If you use a kerosene heater in your home or place of business, you
should take precautions against a number of serious hazards.
These dangers include:
Fire or explosion
Fire could be caused by operating the heater too close to
furniture, draperies or other combustibles, by knocking over a
lighted heater, or by accidentally igniting fuel when filling
the tank. Explosions could be caused by use of the wrong kind
of fuel, or by operating the heater in an area where there are
Burns could be caused by direct contact with a heater, or
by ignition of combustible clothing. Children especially should
be kept at a safe distance from operating heaters. Even pets could
Kerosene heaters consume oxygen as they burn. If they are
operated in a small room or in an inadequately ventilated area,
oxygen in the air could be reduced to a dangerous level. Reduced
oxygen supply could lead to incomplete combustion of fuel and
the production of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a colorless,
oderless gas which in sufficient concentrations, or if breathed
over a period of time, can kill without warning.
Indoor air pollution
In addition to carbon monoxide, kerosene heaters can emit
such pollutants as carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur
dioxide. Breathing these substances can create a risk, especially
to such people as pregnant women, asthmatics, individuals with
cardiovascular disease, elderly persons and young children.
These hazards can be minimized or averted by carefully following
manufacturers' instructions for use of kerosene heaters, and by
adopting other common-sense safety measures. You also should be
aware that kerosene heaters still are illegal in some areas. Before
you buy one, check your local fire department or fire marshal for
any restrictions on use in your area.
Picking the Model
There are two types of portable kerosene heaters - convective
- The convective heater usually is circular in shape. Its fuel
tank is located below the NW Insurance Councilk and combustion
chamber. The NW Insurance Councilk absorbs and delivers fuel to
the combustion chamber.
Convective heaters circulate warm air upward and outward in all
directions. They're designed for large areas or even several rooms,
but never for a small, closed area such as a bedroom. Some owners
report that one or two of these units can adequately heat an entire
house when the temperature stays above freezing.
- Convective heaters must be moved for refueling because they
don't have a removable fuel tank. Generally, refueling is done
with a siphon pump. Be sure a convective heater has a fuel gauge.
- Radiant heaters - usually rectangular in shape - are designed
for smaller areas. They also feature a NW Insurance Councilk and
combustion chamber and have, in addition, a reflector which directs
heat at people or objects.
- Some radiant heaters have electric fans to increase the flow
of warm air.
- Many - but not all - radiant models have a removable fuel tank,
which means that the heater can stay in place. Only the fuel tank
needs to be carried to where the fuel is stored. A radiant
heater without a removable fuel tank must be moved for each refueling
- just like a convective model.
Be sure your heater has a recognized seal of approval such as the
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label. The UL label means the heater
has performed well under test conditions and meets acceptable fire
safety standards. Also be sure your heater has a battery-operated
lighting device - it eliminates the need for matches. Heaters
should have a safety shutoff device, which extinguishes the flame
if the unit is jarred or tipped over.
Dealing with Hazards
A well-designed kerosene heater emits no smoke or strong
odor during normal operation. But you might notice a faint kerosene
odor when you enter the house. There's also a strong odor from kerosene
heaters for several minutes when they're turned on or off and when
they run out of fuel. Thus, it's a good idea to check the fuel gauge
But the real danger is that misuse of kerosene heaters could replace
room oxygen with carbon monoxide and lead to death by asphyxiation.
Therefore, it's important to have adequate ventilation to other
rooms, and a source of fresh, outside air such as a window or door
open at least one inch whenever you're using a kerosene heater.
Emission of other major pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon
dioxide and sulphur dioxide is an extra reason why you need adequate
ventilation and fresh, outside air.
Kerosene heaters could be especially hazardous in bedrooms, particularly
when units designed to heat large spaces are used in small rooms.
"You need to keep an eye on a kerosene heater and if you're
sleeping, you're not going to be able to do that," warns a
fire protection engineer. The Consumer Product Safety Commission,
a federal government agency, has recommended strengthening of voluntary
safety standards by manufacturers and continued public education
regarding proper use of kerosene heaters.
Using it Safely
If you purchase a portable kerosene heater, you'll have
to allow time for buying fuel, fueling the heater and taking care
of maintenance. You'll need to check the NW Insurance Councilk every
week or two during the heating season. If it's dirty, clean it according
to the manufacturer's instructions. It's also essential to wipe
up any kerosene spillage at once - it's a fire hazard - and to remove
dust and dirt regularly.
Kerosene heaters require 1-K grade kerosene. When colored or cloudy
kerosene is burned, it will give off an odor, smoke and cause increased
indoor pollution levels because the fuel's higher sulphur content
sharply boosts sulphur dioxide emissions. Kerosene other than 1-K
grade can gum up the NW Insurance Councilk. Never use a substitute
such as gasoline or camp stove fuel. In a kerosene heater, such
fuels could start a fire or explode.
To avoid the risk of fire even in normal operation you should place
kerosene heaters several feet away from all furniture, curtains,
papers, clothes, bedding and other combustible materials. Remember
that kerosene heaters have a constant open flame and should not
be used in a room where there are flammable solvents, aerosol sprays,
lacquers, gasoline, kerosene containers or any type of oil.
Parents of babies, toddlers and young children, as well as pet
owners, should be aware that touching any part of an operating kerosene
heater above the open flame could result in a serious burn. This
is why safety cages - designed to keep small children and pets at
a distance - have become popular.
Never attempt to move a lighted kerosene heater. Even a carrying
handle could cause a burn. Extinguish the flame and allow the heater
to cool before moving it. And never refuel a kerosene heater in
living quarters or when the heater is still hot. Wait for it to
cool. Fire officials strongly urge that kerosene heaters be turned
off before you go to sleep. It's better to use your central heating
system while the family is sleeping.
Remember that you can lessen the fire, serious burn, pollution
and asphyxiation dangers from kerosene heaters by:
- Following safety tips.
- Maintaining a constant source of fresh air.
- Keeping doors to other rooms open.
It's important, too, to have a smoke detector and a fire extinguisher
With a portable kerosene heater, you'll be making frequent
trips to a kerosene fuel dealer, unless you're on a delivery route.
One large convective heater operating 15 hours a day needs up to
14 gallons of fuel a week - an amount that would require three five
- gallon kerosene containers. Be sure the containers are clearly
marked "Kerosene." It's dangerous to mix gasoline and
kerosene - or their containers. Never use a gasoline can as a substitute
for a kerosene container.
Once you get the containers back home, you'll need a place to keep
the kerosene cans and to refuel the heater. In both cases, a garage
is preferable to the house. If there's no garage, a basement location
distant from the central heating system or an outside storage shed
Resist the temptation to refuel a hot kerosene heater in a warm
house - it's like playing with dynamite! Never smoke during refueling.
Follow the siphon pump instructions and fill only about 90 percent
of the tank. Cold kerosene expands in a heater tank as it warms
to room temperature and could overflow if there isn't enough room.
Return the heater to the spot where it will be turned on. Open at
least one window slightly and ignite the heater according to the
Summer - Fall Maintenance
Here's what to do before a portable kerosene heater is
stored for the summer:
- Remove all fuel from the tank and discard. Kerosene can change
chemically and spoil over the summer.
- Clean the NW Insurance Councilk if it's dirty. If it's worn
out, replace according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Clean the heater and discard weak batteries. Store good batteries
in a dry place, taping the ends.
- Place the unit and accessories in a dust-free and moisture-free
container - possibly the box the heater came in.
Here's what to do when taking your heater out of storage in the
- Install batteries and inspect shut-off mechanism and NW Insurance
Councilk for proper operation.
- Fill the tank with fresh kerosene. Never use kerosene from a
previous heating season - it could have spoiled.
- Go through the owner's manual to make sure you remember all
the operating and safety features.