall damage.
This is easy to put together right out of the box, and a 1 gallon tank of fuel generally will get you about 12 hours of heating. Two D batteries can be inserted in the back in an emergency, and this is great to have in a disaster preparedness kit.
Kerosene has a distinct odor, and though uncommon, some say there’s a bit of a smell sometimes when first powering it on or off. Also be aware that kerosene, while a hearty heat source, is extremely combustable so use with caution. And while this heater has safety precautions in place, and kerosene heaters in general have been used for decades, some may not feel comfortable having a flammable heater in the house, so this is best used outdoors.
4. Hexago Portable Forced Air Heater
Another super warm option, Hexago’s heater has unparalleled heating coverage. The best part? This forced air heater is extremely portable, and perfect for places like garages, workshops, porches and patios.
No need to manually ignite it, as the “Automatic Continuous Electric Spark Igniter” guarantees a quick ignition. At 60,000 BTUs, it’s plenty warm for spaces up to 1,500 square feet (note that this is not a recommended option for smaller, enclosed spaces).
Despite its size, there are still safety features built-in here, such as the overheating auto shutoff system, and an automatic cutoff to avoid gas leakage. A 20-pound propane tank is all it needs to get going, and should get you up to 11.1 hours of heat. Hexago also claims that this heater has a 50% quieter noise level than a standard propane heater, but that might still be too loud for some users according to the reviews.