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What are Propane Heaters?

S. Mithra
S. Mithra

Propane heaters use pressurized gas to heat areas that aren't well insulated, such as patios, warehouses, and garages. Propane heaters are often portable, so they can be taken out for special occasions, and self-contained, which means they do not need to be hooked to external gas lines or electricity. Construction businesses, event planners, and homeowners prefer propane heaters for many different applications.

Propane heaters come in a variety of sizes, strengths, and types. They are always rated by BTUs, or British Thermal Units, to measure their energy output. These ratings will roughly correspond to the square footage of the area you're heating. A small room, around 100 sq. ft. (9 sq. meters) would only need 10,000 BTUs, while a giant warehouse or garden might need as many as 200,000 BTUs to heat 5,000 sq. ft. (470 sq. meters).

A propane tank.
A propane tank.

Portable heaters usually don't need a vent or electricity. They light by match, attach to a portable tank of propane gas, and wheel around for easy transport. Some are tall, with a hooded shield that reflects heat downwards, called a torchiere. These are used on decks, lawns, and patios for outdoor dining or parties. Others are smaller boxes, sometimes called radiant or convection heaters, that people use in sheds, garages, and workshops. They take advantage of natural air currents to circulate the air.

Propane heaters come in a variety of sizes.
Propane heaters come in a variety of sizes.

Permanent propane heaters need to be mounted to the floor, wall, or ceiling, and require a building permit. Often, they have a forced air component that distributes the warmth. This fan must be powered by electricity, so these heaters are plugged into an electrical outlet. They are usually larger and require a vent to the outside. Since propane uses oxygen to burn, any enclosed space with a propane heater must receive oxygen to replenish the supply.

Propane tanks can be filled or exchanged at most gas stations.
Propane tanks can be filled or exchanged at most gas stations.

All propane heaters come with a cylindrical metal tank that holds the propane. These tanks have different capacities depending on the size of the heater. They are almost always portable, or attached to a small dolly, so they can be conveniently refilled at a gasoline station that carries propane.

Discussion Comments


@Feryll - I know plenty of people who use portable propane heaters and portable kerosene heaters as second heating sources. If you follow the general safety guidelines that come with the heaters then you shouldn't have any problems.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a possibility, but this is rare, and someone actually dying from breathing in carbon monoxide from an indoor propane heater is even more rare. One of the reasons carbon monoxide poisoning from heaters is news and makes the evening newscast is because it doesn't happen everyday.


@Feryll - When you are burning a propane heater indoors the biggest danger is not that a fire might start. What you have to worry about with propane gas is the release of carbon monoxide. This is true whenever you burn propane gas.

So, if you are watching the heater and keeping an eye on it you might still be breathing in carbon monoxide and since this byproduct is odorless you would have no clue what was going on until it was too late. When you are in an open area this is not a concern since there is enough fresh air to prevent the carbon monoxide from overpowering you.


I see from reading this article that these propane heaters are meant to be used in areas that are not well insulated, but I have heard about people using them in houses when the temperatures drop really low, or when the power goes out. Is there a big danger in using hem indoors if the heaters are monitored while they are burning?

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    • A propane tank.
      By: Ty Konzak
      A propane tank.
    • Propane heaters come in a variety of sizes.
      By: Andrea Izzotti
      Propane heaters come in a variety of sizes.
    • Propane tanks can be filled or exchanged at most gas stations.
      By: fhmedien_de
      Propane tanks can be filled or exchanged at most gas stations.