When it comes to buying heaters, planning makes all the difference. If you're considering a propane heating appliance, here are some things you'll want to think through before you buy. This includes things like local regulations, heating needs, budget, and installation.
State and local governments have different rules for the types of heating appliances that are allowed. This is especially true for vent-free gas appliances. Before purchasing, check with your local authorities (including your HOA if you have one!) to make sure the heater you want is approved in your area.
Assembling a propane heater
Establish a realistic budget that covers all of the costs. When it comes to gas appliances, you'll want to factor in any installation costs in addition to the price of the unit. This includes any additional enclosure for the propane tank itself.
Once you know your local regulations and budget, you're ready to start prioritizing your heating needs. Do you want something that heats your entire home? A single room? Your backyard patio? These decisions will help you narrow down the models to find the one that works best for you.
If your home is supplied with a large propane tank, you can consult a plumber or gas supplier to make sure you have enough fuel and gas hookups for the heater you want to install. Hire a professional to install any additional hookups if necessary.
Types of Propane Gas Heaters
Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about the different types of propane heaters. Propane heaters are categorized based on their venting, heating method, and configuration. The venting options are direct vent, natural vent, or vent-free. Heating can either be radiant infrared or blue flame heat.
The configuration refers to the size, shape, and application. For example, some propane gas heaters are designed to mount on the wall, while others are free-standing patio heaters. We'll cover configurations in a later section.
Indoor Propane Heaters
As mentioned above, there are three main vent options: direct vent, natural vent, and vent-free. Direct vent units must be installed on an outside wall since the vent pipe runs horizontally through the wall to the outside. Not only do all of the exhaust vents to the outdoors, but the unit also draws in outside air for combustion.
Empire direct vent propane heater
The unit is completely sealed on the inside of the home, so no exhaust is released into the house and no room air is used for combustion.
A ventless propane heater is the opposite of a vented propane heater. Instead of venting to the outside, the vent free propane heater expels the exhaust directly into the room and also use room air for combustion. This is possible because the units are so efficient that the amount of exhaust created is very minimal.
Types of Propane Heaters
However, you need to make sure that you install any vent-free units in a room that has plenty of space and ventilation for them to work safely. The models come with specifications so you know how much square footage they will need. If you install a vent-free unit in a room that is too small or stuffy, the exhaust gases could build-up or the unit might not have enough oxygen to work properly.
One other thing to consider with vent-free propane heaters is air quality. Again, the units are so efficient that only a minimal amount of smoke or byproduct is vented into the room. However, if you have smoke allergies, asthma, or other conditions affected by air quality, you may want to consider a different option.
Natural vent (sometimes called b-vent) is the vertical venting that we associate with wood stoves or fireplaces. This type of venting requires a vent pipe that runs all the way out through the roof of the home.
Empire natural vent gas heater
Since these units vent through the roof, you don't need to install the heater on an outside wall.
Propane heaters have two main options when it comes to heating methods. Radiant infrared is ideal for less insulated spaces since it transfers heat directly to the objects in the room instead of just heating the air. Blue flame heating is a gradual heat that is less likely to be overwhelming - especially in well-insulated rooms.
Infrared heating works by generating low-frequency, infrared light waves to warm up the furniture or other objects in the room. The infrared rays heat the room similar to how the sun heats the earth, but it is even gentler because it only uses the low-frequency rays instead of the whole range of rays that come to us from the sun.
Diagram of infrared heat transfer
Because the heat works to warm the objects (which in turn radiate heat to the room) infrared heat provides very quick and even warmth. It is ideal for drafty places since it doesn't rely on heating the air.
However, the heat is so effective that you might find it gets too hot and stuffy if the room is well insulated. These systems are also less effective for empty rooms since there isn't any furniture to transfer heat.
Another drawback to infrared heating units. is that they are more likely to ignite flammable objects or cause burns if you get to close. Be careful to read all of the instructions about clearances so you can keep everything safe.
Blue flame models burn the propane gas to create a hot (blue) flame. It warms the air and then the air is circulated into the room. A ceiling fan with the blades turned downward can help distribute the warm air even more.
Although this type of heating takes longer to warm the room, the gradual heat is less likely to overwhelm well-insulated areas. These heaters are also more prone to have "hot pockets" of air right next to the heater. Some people appreciate having an extra cozy spot in the room, but it is worth noting that the heat is less even.
Propane Heater Configurations
The good news is, you have lots of options. In addition to a wide variety of fireplace models, propane heating units can be wall-mounted, freestanding, or ceiling-mounted. Here is a quick overview of some of the common pros and cons of each category.
Freestanding Outdoor Patio Heater
These heaters are available for both commercial and residential use and come with a built-in enclosure for a propane tank. Most of them are designed for a 20-pound propane tank, which gives you about 10 hours of burn time.
Fire Sense heater
Safety features including a weighted base for extra stability and an automatic shut-off if the unit tips over. They're also available with advanced ignition systems like electronic ignitions.
The sleek, contemporary styles and portability make these heaters a great addition to your patio.
One downside is that the BTU output is somewhat limited so you may need more than one unit for larger areas.
Table top propane heaters are similar to the freestanding models but are much smaller and produce less heat. Their base houses a small propane canister.
Some models mount directly to the wall using brackets or screws. Other types (usually referred to as wall furnaces) are framed into the wall so that they don't project into the room. The recessed or framed-in models are usually larger heaters with a higher BTU.
Framed wall heater
The framing makes the installation more expensive, but that way the large unit does not project into the room. Any venting can also be run up through the wall. Some of the recessed models also have a ceiling-mount option.
Regular wall-mounted units are easier to take down and move around, but they aren't flush with the wall. They also tend to have a lower BTU output than the recessed furnaces.
Many of the models designed for covered patios and decks are ceiling-mounted heaters. They are most commonly used for commercial properties but are also available as a residential option.
Propane heaters have three main ignition options. The least common is the match-lit ignition, although you may find it in older heaters. Indoor heaters and furnaces frequently use the matchless Piezo standing pilot ignition. Electronic ignition is common for patio heaters.
The match-lit ignition requires you to light the gas by hand using a long match or lighter. Again, these ignition systems are not very common.
Matchless Piezo standing pilot ignition is convenient because it does not require any matches or electricity. Instead, a push-button lights the pilot by causing a tiny hammer mechanism to strike and create a spark. It also has an automatic shut off in case the pilot light ever goes out.
Propane heater ignition system
Electronic ignition relies on an intermittent pilot (IPI) that emits an electric spark for ignition, or it uses a hot surface or hot wire ignition that utilizes electricity to ignite the burner. Electronic ignition is much more energy-efficient.
Ready to start browsing through the model options? Here are three of our top recommended manufacturers to help get you started. Whether you are looking for outdoor patio heaters or indoor space heaters, these brands offer the quality and reliability you want.
Sunstar - Sunstar specializes in vent-free gas wall heaters that produce radiant infrared heat. All their units are compact, efficient, and mobile home approved with some approved for bedroom use as well.
Empire - Empire heating systems have been heating homes since 1932. They have an excellent selection of direct vent and natural vent propane heaters and furnaces.
Bromic - Bromic is known for its outdoor heating solutions. They have several portable outdoor propane models to help keep your outdoor space comfortable.
Care and Maintenance
Gas appliances require less maintenance than wood-burning heaters, but it's still important to follow all of the steps so that you and your family stay safe. Following the manufacturer's instructions will help make your propane heater long-lasting, safe, and effective.
If your unit has a venting system, check to make sure it is clear of any debris before starting your heater up for the season. You should also check to make sure the pipe isn't loose or damaged.
Dust the heater plaques and control valve compartment. It's helpful to use a can of compressed air to gently dust the hard-to-reach spaces. Preventing dust buildup is especially important for vent-free and b-vent heaters.
Manual air duster
Periodically check throughout the heating season to make sure the internal components aren't collecting excess dust or pet hair.
When starting the heater for the first time in a while, check that the pilot light ignites and stays lit. Pay attention to make sure all of the parts are working properly as you start it up. After the heating season is over, turn off the gas to the unit and give everything a final dusting.
Call the fire department immediately if you smell gas or think there might be a leak. Propane is dangerous when it leaks because it can form hazardous pools of gas. Inspect the propane tanks regularly to make sure there aren't any leaks.
Finally, the best advice is simply to read the owner's manual and follow all of the instructions for your specific heater. If something isn't working right, don't tamper with it! Doing so will not only void your warranty, it could undermine the safety mechanisms of your heater.
The rules of shipping are fairly predictable. If it's small enough, you'll get your package via a regular parcel carrier like USPS, UPS, or FedEx. Ventless wall-mounted units typically fall into the "small enough" category. Larger furnaces, console heaters, and direct-vent furnaces are larger, so they usually ship via LTL freight.
LTL stands for "less-than-load", which basically means that your unit is too big to ship via a normal parcel post, but doesn't fill a semi-trailer. If you order something that ships via LTL, the shipping company will call you to set up a time for the delivery.
Always make sure to inspect your order before signing off on the delivery. If you do notice any damaged or missing parts, call the manufacturer and they can help make things right.
Portable propane heater during the winter
Propane heaters let you enjoy the convenience of gas appliances even if you don't have access to natural gas lines. And even if you do have natural gas, propane is sometimes the better option because it is so portable and easy to set up!
Whether you are looking for whole-home heating solutions, or simply want to warm up a room or patio, there are lots of propane heater models to choose from.
Please let us know if you have any questions about propane heaters or any other space heaters! Our NFI Certified technicians are available to offer their expertise and help you find a solution.