What is the safest propane heater? When it comes to propane heater safety, everybody is claiming different things.
In this article, I am going to uncover propane heater safety myths and tell you only the facts that everybody agrees on.
For an experiment, I bought a propane heater, and actually tried to burn things. And I measured propane heater temperatures using a laser thermometer.
Based on the measurements, you can tell what is and what isn’t a safe propane heater.
Quick answer: The Mr. Heater Big Buddy and Big Maxx models are the safest propane heaters by specification. They have the most safety features and their design is ideal for heat distribution. However, real propane heater safety is up to you. You can safely use any propane heater if you use your reason and intuition. Accordingly, improper usage can burn your house down, even with the safest propane heater.
Recommendation: Safest portable propane heater
The safest portable propane heater is this Mr. Heater Buddy propane heater (click here to view it on amazon).
It outputs up to 9,000 BTU of heating power, which is almost twice as much as the average electric space heater’s output.
The Mr. Heater Buddy is the safest propane heater, because of its built-in tip-over protection, the built-in oxygen depletion sensor, and its design for ideal heat distribution.
Also, it has a built-in pilot light mechanism. In principle, a small test flame in combination with a special thermometer determines whether the propane burns properly. Only if the propane burn is ideal, the Mr. Heater Buddy opens the main gas valve.
This makes an improper burn, which would cause toxic gas emissions, almost impossible. And it ensures that you don’t waste any propane gas to a low-efficiency burn!
Of course, Mr. Heater Buddy heaters are not perfectly safe. Propane gas burns at very high temperatures over 3,000°F.
So, there is still an open flame, which can ignite things. And the air leaving the heater is really hot.
But that’s the safety downside of all gas-based space heaters. Mr. Heater does a very good job at safely distributing the propane flame heat.
With a portable propane heater, you can’t go any safer than a Mr. Heater Buddy.
If, however, you don’t need a portable propane heater, then a fixed and vented propane heater might be for you:
Safest large propane heater (electricity and installation required)
Technically, vented propane heaters are even safer than that. Vented propane heater heaters never emit any gases into your living space.
One downside of vented propane heaters is the installation. You can’t really bring them with you anywhere. And you can’t store them away to be used in an emergency, since they usually take up a lot of space.
If you want to get the absolute safest propane heater, then get this Mr. Heater Big Maxx vented propane heater(click here to view it on amazon).
The Mr. Heater Big is a fixed heater. You can floor, wall, or ceiling-mount it wherever you like. Once mounted, it never tips over (obviously), which eliminates one of the biggest causes of space heater fires.
The heating element is fully hidden inside the large metal case. This is a significant difference from most portable heaters where the heating element is glowing hot red and you usually also see a flame.
Visible flames always indicate that the heater can potentially burn things.
The Mr. Heater Big Maxx has built-in overheat protection, which turns off the heater when it gets too hot.
Please note that the Mr. Heater Big Maxx needs electricity to run! (115V AC)
So, you can’t run it independently of the electric grid and it likely won’t work in an outage.
Which propane heaters are NOT safe?
Two types of propane heaters are not safe for indoor use at all.
The first type of unsafe propane heater is a torpedo heater. Torpedo heaters look like cannons that emit large flames. They get very hot. And usually, they are used in construction, eg. to heat large buildings in the cold season.
The other unsafe type of propane heater is a tank top heater. Tank top heaters are propane heaters that you mount directly on a tank top.
They are usually very lightweight, small(ish), and can emit a lot of heat.
However, because they are so simple, they oftentimes don’t have any good safety mechanisms. Also, the propane flame is suspiciously close to the propane bottle. So, if a tank top heater ever ignites something, it is in (very) close proximity to the propane tank. And you don’t want a tank exploding in your home.
From these two types of heaters, you can, however, learn what safe propane heaters should not have: A safe propane heater should never emit large flames. And, a safe propane heater should be able to run at a distance from the propane tank (connected with a hose).
Why you might not need the safest propane heater
So far, you’ve learned about two very safe propane heaters, the Mr. Heater Buddy (portable) and the Mr. Heater Big Maxx (vented).
The vented Big Maxx model is significantly safer than the Mr. Heater Buddy heater. But you might not even need a heater that safe.
First, the safety comes with a price. The Big Maxx vented heater is almost 4x the price of a Mr. Heater Buddy.
Yes, it provides a lot more heat than a Mr. Heater Buddy. But in most living spaces, you never need that much heat anyways.
The question you need to ask yourself is: “Do I need the safest or a safe propane heater?”
If you need the safest propane heater, then you will have to deal with the following drawbacks
- Installing a vent through a wall or through the roof
- Paying a higher price (~$400 instead of ~$100)
- Relying on electricity (for built-in fans, safety features, and thermostat control)
The absolute safest propane heaters never work without electricity, since their safety features (such as overheat protection, and fans distributing the heat) need electricity.
If you are looking for the safest propane heater for electricity outages, you can’t really pick the safest propane heater in general. Instead, you will have to get a portable propane heater without electric safety features.
These are completely fine. They are just not as safe as your wired, mounted, and vented propane heater (which fails in an electricity outage).
If, on the other hand, you need a propane heater for electricity outages, or for heating off-grid, you have to get a portable propane heater.
And the Mr. Heater Buddy series heaters are the best heaters in this domain since they have built-in mechanical safety mechanisms.
The built-in tip-over protection works fine when you rattle your Mr. Heater Buddy. It just does not work as smoothly as the ones in electrical space heaters (which turn off as soon as you lift them off the ground or when you tilt them slightly).
What makes a propane heater safe?
The safety of propane heaters is based on three pillars: The built-in safety features, the heater’s design, and the way you use your propane heater.
Propane heaters come with only few safety features built-in. Usually, you get a tip over-protection. And for larger propane heaters with an electric thermostat, you also get overheat protection.
Always get a propane heater with a pilot light. That’s the small blue test flame that the propane heater uses to determine whether the gas burns properly.
Also, the pilot light ignites the gas coming from the main gas line. Without the pilot light, you would have to ignite the main gas line gas directly. If that fails, you would have a lot of flammable propane gas floating around in your room.
Without the pilot light, you also risk incomplete gas combustion or inefficient burn. Most propane heaters, however, have a pilot light built-in.
Some propane heaters (such as the Mr. Heater models) even come with a built-in oxygen depletion sensor that shuts off the heating when it senses lacking oxygen in your room.
To eliminate the risk of overheating, most space heaters have an electric overheating protection. Portable propane heaters don’t have such protection, since they work completely without electricity.
So, how do propane heaters ensure they don’t overheat?
There’s no 100%-fail safe method to make overheating impossible without an overheat-protection mechanism. However, propane heaters use their design to reduce the risk.
To reduce the chance of overheating, engineers design propane heaters such that they distribute all the heat away from themselves.
The heat from the propane flame goes in two directions: The hot air rises upward. And the radiant heat leaves the front side of the heater.
Almost no heat reaches the back of the heater, since the flow direction of the propane gas is forward. So, the ceramic heating panel (where the flames come out) heats up on the front and protects the backside.
Since heat always rises, the bottom of the heater is also overheating-safe.
The areas where heat escapes are fully open and there are no obstructions for heat to leave the heater.
Without any obstructions, a propane heater can not overheat.
Propane heaters quickly move heat away from themselves, which reduces the risk of overheating. Case meltdown or a gas line ignition are highly unlikely.
Nothing has a greater impact on propane heater safety than how you use your propane heater.
People are looking for the safest heaters, but are totally forgetting about the greatest cause of failure: themselves.
You can use a heater with the worst specifications, purchased directly from a shady garage sale, likely over 20 years old, with cracks and dents all over its case.
And still, if you use the heater reasonably, you can make it the safest heater. A propane heater’s safety depends entirely on the way you use it.
Accordingly, you can buy the safest heater on the planet, with all kinds of safety features, overheat protection, tip-over protection, kid-throwing-baseballs-at-heater protection, etc.
And still, if you use that propane heater to heat yourself sitting by the assembly line of a fireworks manufacturer, you are literally asking to blow things up.
(Of course, except if the heater has a built-in fireworks-protection mechanism).
The same is not only true for propane heaters but all other things in life.
People are looking for the safest car. But it makes much more sense to look for any reliable car and then practice driving properly. The safest car is worth nothing without a safe driver.
The safest propane heater is pointless without a safe user.
How to make any propane heater safe
Now we get to the most important learning of this article. You don’t get the safest heater. Instead, become the safest heater user.
Your heater does not care about your family or your house. When it ignites something, your heater won’t stop heating.
But you care. So, you have to know how to safely operate a propane heater.
I don’t want to make this (yet) another list of things to do to make your propane heater safe.
Many websites write about these things. Here’s a quick summary:
- Leave enough space around your propane heater
- Place your propane heater on an elevated surface (a table, or furniture) if kids or dogs are around
- Always face your heater into the room, never along the walls or even toward the walls
- Vent your room occasionally (once every 2 hours). Propane combustion uses up oxygen and creates water vapor. Get the vapor out of the room and refill the oxygen levels.
These things all make sense. But when you read them, you usually think “that’s obvious”.
That’s because all humans (including you) already have a built-in understanding for safety. Otherwise, the human race would have had a hard time during evolution.
So, safety tips always sound dull and boring. We always kind of know them already. And when you don’t already know a specific tip, you still feel like you did not learn something new.
For the last hundreds of thousands of years, humans live with fire. They learned to ignite fireplaces, keep them burning, and keep their family safe.
Rely on your primeval fireplace safety instinct. You intuitively know where to best place your heater, on which setting to run it, and whether you should run it around your kids (or pets).
Fireplace (and thus propane heater) safety is deeply ingrained in your brain.
It is very different from safety in physics or chemistry, where you have to understand the technology to tell whether you need to wear goggles. These are new findings.
However, fireplace safety is a part of you.
So, I want to close up this article by saying this:
Any propane heater can be the safest propane heater if you use reasoning. You don’t need to buy a specific product.
The safest propane heaters (by specs) are the Mr. Heater Buddy and Big Maxx models.
If you don’t already have a propane heater, then I highly recommend getting either of them.
The Mr. Heater Buddy is much easier to use. It does not need installation, or electricity and costs much less.
The Big Maxx heater has a few additional safety features, and it combines with your home’s AC system.
Personally, I use propane heaters just as a backup heat source. So, I prefer the Mr. Heater Buddy. In an electricity outage, it is unbeatable.
If, however, you look for a main heat source, then the Big Maxx is the better choice.
Both heaters are very safe.
True propane heater safety, however, depends on the owner. You can safely use the trashiest propane heater if you use reasoning and intuition. Fire intuition is a part of humans. We are the only species that are able to handle fire.
On the other hand, you can unsafely use even the safest propane heater, if you run it close to explodable or ignitable materials.
The safest propane heater is you.