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What are Propane Heaters?

Propane heaters come in a variety of sizes.
Propane tanks can be filled or exchanged at most gas stations.
A propane tank.
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  • Written By: S. Mithra
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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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).

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.

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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.

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.

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