Kerosene and Propane heaters: Fast heat

Fast heat for an Adirondack Cabin

For fast heat I’ve found that both a propane heater and a kerosene stove are useful. You can find yourself driving home in disgust if you come to camp at 40F or less inside and have to wait for the woodstove to warm things. My cabin has a generic woodstove, nothing special. I think its rated around 70000 BTU/hr running at full tilt, and it can be too much if you let it build to full strength on a spring or fall evening. Classic issue is that it does take forever, say 4 hours, to get going and warm things up from a cold start.

When I first got the cabin keys I arrived with a 1 KW electrical fan heater. Looking up conversions I see that 1000 W is rated as 3400 BTU and its not worth using at the cabin. It simply feels like I’m moving cold air. The cabin wiring is of uncertain vintage and I minimize loading, so scaling up electrical heat isn’t an option for me.

Picking from my Propane and Kerosene heater options

Propane heat for 3 season cabin

Hr Heater Big Buddy 18KBTU propane heater with 3 settings

I stumbled onto the BigBuddy propane heaters from Mr Heater rated at 18000 BTU/hour on the highest of three setting. These are intended for workshops and garages. Mine is fire-engine red and matches the kitchen trim that I inherited in the camp purchase. I started off with the unit running on 1 lb-disposable Coleman camping tanks directly attached. After a season I bought a hose/regulator accessory that lets me connect up a 20 lb barbecue cylinder to the BigBuddy propane heater. The 20 lb grill-size tank is outside sheltering in the cabin crawl space. Thats good for say 16 hours at full rate, but I usually use a lower setting after I have warmed up the cabin kitchen. I turn the gas off at the cylinder when I’m not at camp. This fall I switched out a part-used tank on my last visit of the year – just to be sure I don’t have to fumble around with a switch-over when I’m freezing my butt off at an early visit next season.

Kerosene heater for a 3-season Cabin

Kerosene Heater, 23K BTU

For last season I added in a Kerosene heater. These seem to be settled into one design. I’m guessing there are a limited number of manufacturers since they all seem to use C-batteries for the igniter, and the replacement wicks cross-list multiple brands. The choices relate to color and price. Standard ratings are 23,000 BTU/hr. Which is a bit more than the Propane heater but the running costs are lower for Propane.

All the heating options worry me since I’m 7 miles from the fire house. I write about my essential fire safety steps in a blog post.

A cold camp arrival

I’m using the cabin for 3-seasons. In spring and fall I turn on both the BigBuddy propane heater and the kerosene heater as soon as I unlock the cabin. I tracked the temperature a couple of times and seem to be gaining around 10F/hour with both running in my semi-closed off kitchen & bathroom space which is around 300 sq ft. Thats from a 40F starting temp inside. I have a curtain across one interior doorway to the living room and a home-made sliding barn door on the other door which leads to a drafty glassed in veranda. Both heaters are rated for use in that kind of space by their lonesome rather than in tandem, but I guess a stone cold cabin is not what was in mind when doing the rating.

wood stove for 3-season cabin

Camp wood stove, about 70K BTU on a roll

The woodstove is my best general heat source but it takes hours to warm the place on its own. It probably takes 4 hours to get the cabin warm with the propane and kerosene stoves in the kitchen and the woodstove for the living room and adjacent bedroom. The wood for the stove comes from the property which is an acre or so of woodland. The main cost there is in having the bigger stuff split.

Using the Kerosene and propane heaters for day-to-day heat

In the warmer months I use the Kerosene heater in the living room for a bit of extra warmth in the evenings. The propane heater takes the edge off in the kitchen in the mornings: I can start it with the full 18,000 BTU/hour and then drop it to low (4000 BTU/hr).

I wouldn’t buy another propane heater that runs off the 1 lb cans since there are other fires that are designed to run without an external vent, running off a propane line to a 20 lb or bigger tanks outside. However, it was initially handy to be able to move the BigBuddy heater around to see how different locations worked for warming while keeping clear of the drapes and furniture. It also worked as quick heat on the glassed and screened veranda on the cooler summer evenings, until I tied it to an external tank.