A kerosene (paraffin) heater can be used as a camping heater, emergency heater (when electrical power is cut), greenhouse heater, patio heater, daily-use room heater or occasional-use garage heater.
They generate a lot of heat. Home models look like small stoves and range from 10,000 to over 20,000 BTU (per hour). In contrast, a 1500 watt electric space heater gives off 5,000 BTU (per hour). “Contractor” kerosene heaters deliver 40,000 to over 200,000 BTU.
The power required will depend on the size of the area heated, the external temperature, and the amount of insulation. Manufacturers quote anything from 25,000 to 40,000 BTU as the amount needed to heat 1,000 square feet. One gallon of kerosene will generate about 10,000 BTU per hour, for 10 to 12 hours (overnight).
Brands include Reddy, DuraHeat, Aladdin, Mr. Heater, Toyotomi (Laser), ProTemp and Sengoku (Heat Mate). Warranties are typically one to two years. They can be difficult to find in local shops. Online shops are a good source.
Kerosene heaters should be used only in ventilated areas. Opening a window a few inches is recommended by manufacturers. A carbon-monoxide alarm should be installed.
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Portable Indoor/Outdoor Home Kerosene Heaters
These cost from $100 to $200. Round models look like hurricane lamps and provide 360 degree heat. They are designed to be placed in the middle of the room. Heat output can reach 23,000 BTU.
Rectangular heaters have a front opening and are closed at the rear. They are designed to be placed near the wall. Power output is usually less, about 10,000 BTU.
Most use large, flat fabric wicks that look like socks or small folded napkins. The wicks need to be regularly trimmed (dry-burned) and replaced. Problems with smoke and strong fuel smell are often due to wick issues. A thin wick won’t burn well. Replacing the wick can make a big difference.
To reduce the smell of kerosene in the room, manufacturers recommend lighting and dousing the flame outdoors (these heaters are portable).
The heaters can be convection, radiant or forced-air. Convection models are the most common. Radiant heaters have a metal grid that is heated until it glows red. They are good for outdoor use, where heated air is easily blown away. Forced-air models are similar to convection models, with an additional electric fan to distribute the hot air.
One disadvantage is that the heat output can’t be adjusted much. There is usually only one wick setting that burns without smoke or odor.
Standard features are:
- Push-button ignition, powered by D cell batteries
- Fuel gauge
- Automatic safety shut-off if the heater is kicked over
- Safety protective metal grill
The Toyotomi Laser heaters are unusual because they are wickless forced-air designs. They need an electrical supply for the fan, digital controls and thermostat. Some models are vented and require a flue pipe to be installed. They cost more than traditional kerosene heaters that use wicks. Unlike wick heaters, power output is adjustable. Power can reach 40,000 BTUs. They are more like “contractor” kerosene heaters, but for home use.
“Contractor” Kerosene Heaters
These cost a few hundred dollars. They deliver 40,000 to over 200,000 BTU. The smaller models are suitable for garages and workshops, while the larger units are powerful enough to heat an aircraft hangar, factory floor, construction site or large barn.
The heaters are horizontal metal tubes a few feet long, that look like a blowtorch or jet engine. They use a fuel pump instead of a wick. Hot air is blown out one end of the tube. Larger models come with wheels and look like they are bolted on to a wheelbarrow. Almost all are forced-air models and need to be plugged-in to run the electrical fan. A safety mechanism will switch off the heater if the electrical supply is cut.
Many have a thermostat and will automatically shut down and start up again, depending on the temperature (there’s a spark plug or glow plug for ignition). Multi-fuel capability is also common, allowing fuels such as diesel (but not gasoline) and jet fuel, to be used. Like wick heaters, these heaters run best at one fixed heat (BTU) output setting.
Understanding Kerosene Heater Fuel
K-1 grade kerosene should be used for heaters (sometimes called 1-K or 1K). It has a lower sulfur content compared to K-2 kerosene. Klean Strip claims that their Klean Heat kerosene (http://www.wmbarr.com/product.aspx?catid=35&prodid=93) is even purer than K-1.
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Bureau of Weights and Measures, has details on K-1 and K-2 kerosene for home heaters (http://www.agriculture.ny.gov/WM/Kerosene.html):
Kerosene comes in two grades, K-1 and K-2. The major difference is the sulfur content. The sulfur levels in K-1 are kept below 0.05% by weight, which makes the fuel suitable for unvented heaters. The sulfur levels in grade K-2 may reach 0.5%. The K-2 grade is often used in mobile home furnaces that are vented. Under Weights and Measures Regulations, the dispenser must clearly identify the product as kerosene and identify the grade. You should look for the K-1 or 1K marking on the pump to be sure you are getting the correct fuel for your portable heater.
Scented kerosene additives (also called wick cleaners) are available to reduce the kerosene smell, and keep the wick clean. Kerosene should be kept in an airtight container to prevent water absorption. Kerosene that is cloudy is likely contaminated with water and should be filtered with a fuel filter such as Mr. Funnel.
The Best Kerosene Heater
Most kerosene heaters have a fixed heat output. Choosing the right heater means knowing the required BTU capacity. A 10,000 or 20,000 BTU home heater will be enough for most rooms. A large garage will need a more powerful “contractor” heater.
Safety should always be kept in mind when using a kerosene heater. The Agricultural Engineering Department, Michigan State University Extension, has information on kerosene heater safety (http://nasdonline.org/document/1301/d001100/kerosene-heater-safety.html).
A kerosene heater can be used outdoors, as a patio heater. For indoor use, homeowners should also consider electric space heaters.