Non-Electrical Space Heaters
In many households, wintertime utility bills can really strain the budget. Many space heaters -- including those that do not rely on electricity at all -- are available to consumers as an alternative. Electric space heaters are the easiest and safest to use; however, heaters using fuels such as propane, natural gas, and kerosene are also available for specialized use. Indoor use of non-electric heaters is illegal in some states, so it is important to check your local regulations before purchasing a non-electric heater.
Types of Alternative Space Heaters
Gas and kerosene heaters are the most common alternatives to portable electric heaters. Gas can mean two types: natural gas or propane. Propane heaters need to be hooked up to an existing propane tank; at least 100 lbs in usually recommended. Propane tanks over 20 lbs should always be kept outdoors. A hose attachment and regulator is often included with the purchase of a propane heater.
Natural gas heaters need to be attached to a source of natural gas, which can then be unconnected during summer months. Connecting directly to the gas source ensures that fuel will always be available when it is needed.
Both kinds of heaters need to be vented, which means pulling fumes and toxins from the burning fuel away from living areas. Some models are called direct vent, which means the venting system is built-in and the heater self-vents when installed on an outside wall.
Kerosene heaters burn fuel slowly and efficiently; a gallon of kerosene can last 12 - 16 hours-- longer than a wheelbarrow full of wood. Many people use kerosene heaters for camping, trailers, basements, or garages.
Some portable gas heaters, including kerosene, are called ventless or vent-free. They draw air from inside a room to feed the combustion of fuel and release combustion waste back into the same room. Ventless gas heaters pose numerous risks including suffocation from insufficient oxygen and carbon monoxide poisoning. Their use in indoor settings is controversial, and in fact, illegal in many states, including Massachusetts and California.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Non-Electric Heaters
Because alternative fuel space heaters do not run on electricity, the biggest advantage is they will work during power outages. Kerosene heaters utilize a dual combustion system that burns cleanly and efficiently with up to 99% fuel efficiency. Both propane and kerosene are inexpensive and plentiful fuel sources and may be purchased ahead of time and stored safely.
Because handling gas can be dangerous, non-electric space heaters are generally considered less safe than electric heaters. Consumer Reports, for example, recommends their use only in emergencies.
Pricing and Suggested Brands and Models
Propane heaters range in price from $80 to $250. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Propane Heater is a commonly recommended brand within this price range. Kerosene heaters run from approximately $150 to $350. Finally, natural gas heaters run from $130 to $230.
Safety and Use Guidelines
While space heaters provide an important alternative to centralized heat sources, they come with a variety of safety issues and concerns. Propane and kerosene heaters often have an open flame, and emit carbon monoxide. There are also additional risks associated with handling fuel. For all of these reasons, it is important to check with local regulations before using a non-electric heater, and to follow all safety guidelines and instructions for use provided by the manufacturer, especially if these heaters are used indoors. In addition, please remember the following safety tips:
- Only purchase a heater that has the UL mark, which stands for United Laboratories and means it's been tested by an independent laboratory.
- Keep at least three feet from combustible items.
- Turn off before leaving a room or going to sleep.
- Always supervise children and pets when using a heater.
- Don't use a space heater to dry clothes.
- Allow heater to cool down completely before adding fuel.