Space Heaters, Unplugged

Electric space heaters are tough to beat in terms of cost and convenience, but if you're looking for more than 5,120 Btu or want a way to heat your home if there's a power outage, two other options to consider are portable kerosene and gas heaters. These choices, however, have to be made carefully since both types of heaters use active combustion, with all the dangers that implies. Kerosene heaters aren't as popular as they were back in the 1980s, but more than 5 million of them are still in use, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Kerosene heaters are inexpensive (prices start at $100), don't require electricity, and provide a lot of heat (13,000 to 17,000 Btu). However, there are several disadvantages. In addition to being a fire hazard, kerosene heaters consume oxygen and produce dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. Although emissions are carefully regulated, small amounts can affect children and adults with preexisting respiratory problems. What's more, burning 1 gallon of kerosene produces 1 gallon of water vapor, which can create mold- and mildew-related problems, particularly in tight homes. Still, kerosene is a safe temporary heat solution, provided you follow all of the manufacturer's safety guidelines. Don Grob, managing engineer at UL, says there are two primary safety concerns. The first is to maintain adequate ventilation. The rule is 1 square inch of window opening per 1,000 Btu. For example, if you're running a heater rated at 20,000 Btu, keep a 24-inch-wide window open about an inch. The second primary concern is to keep kerosene in its own storage container. "Homeowners sometimes use old gas cans for kerosene," he says. "It only takes a small amount of gas to create a major fire hazard." Grob also recommends buying a new unit. "Since the '80s, kerosene heaters have lower emissions, better protective grilles, and low-wick shutoffs," he says. Newer heaters, like Kero-Sun's Double Clean 90, use a dual burn chamber to reduce emissions. The newest entry into the portable heater category is fueled by propane gas; it's called the Portable Buddy. Certified by the American Gas Association, this portable heater provides 4,000 or 9,000 Btu and runs for three to six hours on its 1-gallon tank of propane. It also has a low-oxygen sensor that shuts the unit off if ventilation is inadequate. There are a lot of different models to choose from. Most are safe when operated correctly, so use common sense. As for the savings, that depends on how and where you use the heater. But a good heater will transform a cold and drafty room into a comfortable and inviting one.

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