Best Kerosene Heater For Emergencies & Safety Tips

When it comes to emergency heating, kerosene has some advantages. For starters, you can buy kerosene at most any gas station so as long as petrochemical supplies are consistent, it is hard to beat for convenience. A 5 gallon can of kerosene provide a lot of heat and costs less than $15 normally.

Heaters that run on kerosene are budget friendly for the amount of BTUS you get.  For shop spaces and garages it can be the best bet for maintaining a temp above freezing. If you have a building that you use infrequently or that has limited power or need for heat, then kerosene can be set up fast.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing and purchasing a propane heater.

Total BTU Output

There is a limit to any heater. The more BTUs the more fuel you are going to consume. More BTUs means you can reasonably heat a larger space.

Forced Air or Not

A fan helps a lot in terms of circulating heat. Forced air is going to make any space more comfortable especially larger ones. Putting the heater in a central location allows for more even distribution of heat at a faster pace.  A lot of decently priced heaters have this feature built in already.

Weight

There is a big difference in the empty weight of heaters. More BTUs often means more weight. Generally speaking, most emergency kerosene heaters are under 50 lbs and those on the heavier side of that often have handles and wheels to help with movement.  The first heater on our list, the Dura Heat, only weighs about 27 lbs but it only produces 23,800 BTUS whereas the 70,000 BTU heater on our list weighs 40 lbs.

Get a little more heater than what you need

It is advisable to have a few extra BTUs. If your room is on the larger side of what a heater is rated to heat, then it is going to take a while to get to temperature. Either have two heaters or get one that is larger than the estimate.

Insulation

How well insulated the space you are trying to heat will, of course, have a big impact on how well your kerosene heater performs. In the case of a very well insulated structure, you may be able to get away with less of a heater. In this case, if you are on the larger end of what a heater is rated to, you may be able to get away with it.

Smell

While a lot of heaters are listed as low odor, brace yourself for at least some smell. It is that way with a lot of different heat options. Even though I have a good wood stove, sometimes a whiff of wood smoke is inevitable within my house. The smell of kerosene should be faint if you smell it at all. Sometimes when you first start a heater the smell is stronger and then goes away. If it is unbearably strong then you should check for leaks or any other issue.

For spaces with lots of division like walls and rooms, more than one heater may be better than a single large one. During an emergency, you may also want to condense down your living space. There is a reason why back years ago people would sleep in smaller spaces or crowd into a single room.  The closer you are to the heat source, the warmer you are going to be and stay.

 

Dura Heat DH2304 Indoor Kerosene Heater

BTUS: 23,800

Heats up to 1,000 sq ft

Weight: 27.3 lbs

Fuel Consumption: Runs for 9-12 hours on 1.9 gallon tank

 

 

 

Mr. Heater Corporation MH70KFR 70K Btu Kerosene Radiant Heater

BTUS: 70,000

Heats up to 1,750 sq ft

Weight: 40 lbs

Fuel Consumption: 5 hours on a full tank. I cannot find the tank size.

 

Will run on kerosene or diesel fuel.

 

 

Pro-Temp PT-70T-KFA Kerosene/Diesel Forced Air

BTUS: 70,000

Heats up to 1,875 sq ft

Weight: 28 lbs

Fuel Consumption: 9 hours on a 5 gallon tank

 

Will run on kerosene or diesel fuel.

This heater provides a lot of heat for your money. If you are looking for something to heat a larger space it is worth a look. While 9 hours on 5 gallons may seem like a lot of fuel, keep in mind that that is total run time. If you have a warmer period during the day then you might not need to run it or have as high of a temperature setting.  The forced air feature helps it spread the warmth around more readily. I do have to say that if you have a lot of rooms and barriers within a building, without more fans, it may have a hard time getting heat to the furthest reaches of your space.

Dewalt Heavy Duty 190000 BTU Forced Air Kerosene Portable Work Job Site Heater

BTUS: 190,000

Heats up to 4,200 sq ft

Weight: 77 lbs

Fuel Consumption: 8-10 hours of heat on a 14 gallon tank.

 

Will run on kerosene or diesel fuel.

For really big spaces this is quite a heater. This is used for construction sites mostly but I can see how it would be useful at emergency shelters and big spaces. Dewalt is a trusted brand. This heater has never flat wheels. For really cold places or if you needed to heat a metal building that is being used as a major shelter, this is a behemoth of a heater that will get the job done.

 

Storage of Kerosene

Storing any fuel is something that really needs to be addressed before buying a heater. Having a 5 gallon can or two of kerosene on hand is one thing but keeping enough around for a long-term emergency or even enough for a week is another matter entirely. You can get large tanks and store it on your property. The gas or heating oil company closest to you will deliver kerosene to you but there is usually a minimum order of 100 gallons to get them to come out.  Of course, then you have a  big tank of kerosene that is likely in very plain sight.

Having fuel reserves stored in plain sight could get you targeted during an emergency or you may have to deal with people trying to trade for or buy your kerosene. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending. Fuel is a good trade item in some cases.

If you are storing in 5-gallon cans then you need to have the right type of can to fill it up at the gas station or similar. The cans are usually blue like that one below. Some places are more lenient and don’t really seem to care if you show up with a red gas can but legally speaking I do believe you are supposed to just use the blue ones.

Briggs & Stratton 85059 5 Gallon Kerosene Can

This is your typical can. These are generally available at any hardware store or places like Wal-Mart. Auto parts stores are another option.

Kerosene Heater Options Are Limited

Researching these heaters for you has made me realize that kerosene heaters are more limited than some other heater options. I know in some of my posts I have included a lot of different products for you to choose from but there are really just a few basic types of kerosene heaters out there. The biggest difference seems to be the amount of heat produced/BTU rating and if they are forced air or not. A lot of the forced air ones have options like a thermostat you can buy separately.

Over the years the demand for kerosene heaters seems to have gone down. There seem to be a few options in the 23,000 BTU range and then it jumps to 50,000 BTUs or more. This means that you are faced with the dilemma of either concentrating your living area into one or two rooms or having multiple heaters that are spread out to distribute the heat.

Safety Concerns

Kerosene heaters get very hot so those with small children, mobility issues, pets, etc need to take extra caution. You could set up a barrier of baby gates or use panels like those used for dog playpens to create a barrier that is safe. Anything that is close is going to get warm so I recommend using metal and keeping it a good distance away. Even if the metal gets a little warm, it is not going to be like touching a super hot heater.

Here is an example of what I am talking about using as a barrier. Please note these types of pens come in various heights and sizes so make sure you get one that has measurements that are okay for your kerosene heater. Some have doors and some do not.

 

MidWest Foldable Metal Exercise Pen/Pet Playpen

Always keep heaters out of main pathways

While you want to have your heater where it distributes heat well, use some common sense about placement.

 

Avoid leaving unattended

These heaters are for emergency and supplemental use. Do not turn on a kerosene heater and then leave for hours. Running outside for a minute is one thing but leaving for any major length of time is not recommended.  Turn it off if you are unsure of when you will be back. It only takes a minute for something to happen and if you have a busy household or workspace the risk can be even greater.

 

 

Maintenance

Don’t think that any heater is maintenance free. The truth is that you need to periodically inspect your heater. Wicks don’t last forever. Check your heater model number and keep some replacement wicks on hand.

Any leaks need to be noted and dealt with. Never keep a heater on hand that you think is a major safety hazard. The basic units in this post are under $150 which is nothing compared to your safety.

If you are storing your heater for the long-term or just keep it around for true emergencies then you need to take some steps to prepare it. A lot of people do this when they get into the warm months of their region. It is important to remind yourself to do this because it is honestly hard to think about that stuff when it starts being nice outside and you have other stuff on your mind.

  • Check wick monthly when in use. You should have a wick that is made for your model of heater for best results. While my experience is limited, I have heard some negative comments about people being sold generic wicks that don’t offer good performance.  If you have some comments about this then please let us know in the comment section. I always have to wonder if things like this are true or if it is something appliance salespeople say to get more business!
  • Drain or burn up the fuel you have in the heater. Storing a heater with fuel in it is not as safe as storing it empty.  Burning your wick dry is recommended when putting your heater into storage for a while. Check out this post for some tips on doing this. Never put any water in your kerosene heater tank. You can use a small amount of fresh kerosene to flush a tank clean for storage.
  • Check for signs of rust and treat.

Is kerosene really the right choice for you?

Kerosene is not right for everyone. If you have read through this and realized that it is not for you then you should consider propane heaters. Sure propane is a fuel that has to be purchased and stored but it keeps well in grill tanks that are a manageable size, can be bought at any grocery store or gas station, and doesn’t have the odor of kerosene if it is properly hooked up.  If you don’t want a tank that is above ground you can get underground tanks installed and use that for your back up heat.  This keeps the fact that you have fuel on hand a bit more hidden.

Wood heat has its advantages but the weight and hassle can be hard for some people. I did a post on wood-fired furnaces and other back up heat options that might be worth looking at if you are thinking about a renewable fuel solution.

Do you have a favorite kerosene heater? Any tips for using them? What do you do to keep safe when using kerosene?  Do you use a kerosene heater regularly for work?

 

  1. I take some issue with this–
    For disclosure, I own and use all of the type heaters listed. Specifically — one of the Dura type heaters (but a different brand), and 4 of the “torpedo” type Kerosene heaters (the nickname for that style) –ranging from 35000 BTU to 240,000 BTU. We also have two Propane style Torpedo heaters, that you didn’t list. They are used to heat storage spaces and an aircraft hanger.
    My main issue is that in an emergency you’re very likely to have no power, and only the Dura type requires no electricity.
    All of the torpedo type heaters require electricity to operate, as it has a small pump inside that blows a spray of kerosene into the burn chamber, and has a fairly high volume air fan to move out the hot air. Depending on the size of the heater, the power draw is somewhere between 4 to 10 amps of power (450-1200 watts)
    The other issue is the fuel compatibility– (in reference to the Torpedo style),
    Yes– they will run on Kerosene, Diesel, and even Jet-A (jet airplane fuel).
    On Kerosene, the smell is the least of the 3 fuels, but it can cause some irritation to the smell and the eyes.
    Using Diesel, the smell increases quite a but, and many people will not be able to be in the same room,
    Jet-A fuel will give a lot of heat, but the smell and eye irritants will drive most all out of the heated space.
    This has been attributed to the fact that Kerosene is a “pure” fuel, but Diesel and Jet-A both have additives in their composure. Supposedly, it is the burning of these additives that causes the irritations.
    And all Torpedo heaters are noisy — the bigger they are (BTUs), the noisier. The Kerosene type torpedos are much noisier than the Propane type.

    As a emergency heater when the power goes out, only the Dura type is a viable option. On good grade Kerosene, it’s smell is almost imperceptible, it makes no noise, uses no electricity, and will heat an decent size insulated room to an acceptable temperature (we use it to heat the office area)

    1. You really have to be careful with these type heaters because every year someone burns their place down with them trying to thaw out pipes or heat. You must have a lot of open space in front of it.
      One trick is to lay cookie sheets down in front of it to deflect the heat from the flooring. I also do this with my Buddy propane heater.

    1. We ran one in a large area livingroom, open kitchen type deal in Germany for a few years with no issue but you need to be careful with smaller enclosed areas.

    2. The other thing I might add for everyone is you will run into less issues with alternate fuels if you are heating to a decent temperature rather than trying to heat to very warm. Most people that encounter CO2 issues with propane or kerosene are trying to keep the house at 80 rather than just knocking the chill off.

  2. I found that adding 5 to 10 volume percent olive oil to the kerosene reduced the smell from my kerosene lamps. Never tried it with a heater but it might work.

  3. We use kerosene to supplement heat in the winter. We use the smaller units. The large round one gave off too much heat in our smaller home. We use an additive that cuts down on the smell and helps burn cleaner. We also keep a pot of water on top to add humidity (and with homemade potpourri to add a nice aroma). Wicks should be changed regularly (how often would depend on use). And be sure to have a fire extinguisher available with any supplemental heating. We also have a couple different smaller propane heaters of the Mr. Buddy type. Someday I will have a wood stove. Someday…

  4. We have used Kerosene heaters for many years, when we were married in ’81 we lived in Northern Mississippi where ice storms were prevelent (sp?) and actually used several for our only heat source when the power went out. Now we are in Northwest Illinois where the blizzards are real. We still keep a few kerosene heaters on hand, but also have propane to boot.
    K-1 kerosene has gotten pretty pricey like everything else, but I try to keep about a dozen blue five gallon containers full out in the machine shed.

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