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Old 01-06-2012, 09:47 PM   #1
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Default Small portable heaters - what I learned this morning

Last Sunday I traded my inadequate catalytic heater for a Mr. Heater Portable Buddy. It's not the same kind of heater; it actually has a pilot that gets lit. But it had higher BTUs and did a better job heating my van.

The last couple of days, though, I've been having problems with it. First, the switch has been hard to turn; it has 4 settings, Off, Pilot, Low, and High, and you're supposed to push down slightly when turning it. But I've had trouble doing that. I'd get it lit and on High (which is what's recommended when you first start it) and then not be able to switch to Low, or maybe not even be able to get it on High. The other problem is that after I got the pilot lit, even if I *could* move the switch the pilot flame wouldn't spread to the heating area, which is what it's supposed to do. Both could have been big problems with the colder weather coming this weekend.

So this morning I called the company. What I was told is, the switch not moving easily could just be a valve which is right under it and is maybe a bit clogged. The tech person I talked to suggested I try moving the switch back and forth when there was no propane connected to see if I could clear it. I did try that while I was on the phone and the switch did move easily.

The other issue, with the pilot flame not spreading, is apparently due to the altitude. The tech told me these things just don't work well above 5,000 feet. They all have oxygen sensors that are programmed to shut them off if the O2 level goes too low, and at high altitudes that level is already low. My heater was probably not heating because of that. The instruction manual does say something about increasing the ventilation and I did do that last night and got the heater working. But apparently heaters with O2 sensors aren't good choices if you're going to be above 5,000 feet. Catalytic heaters are a better choice, but from what the tech said I got the impression they aren't as powerful. (I checked out a local Home Depot and found other heaters but they were all too powerful for my van and would have gobbled propane. They also had kerosene heaters but I can't comment on those because I don't know anything about them.)

I want to stress that I *have* been keeping ventilation going while I've been running this heater; that's an absolute necessity and if you haven't read about it before anywhere I wanted to be sure to mention it here. But Denver at 5,280' is apparently not a good place to try to use one of these even with ventilation.

I've got a motel room for the next few nights so I won't be trying the heater out for a bit. But I did want to pass this along to other "newbies" who might be thinking about using one of these at a high altitude. And if anyone here knows more than I do and needs to correct what I've written, feel free.

Meg
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Old 02-05-2012, 07:29 PM   #2
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Default Re: Small portable heaters - what I learned this morning

Now that I have a bit more experience with this I thought I'd post an update. I found that if I let the heater "sit" for a while between bottles, instead of trying to restart it right away, it actually worked fine - no problems with the switch or with the flame "catching." Usually I gave it one-two hours of "rest" but I think less time, like maybe a half hour, would have been enough.

I'm not using the heater anymore - in fact, it's now listed on Craigslist Philadelphia - so I don't know how it would be here at sea level. But I thought I would pass this along in case anyone else has one of these and has had trouble with it.

Meg
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Old 03-07-2012, 02:57 PM   #3
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Default Re: Small portable heaters - what I learned this morning

Hi there - I've always been uncomfortable using the heater in our 2004 Roadtrek because the bedding drops over the unit and I'm afraid it might shut the heater off or start a fire. So we did some winter camping here in Illinois and brought along our little ceramic heater and it worked fine to keep us warm and toasty all day and night. Since it doesn't get hot, there is no problem with it being in the center aisle (and away from anything flammable.) Of course, we couldn't dry camp with this since it needs electricity and maybe you were not in a campground with electricity.
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Old 06-12-2013, 11:38 PM   #4
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Default Re: Small portable heaters - what I learned this morning

Last year, bedding fell on a faire patron's portable heater and caught. He got himself and his dog out, but almost caused a site-wide evacuation at 5:00 in the morning due to the propane bottles which exploded in his camper.

I have used propane heaters before (on an aluminum table), but there are three caveats:

1: Heat. I would give it plenty of space, which is hard to do in a "B". Only place I'd probably consider placing it would be on a counter, on a large upturned saucepan so it doesn't scorch the countertop.

2: Exhaust. It makes a lot of CO2. I don't know about CO. Either way, one has to crack a window and give it a square foot or two of ventilation. This can be difficult if it is raining.

3: Humidity. Burning propane makes a lot of water, and this can cause problems down the line.

If it is cold enough to require the use of a heater and I'm not on hookups, I'd first use the propane furnace because it is by far the most safe. The furnace also blows warm air on the water tanks, helping protect against freezing. If that isn't possible, I'd fire up the generator and use a space heater, or if available, a heater strip in the A/C. If neither of those are options, I'd probably gather up my things and head home or a CG where I can use electricity.

There is only one case I see myself using one of those small propane heaters, and that is during an ice storm where one can be stuck in a place for 5-7 days. So, when going to my weekend boondocking expeditions in the winter, I probably am going to use the passenger seat for a tub with a "Buddy" heater which can keep a class B warm enough to be bearable on a low setting for 6-7 hours on a one pound Coleman bottle, or 3-4 hours on high. Of course, a few 1# propane bottles will be coming as well. Those can be in a plastic tub in the shower area, then tossed outside once at the destination.
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Old 06-12-2013, 11:48 PM   #5
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Default Re: Small portable heaters - what I learned this morning

The standard Suburban built in propane heater works on a 12V blower and is what I would use. Most Bs have had them. Diesel hydronic might be replacing them in newer Sprinters. I don't think I would ever carry a portable propane heater or anything with a touch ignitable flame or surface. If weather is bad as anticipated I would not be there in a boondocking situation or I would seek out a campsite with shore power which gives me more options. As I mentioned several times here and there, when I travel I plan out and chase the optimum weather. I try not to punish myself in my travels.
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Old 06-13-2013, 02:57 PM   #6
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Default Re: Small portable heaters - what I learned this morning

Davydd: You, or someone else might be able to vet this. I have heard that Truma might be selling its models in the US this year. These are similar to the Espar line, except they are a staple in European rigs, and use LP gas or diesel. The best ones are the Combi 4E and 6E which provide hot water, warm air... and can run on shore power when plugged in, so there is no need for a space heater at all, and if one was worried about propane, the furnace could run off the generator.
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