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A salamander heater is a high-output, forced-air convection heater commonly used to heat air in large open areas such as patios, construction sites, or workshops. The heaters feature a high-energy heat source such as a gas or kerosene flame or a high-wattage electric element contained within an open-ended tube. A fan is located at one end of the tube that forces cold air down it past the heat source and out into the heated area. This heats the air instantaneously, which, in turn, provides convection heating in the area into which it exits. The salamander heater is simple and highly effective, but does pose some specific problems and hazards such as condensation, oxygen depletion, and the danger of fire.
Also known as a torpedo heater or furnace, the salamander heater was developed in the early 1940s by the Scheu Manufacturing Company as a high-performance space heater for large areas such as warehouses, construction sites, and factories. The heater was named after the salamander, an amphibian reputed to be able to survive exposure to fire. The heater was meant not only to be highly effective in large, traditionally difficult to heat areas, but also to be simple and portable. To this end, it consisted of a simple, open-ended tubular enclosure that featured an internal kerosene burner and a fan mounted on its one end.
The operating principle of the salamander heater is simple. First, the burner is ignited, providing a powerful internal heat source. The fan is then turned on, which draws cold, outside air through it and forces it down the tube past the heat source. This instantaneously heats the air, which is then blown out of the other end of the tube into the area requiring heating. To control the output of the heater, the heat source or fan speed is adjusted manually, or, in some cases, by an automated thermostat system.
The original salamander heater featured a kerosene burner and many present models still do. In the interim, however, gas burners and high-output electric elements have been incorporated into the heaters offering a range of power sources to suit a range of applications. In fact, several variants of the salamander heater may be fitted with peripheral components that allow combustible fuels such as diesel to be used. In the case of liquid fuel models, the fuel tank is generally mounted on the heater tube.
As simple and effective as it is, the salamander heater does pose one or two issues and hazards, the most obvious of which is the fire hazard when the heater is used in close proximity to combustible materials. When gas burners are used, the heaters can also pose an oxygen depletion hazard in small spaces. The instantaneous, high output of the heaters can also create a large amount of condensation in the heated area.