A storm has knocked out the power on your block, and the temperature on the thermostat is plummeting. With the power company sidelined by impassable roads, you are left to fend for yourself. Are you prepared? If the answer is “no,” get prepared by investing in a reliable non-electric heater to keep you comfortable when your HVAC system can’t.
Finding the perfect non-electric heater includes evaluating the types, figuring out the spaces it needs to heat, and determining how portable the unit needs to be. Keep reading to learn about these and other important selection considerations, and be sure to check out our roundup of top favorites among the best non-electric heaters, below.
- BEST OVERALL: Mr. Heater Buddy Indoor-Safe Portable Propane Heater
- BEST PROPANE: Mr. Heater Little Buddy 3800-BTU Propane Heater
- BEST KEROSENE: Dyna-Glo 50,000 BTU Kerosene Forced Air Heater
- BEST NATURAL GAS: Mr. Heater 30,000 BTU Vent Free Natural Gas Heater
- BEST FOR OUTDOORS: Hiland Quartz Glass Tube Heater
Before You Buy a Non-Electric Heater
Before shopping for a non-electric heater, it’s important to understand their limitations. A non-electric heater shouldn’t replace a home’s primary HVAC system. Attempting to use a non-electric heater as the main source of heat for a home presents several hazards. Gas heaters can produce high carbon monoxide levels in a home, which can cause illness and even death if not carefully monitored. Non-electric heaters also use an open flame and fuel, creating a potential fire hazard.
For these reasons, non-electric heaters should never be left unattended for long and should never be used in a confined space with sealed doors and windows. It’s also a good idea to have a separate carbon monoxide detector in the same room as the heater. Look for non-electric heaters that will automatically shut off when carbon monoxide levels in a room reach too high a level. If you’re looking for a primary heat source for your home, you’ll need to shop for an HVAC system.
Types of Non-Electric Heaters
Non-electric heaters fall into three categories: propane, natural gas, and kerosene. Some heaters are dual-fuel, which means they can run off either propane or natural gas. While all of these kinds can do the job when it comes to providing heat, they each operate differently. Understanding which works best for your specific needs is key to making the right decision when purchasing a non-electric space heater.
All non-electric heaters produce radiant or convection heat. Radiant heaters generate infrared heat using metal tubes that radiate heat, which warms objects in the room. With radiant heat, the closer you are to the heater, the warmer you get.
A convection heater pulls in the air around it, warms it, then distributes that air with a blower. While radiant heaters will quickly warm people in close proximity to the heater, convection heaters do a better job of distributing heat around a room.
If you’re a football fan, then you‘ve likely seen propane and kerosene forced-air heaters warming the sidelines of games played in subfreezing temperatures. Forced-air heaters have a distinctive cannon shape and function by blowing heat in one direction. They are mighty but noisy, which makes them attractive for industrial settings such as barns, warehouses, and construction sites but impractical for home use.
Propane heaters come in various forms, ranging from tower-shaped outdoor heaters to smaller portable heaters. Propane heaters use refillable tanks and canisters ranging in size from a 16-ounce canister to a 20-pound tank.
Propane heaters that use small canisters are lightweight. When used properly, they can be safe for indoor or outdoors use and are easy to move from room to room. Some are even small enough to take along on a camping trip. Small propane heaters are capable of producing up to 18,000 BTUs, which will be explained later, of heat output. Larger outdoor-only models are tower-shaped, making them ideal for patios and decks. These large heaters can pump out up to 40,000 BTUs of heat.
Propane heaters have a low oxygen shutoff and tip-over shutoff as standard safety features.
Kerosene burns efficiently and heats very quickly, making kerosene heaters an ideal option for supplemental home heating. Like propane, kerosene heaters fall into two categories: radiant and convection. Convective kerosene heaters have a tower shape with a broad base that contains the fuel and a cylinder that comprises the heater’s combustion chamber. Their circular shape allows them to warm air in all directions. Radiant heaters are rectangular and have a reflector or electric blower that directs the heat it produces in one direction.
Kerosene heaters use liquid kerosene, which is available at most home improvement stores. Unlike propane, which uses a spark for ignition, kerosene requires a wick, which soaks up and burns the fuel. Wicks typically last for about a year.
Nearly half the homes in the United States use natural gas as their primary heat source, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. If you’re in that half, then a natural gas non-electric heater might be for you.
Natural gas heaters function similarly to propane heaters, but instead of needing a tank, they tie directly into the home’s gas line. If the gas line is not already installed, this may require professional installation. A natural gas setup eliminates trips to refill a propane tank, but it sacrifices portability; if you opt to use natural gas, the heater must be installed close to a fixed gas connection. With this in mind, most natural gas heaters are larger, more permanent appliances.
Do keep in mind that you cannot hook up a propane heater to a natural gas line. Only install heaters designed for use with natural gas to a natural gas line.
What to Look for When Buying the Best Non-Electric Heater
Before purchasing a non-electric heater, it’s important to think about what size and type of heater best fits your needs. Manufacturers rate heaters for indoor or outdoor use. Weight also is an issue, especially if you plan on moving the heater from location to location. Also consider tank size, as this will dictate how often it will need to be refueled and also determines the heater’s power, which affects how much space the heater can warm.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Use
Determine whether the plan is to use the heater indoors, outdoors, or both. Outdoor-only heaters create intense bursts of heat that won’t quickly dissipate into the surrounding air. As such, they are significantly more powerful than indoor heaters, which benefit from four walls and a roof.
To prevent the buildup of dangerous carbon monoxide, indoor models should not be used in confined spaces, such as a small room. It’s also a good idea to have a carbon monoxide detector in the same room as the unit.
Many portable non-electric heaters can be used indoors and outdoors. Make sure to check the heater’s ratings before making a purchase.
Weight and Portability
Decide what is needed from an electric heater: For example, do you require a heater for a dedicated space or a unit that can move from place to place? Knowing how a heater is planned to be used can help determine whether to look for a portable or stationary unit.
Portable heaters weigh anywhere from 20 pounds to as little as 5 pounds and are available as radiant, convection, or forced-air varieties. Many portable heaters feature impact-resistant construction and large handles for easy transport. Some even come with carrying cases.
Larger non-electric heaters, such as the powerful tower heaters used on backyard patios and in outdoor eating areas at restaurants, weigh upward of 70 pounds, not including the 20-pound tanks that power them. While these are not portable, most have wheels to allow for repositioning. Other permanent heaters include kits that enable mounting on a wall or to the floor.
Tank size determines just how long a heater will work before it’s time to replace the fuel.
Kerosene heaters have tanks that hold liquid kerosene. A kerosene heater with a 1-gallon tank will provide about 14 hours of use before it needs more fuel.
Propane works differently. Because propane gas is a compressed liquid, it comes in tanks that attach to the heater via a valve and hose. Larger heaters use a 20-pound tank, which provides about 10 hours of use. Portable propane heaters use 16-ounce canisters, which last about 3 hours.
Whereas most kerosene tanks include fuel gauges, most propane tanks do not, making it difficult to know just how much remains in the tank.
It’s best to take the Goldilocks approach when selecting a gas heater since a heater with insufficient power will leave a room too cold, while a heater that is too powerful will make it too hot. A heater needs to be just right.
Energy is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). More BTUs mean more heat output. Most manufacturers also rate their indoor heaters by square footage. For example, an indoor heater with a maximum BTU of 9,000 can heat up to 225 square feet. While 7,000 BTUs might be adequate to warm a 300-square-foot room, an outdoor heater may need more than 40,000 BTUs to keep an open-air space warm. Indoor and portable heaters typically have an output of around 5,000 BTUs.
Although it’s tempting to get the most powerful heater you can afford, you might regret it. A heater with a high minimum BTU output will quickly overheat a smaller space, making it challenging to regulate the room temperature. Unless a sauna is the goal, make sure to pay attention to square-footage ratings when deciding which heater will provide that just-right temperature.
Our Top Picks
Whether it’s propane, kerosene, natural gas, indoor, or outdoor, our top picks include non-electric heaters to suit a variety of different needs. These heaters come from some of the best known names in heaters and range in size from portable 3,800-BTU models for camping to large 50,000-BTU heaters for industrial use.
Take heat where it’s needed with this portable propane heater from Mr. Heater. The Buddy weighs just 9 pounds but packs a punch with a maximum output of 9,000 BTUs, which is enough to heat a 225-square-foot room or inside a large tent. With its rugged design and large handle, the Buddy can be transported almost anywhere. It also has a bevy of safety features, including a low oxygen shutoff and tip-over shutoff. Power and portability make the Buddy an excellent option for a wide variety of heating needs.
- Safe for indoor and outdoor use
- Can provide up to 225 square feet of radiant heat
- Connects to 1-pound propane tanks
- Safety shutoff if tipped over
- Won’t operate above 7,000-foot altitude
- Tip-over sensor may be sensitive
The small size and weight of this heater make it ideal for taking along on a cool-weather camping trip or an outdoor picnic in brisk autumn air. It can even warm up a chilly garage workshop. It measures just 11 inches high and 11 inches in diameter and weighs just 5 pounds, which is small enough to fit into most backpacks. With its ability to pump out 3,800 BTUs of heat, this little heater can warm up to 95 square feet of space. A push-button igniter makes it easy to turn on this heater. It runs off of a standard 1-pound propane canister, which lasts between 5 and 6 hours. Safety features include a low-oxygen supply shutoff and accidental tip-over shutoff.
- Most compact option for heating up to 95 square feet
- Automatically shuts off if tipped or low oxygen detected
- Works with 1-pound propane tank
- Simple push-button operation
- Not for fully enclosed spaces
- Won’t work on golf carts due to auto-off feature
This cannon-shaped kerosene heater pumps out a massive heat output, so it can be ideal for warming up spaces that a home’s HVAC system doesn’t service, like garages and large sheds that function as workshops. This kerosene heater pumps out 50,000 BTUs of heat with its kerosene gas burner. A powerful blower allows it to heat up to 1,200 square feet of unheated space. Its ample 5-gallon tank can provide heat for up to 14 hours. A convenient “full” gauge lets the user know how many hours of fuel are remaining. A large handle lends to more easily transporting this heater, which weighs about 27 pounds. This heater is 32 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 17 inches high. Safety features include overheat shutoff protection and a flame out sensor.
- Heats up to 1,200 square feet
- Works indoors and outdoors
- Helpful gauge shows remaining runtime
- Can use kerosene, diesel, or fuel oil
- May need some adjusting out of the box
- Hard to restart if fuel runs completely dry
For raw heating power, it’s tough to beat this natural gas heater. With 30,000 BTUs, this convection heater can make a 1,000-square-foot space feel toasty. In addition to being powerful, it’s also versatile; mount it to the wall or the floor. Features include a thermostat that enables easy temperature control and an automatic low oxygen shutoff valve. Users are also attracted to its design. With its narrow profile, fireplace looks, and visible flames, this is a heater that can be displayed in most every living area. For those without a natural gas hookup, the Mr. Heater 30,000 BTU heater also is available in a propane version.
- Provides 30,000 BTU of convection heat for 1,000 square feet
- Wall mountable or freestanding
- Heats rooms quickly
- Won’t operate above 4,500-foot altitude
- No fan to blow heat into the room
Thanks to this quartz glass tube heater from Hiland, a backyard living space doesn’t have to go into hibernation. Rated at 40,000 BTUs, this outdoor heater generates plenty of heat to ward off the coldest of weather. With its stainless steel finish, quartz glass, and visible flames, this Hiland tower heater will add warmth and style to a patio. A control knob allows adjusting of the flame size while an auto-tilt shut-off switch provides safety. With a sturdy set of wheels as its base, this heater is mobile.
- Tower-style outdoor heater
- Shuts off automatically if tilted
- Inner base hides 20-pound propane tank
- Attractive design with tower of flame
- Produces less heat than expected
The ability to provide safe, reliable heat indoors or outdoors is a must for any non-electric heater, which is why we chose the Mr. Heater Buddy Portable Heater as our top choice. If you need to heat large areas like a garage or living area, try the Mr. Heater Vent Free Heater.
How We Chose the Best Non-Electric Heaters
Safety is a paramount consideration for all non-electric heaters. We made sure to only choose non-electric heaters that had built-in safety features to protect buyers against accidents during use. These recommendations also include options for indoor and outdoor use in bedrooms, garages, campers, or tents. A primary decision-making factor when selecting these heaters was the space-heating capacity, so we included a range of products that can heat anything from a car to a garage.
Our favorite models feature controlled heat settings, auto-shutoff, long use, easy connections to fuel, and a variety of fuel sources. Several options are also designed to be portable so buyers can use them for hunting, camping, or even golfing. These portable styles tend to use smaller fuel tanks; this reduces their runtime, but additional tanks are fairly easy to take along.
The Advantages of Owning a Non-Electric Heater
No matter what type of fuel you choose and whether you decide on a portable or permanent or an indoor or outdoor model, a non-electric heater is a useful appliance to have at most any home.
Non-electric heaters can supplement a home’s HVAC system, providing heat for those underserved cold spots. They can also extend the usability of an outdoor living space, allowing you to enjoy that deck or patio year-round.
Most importantly, non-electric heaters function as a valuable emergency heat source, keeping a family warm while they wait for the power to return after a home’s HVAC system is put out of commission by a power outage.
The benefits of owning a non-electric heater include the following:
- supplements an existing HVAC system
- provides an alternate heat source during a power outage
- makes unheated living spaces usable in cold weather
Safety Tips for Using Non-Electric Heaters
Because non-electric heaters involve fuel and flames, it’s essential to follow certain safety guidelines and consider only models with standard safety features. A non-electric heater should have tipping and low-oxygen sensors that shut off the heater when triggered. A safe heater will have a shield that prevents contact with an open flame, such as a glass window or metal grate.
Even with these safety features, it’s also essential to follow some common-sense practices when using a non-electric heater. Make sure to place the heater in a low-traffic area to prevent people and pets from bumping the unit. Set up non-electric heaters on even ground to avoid fuel spills or flame exposure. Also, allow for a buffer of at least 3 feet between the heater and flammable materials.
The safety tips for non-electric heaters include the following:
- Only purchase a heater with built-in safety features.
- Allow for a buffer of at least 3 feet between flammable materials and the heater.
- Make sure the heater sits on even ground.
- Keep the heater out of high-traffic areas.
Now that you’ve learned about what to look for while shopping for a non-electric heater, there may still be some lingering questions about specifics. Read on for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Q: How can I heat my house without electricity?
The best way to heat a home during a power outage is to have a gas alternative. This can consist of a ventless gas fireplace that runs off of natural gas or propane or a gas-powered heater. Since these units require no electrical connection to operate, they are an ideal backup during a power outage.
Q: Is there a battery-operated heater option to heat my home?
Since electric heaters use a minimum of 900 watts and as much as 1,500 watts, even a large 12-volt battery doesn’t have enough juice to power a heater, making a gas heater the best alternative to electric heat.
Q: What is the safest non-electric heater?
While there isn’t a single heater that is the safest non-electric heater, those with certain safety features are safer than those without. Look for gas heaters that have auto shutoff features that automatically turn off the unit if it tips over, begins to overheat, or senses low oxygen levels in the surrounding air.