Non-Electric Space Heaters
Heating Without Electricity
Non-electric space heaters can be life savers. As part of disaster preparedness, and for survival during a power outage, you will want to consider an off-grid source of heat in your living space during cold winter weather.
Electric heaters may be the most common and simplest-to-use portable heaters, but the electricity required to run them is often quite expensive. Also, electric heat will be worthless if the electric power goes out due to a storm or other disaster.
A portable non-electric heater can be both a life saver in an emergency and an effective supplement to back up your primary heat source. When cold winter weather hits, be ready with a heat backup that runs on an alternative fuel source, such as propane, natural gas, or kerosene.
Here you'll find a review of the best units on the market, based on consumer reports, Amazon reviews, and personal experience.
Do Electric Space Heaters Save on Energy?
Electric heaters might not be the best choice. According to Consumer Reports (Feb. 10, 2010), claims for electric heaters don't add up:
Manufacturers of electric space heaters want you to believe that using one of their devices will lower your heating bill. Lowering your home's thermostat(s) and using your main heating system less in tandem with a space heater--called zone heating--will cut your utility bill. (Every degree you lower the thermostat(s) can save you about 2 percent on your heating bill.) But keep in mind that based on current national average prices and adjusting for the energy losses due to burning a fuel, heating with electricity is about two and a half times more expensive than heating with gas, the most common heating fuel in this country.
We have little control over the utility companies. Gas or electric, they can raise prices at any time. A power outage leaves us vulnerable.
It is best to have a Plan B of some kind ready. These non-electric space heaters can make a HUGE difference for you and your family.
Don't wait until the power goes out
to find an alternative source of heat.
We all need a back-up alternative.
Pros and Cons of Non-Electric Space Heaters
Consider these advantages and disadvantages of non-electric portable heaters.
PROS: These heaters' biggest advantage is they will work during a power outage or anywhere at all where you need heat. Kerosene heaters use a dual-combustion system that burns cleanly and efficiently. Both propane and kerosene are inexpensive alternative fuel sources that may be purchased ahead of time and stored safely. Non-electric space heaters are useful for camping or in any situation where electric outlets are not available. Some also use them to avoid high utility bills for electricity use.
CONS: Non-electric space heaters are considered less safe than electric heaters, mainly because handling gas can be dangerous. Consumer Reports recommends their use only in emergency situations. Still many use non-electric space heaters in many situations quite safely. Use them as directed. In order to use most of these heaters indoors you need to VENT them! Be safe.
Types of Alternative Space Heaters
The most common alternatives to portable electric heaters are gas and kerosene heaters. Gas heaters can be powered by either natural gas or propane.
Disposable propane tanks (bottles) are easy to use and best for emergency situations. Keep at least two bottles of the disposable propane tanks for minimum preparedness for a power outage.
A propane heater can also be hooked up to much larger permanent (not disposable) tanks. When you purchase a propane heater, the unit will include a hose attachment and regulator.
Kerosene heaters will burn fuel slowly and efficiently. A gallon of kerosene can last 12-16 hours, which is longer than a wheelbarrow full of wood. Kerosene heaters are a great solution for camping, trailers, basements, or garages.
Beware: Some portable gas heaters, called "ventless" or "vent-free," can be very hazardous. They draw air from inside a room to feed the combustion of fuel, and release combustion waste back into the same room. They pose risks including suffocation from insufficient oxygen and carbon monoxide poisoning. Using these ventless heaters indoors is risky, and in fact illegal in some states including Massachusetts and California.
Safety Guidelines for Non-Electric Portable Heaters
While space heaters do offer consumers an important alternative heat source, they come with some safety issues and concerns. Propane and kerosene heaters usually have an open flame, which means they may blow out in windy places. Also they do emit carbon monoxide so they must be used vented. Additional risks are associated with handling fuel.
DO check with local regulations before using a non-electric heater and follow safety guidelines and instructions provided by the manufacturer. If these heaters are used indoors, particular attention must be paid to safety.
Tips for Using Portable Heaters
- When buying a heater, make sure it has the UL mark, which stands for United Laboratories. This means the unit was tested by an independent laboratory.
- Turn your non-electric space heater off before leaving a room or going to sleep.
- Always supervise children and pets when using a space heater.
- Don't use a space heater to dry clothes.
- Allow heater to cool down completely before adding fuel.
- IMPORTANT! Turn off the fuel FIRST, let the remaining fuel burn off, and then turn off the unit. More about that below under Mr. Heater.
Pricing and Suggested Brands and Models
Non-electric heaters are available in many brands and price ranges.
Propane heaters cost from $80 to $250. The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Propane Heater (featured below) is a recommended brand in this price range.
Kerosene heaters run from about $150 to $350.
Natural gas heaters run from $130 to $230.
Of all the types of heaters reviewed, this reviewer recommends the Mr. Heater brand for any category of non-electric space heaters. They are quality built and flexible.
This "Mr. Heater" propane unit gets RAVE reviews and compliments for its safety features.
Important: When you use this heater with a 20-pound propane bottle and accessory hose, you MUST shut the tank off first, before the heater, and let the heater run until it burns off all the fuel in the lines. That's because if you just turn the knob off, propane gets trapped in the accessory hose—not good for the unit.
High-pressure propane sitting in the rubber hose will chemically react with the rubber and leach out a light oil that will build up and work its way into the heater, clogging up both the regulator and the control valve.
Consider purchasing the gas line filter, because it will catch this oily residue. This protects the combustion components of the heater and eliminates safety issues described above.
Fuel Needs: Two disposable propane tanks will burn for six or seven hours on the low setting. Also you must have two of the disposable cans on hand in order to run it on high at all; it does not say this in the manual. On the high setting, those TWO canisters will last at least three hours.
Both the gas line filter and the disposable propane bottles can be purchased via Amazon at a reasonable price and with free shipping too (with a minimum purchase).