Gasoline vs. Propane appliances? Which is a better way to go?

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
Surprised nobody's mentioned the differing types of heat between catalytic heaters (buddy, wave) and forced-air furnaces (propex, EverestStar, webasto).

A forced-air furnace uses conductive heat. It heats the air. Think blow dryer, automotive heater, etc. When you're cold, it feels hot. It warms the interior as fast as air can be circulated and to the extent air can flow. If there's a cold corner or a draft, fan the air or block the air as needed.

A catalytic heater uses radiant heat. It heats objects indirectly. Think heat lamp. When you're cold, it feels warm. It warms only whatever it's pointed at. You can spread the heat farther by reflecting it off something but there will likely always be a cold corner the heat doesn't reach and a draft due to having the required vent open.

Also surprised nobody's discussed the interior humidity created by catalytic heaters. Burning a gallon of propane produces 1.6 lbs of water, about 0.8 gallons. A forced-air furnace blows this and all other byproducts outside. A catalytic heater puts it into the interior. A warm interior and cold exterior generally result in interior condensation just due to moisture already in the air, plus your breath, plus anything else giving off water vapor like coffee, soup, etc. Add to that a catalytic heater and your windows are gonna look like waterfalls with a lake in every sill. Forced ventilation, like a Fantastic roof vent, can help tremendously but it's not 100 or even 90% effective and then you're blowing your heat out just get rid of moisture. Passive ventilation, like an open window, does almost nothing for moisture reduction. A forced-air furnace though, blows all that out on its own without the need for drafty ventilation or extra fans running.
 

Scoutn79

Adventurer
No harm, no foul. I am not wedded to the buddy heater in the slightest.

One thing I didn't make clear is I am not one that cares for the 1lb propane cylinders, which is why I am wanting to plumb off of a 20lb tank. I know they say you can refill the cylinders, but I've seen the results of refilling accidents and I don't want to take that risk.

Advantages of Propane are there, easier to use, in bulk tank availability about the same price, but I am really unsure on how to plumb safely and still use the camping appliances instead of low pressure RV appliances.

The space I will need to heat is actually going to be relatively small. A slide in hard side truck camper, with 1.5" insulated walls. Total floor length of 9 feet. So less than 100sq ft total, and reasonably insulated. The low oxygen shutoff is of interest because I really don't want to die of carbon monoxide poisoning should I want to use the heat.

Alternatively my gas appliances, need to plumbing, and aside from the heater, can and will run unleaded auto fuel. For the most part it is true that gasoline and white gas are the same, but auto gas has a lot of additives and other things that will mess up one of the old white gas catalytic heaters. Now those things have zero safety features in them, just common sense. CO detectors, and sufficient fresh air intake. LIght the thing and get it going OUTSIDE lest ye burn down thy camper... I have used them in a tent for years with no problem, just make sure I have LOTS of fresh air coming in.

I know I can source Coleman fuel, propane, and unleaded gasoline in the U.S., and Canada, Assuming I only need white gas for the heater, if it's legal to bring white gas from the U.S. to Mexico problem solved as I won't be spending months on end in Mexico, but more like 2 weeks of vacation, and not likely to need heat every day. Heck might just be able to heat up the cast iron griddle enough to radiate heat at night so we can get into bed comfortably, do the rest with blankets and snuggling up to a warm co traveller...

And yes, use at high elevations is a consideration. Not so much traveling here in Texas / Oklahoma / Louisiana, but once we point out west, to Oregon, Washington, or even Arizona, so use in the 7K - 11K ft elevation range is something to be considered. I know Propane appliances of any sort over about 8K ft and at colder temps can be flaky. I have personally had to warm a green propane bottle with my body heat prior to being able to use it on my stove before. The pressure drops as the temp drops.

When you think of it, with the issues at elevation are taken into account, and thanks for reminding me of that unpleasantness, but when they are taken into account, gasoline / white gas makes more and more sense...
FWIW I have used and still use several times each winter and summer propane BBQ's/ lantern/ heaters of different styles and stoves up over 11k ft and NEVER had an issue form 95 degF to 0 deg F . I have used propane to -25 degF and the only issue I ever had was the regulator was failing but once replaced that appliance has been fine since.
So, based on my own decades of use of propane here in Colorado in the high country I don't buy into the comments about propane not working up high. Now maybe there are issues at elevations beyond where I have used them.

Darrell
 

shade

Well-known member
FWIW I have used and still use several times each winter and summer propane BBQ's/ lantern/ heaters of different styles and stoves up over 11k ft and NEVER had an issue form 95 degF to 0 deg F . I have used propane to -25 degF and the only issue I ever had was the regulator was failing but once replaced that appliance has been fine since.
So, based on my own decades of use of propane here in Colorado in the high country I don't buy into the comments about propane not working up high. Now maybe there are issues at elevations beyond where I have used them.

Darrell
Do any of those devices have a low oxygen feature? Older ones may not, and that's often the source of problems at higher elevations.
 

Scoutn79

Adventurer
Do any of those devices have a low oxygen feature? Older ones may not, and that's often the source of problems at higher elevations.
The Big Buddy Heater has tip over and low O2 shut-off and works fine. Even tho they state it may sht-off over 7k ft. Heck everywhere I go is well over 7k ft. They need to make a "Colorado" model. haha

Darrell
 

dbhost

Active member
The propane issues I ran into was in the Cascades in Oregon, and the White Mountains in Arizona. Probably between 8 - 11K ft, typically cold, but not below zero... Always with the 1lb cylinders... Never had an issue of any sort with the 20lb bottles....
 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
The propane issues I ran into was in the Cascades in Oregon, and the White Mountains in Arizona. Probably between 8 - 11K ft, typically cold, but not below zero... Always with the 1lb cylinders... Never had an issue of any sort with the 20lb bottles....
That's most likely a problem of vapor pressure and not bc of altitude. Users of butane canister stoves experience it too. It's common to put your canister inside your sleeping bag to keep it warm.

To put the problem simply, you need a volume of liquid boiling into gas to push fuel to the burner to burn. That "push" is vapor pressure. The more liquid fuel in your tank, the more vapor pressure you have. Smaller tanks, especially 1 lb tanks, suffer in cold weather, especially with high BTU appliances. You need a bigger tank as a cure or just a warmer tank as a bandaid.

Example: 5th wheel camper with 20k BTU furnace and LPG generator on board. We pull into our remote campsite and fire up the furnace while we roll out the awning, unhitch, level the camper, etc. The furnace runs perfectly. The camper has 2 on-board LP tanks, 30 lb each, and an automatic regulator that switches tanks when one's empty- all standard camper equipment. Camp setup complete, we light a couple stove burners and start dinner preparations. Furnace still humming along. While dinner gv cooks, somebody wants to watch TV or use the microwave. Hit the Onan remote start, the generator cranks, but won't start. We know there's fuel, the stove is still lit. Problem: too little vapor pressure for BTU demand. Solutions: tie both 30 lb tanks together (might work), use a 100 lb tank (definitely works), or warm the propane tanks. They sell specially shaped electric blankets just for this.

Having learned that lesson, what we now do is pull in, fire up the generator and nothing else. Plugged into it are a 1,500w space heater for the interior of the camper and a heat lamp above the LP tanks. Once camp is setup, we can run all our LP appliances on one, warm tank.
 

dreadlocks

Well-known member
ok they CAN emit CO, just like even your home furnace if its damaged. but when operated correctly they are rather safe, its not like its just spewing poison into your environment constantly and thats why its only appropriate for tent use like the person I was replying to was implying.. CO is not a normal byproduct of anything safe for indoor use, but yes anything that burns anything is capable of producing it in deadly quantities of.. If your catalyst is damaged, you'll smell the scented LP and have trouble even getting/keeping it going.. it'll shut off if flame goes out.. oh and you need a CO2 and LP detector with all heat sources if you wanna wake up.

I have both a wave heater (fixed mount w/cover) and a propex furnace, both have their advantages and downsides.. I use em both on really cold nights, the catalytic heater puts off a ton of heat w/no noise, no battery consumption, will warm up floors, dry out wet clothes, has a campfire kinda ambience you can enjoy, you can stick your but up to it and warm it up after taking a crap.. it does put off a bit of moisture, which in a dry climate means I dont gotta sleep w/a water bottle so its not all bad, can warm up stuff you dont want like fridges/coolers and I dont trust it to be running w/kids and pets unsupervised.. Propex uses electricity, is fairly quiet but far from silent, has a nice thermostat so it wont overcook us at night, completely safe with the kids/dogs/unsupervised.. cant hang a wet towel infront of it to dry out, and warming up by a vent on floor is pretty hard, and the floors, clothes/shoes and everything is cold as crap on really cold nights, and on those nights all by itself it'll nearly run non-stop and put a huge dent in my battery.

I mostly run the wave over night after the kids are asleep, as a base heat alongside the furnace.. furnace will rarely kick on, mebe 10mins every hour instead of 40mins every hour, this means I can listen to the forest and not worry about waking up to a flat battery because temps dropped way far.. in the day the furnace is just on at a set temp and cycles on/off much less, but unless its raining or something we're unlikely enjoying it.
 
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dwh

Tail-End Charlie
Burning a gallon of propane produces 1.6 lbs of water, about 0.8 gallons.
Um...water weighs 8.4 lbs. per gallon. 1.6 lbs. would not be 0.8 gallons...more like 0.2...

And propane is 91,000 btu per gallon, so it would take a 9k btu heater 10 hours to produce that 0.2g of water vapor.
 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
...If your catalyst is damaged, you'll smell the scented LP and have trouble even getting/keeping it going.. it'll shut off if FLAME goes out...
But wait, there's NO FLAME on a wave heater. That's one reason they're so "safe". I don't think you've been around a faulty catalytic heater. It's ENTIRELY possible for a "damaged" catalyst (you mean dirty, I think) to burn poorly enough to create CO without the LP smell (which is added for safety and goes away with heat) and if it did so in your sleep, uh you'd die. As you've mentioned, oxygen depletion is a killer too, not just CO. As for it being hard to light because it's dirty, possible I reckon but not necessary. Mine lit and burned fine it just set off the CO monitor after about 5 minutes. Sent it back, they said it was too dusty. I reminded them I'd had it less than a week and we were in a particularly non-dusty environment (at sea). They said, oh it must've gotten dusty in shipping. Well if you can't ship it due to dust, how does anybody else get one that works?

...Propex uses electricity, is fairly quiet but far from silent, has a nice thermostat so it wont overcook us at night, completely safe with the kids/dogs/unsupervised...
I agree propex are noisy and since their fans never actually stop it is a constant noise. Thermostatic control is nice though.

...cant hang a wet towel infront of [Propex] to dry out
Why not?

warming up by a vent on floor is pretty hard
Hot air rises. Stand over the vent. You'll get warm.

the floors, clothes/shoes and everything is cold as crap and on really cold nights, and on those nights all by itself it'll nearly run non-stop and put a huge dent in my battery.
Sounds like you should insulate.
 
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Joe917

Explorer
Full electric with heat from engine coolant and engine coolant heater using same fuel as engine.
For light LED is it period.
Our propane cook top has been our worst performing appliance at altitude.
Our Webasto heater starts to get difficult above 4700m(that's over 15000'), not an issue in North America. I don't like sleeping that high but sometimes you have no choice.
 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
...Burning a gallon of propane produces 1.6 lbs of water, about 0.8 gallons.
Um...water weighs 8.4 lbs. per gallon. 1.6 lbs. would not be 0.8 gallons...more like 0.2...

And propane is 91,000 btu per gallon, so it would take a 9k btu heater 10 hours to produce that 0.2g of water vapor.
Yes, I should've reread that before posting it. It's 1.6 pounds of water produced per pound of propane burned. Or, 0.8 gallons of water produced per gallon of propane burned.

So a 9k BTU furnace is putting out just over 10 oz of water per hour.
 

dreadlocks

Well-known member
its got a thermal resistor on it that shuts off fuel if 'flame' goes out.. whatever, it glows like flame.. You can smell the unburnt gas coming off a Buddy heater all night long when its putting out high BTU, I dont think heat takes the smell out entirely.. My wave came sealed in a bag and is sized adequately, last time I heard that story someone but like a big one in a lil van and it was way oversized and never had enough air to properly work.. they put the little one in and all was fine because on high it outputted less than the big one does on low.. I dont feel the least bit unsafe sleeping w/my wave running all night and the window cracked, and again everyone needs alarms for backup.. I dont care if your electric, the genset outside could kill yeh.

one heats up stuff, the other heats up air.. I'm well insulated, floors still cold as crap if your just heating the air.. the whole area around the wave heater is toasty, every surface you touch.. its like standing infront of a campfire and can warm your hands up fast after a snowball fight, the more surface area you put infront of it the more air it heats up.. so sticking a towel in front of it if anything just helps it warm up the air and also dries your towell.. I stick a towel infront of my furnace output and first its not going to run all the time, secondly its going to heatup my trailer very poorly if I block the vent and screw airflow up all night long.

both work well together, but if I had to have one.. and I didnt have lil kids/pets, it'd be the Wave heater, at a fraction of the cost.. hands down,
 
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dwh

Tail-End Charlie
Yes, I should've reread that before posting it. It's 1.6 pounds of water produced per pound of propane burned. Or, 0.8 gallons of water produced per gallon of propane burned.

So a 9k BTU furnace is putting out just over 10 oz of water per hour.
Uh...not being an expert here, but...that still doesn't add up. :)
 

dreadlocks

Well-known member
one gallon of water is 8.3lbs, 0.8 gallons is 6.64lbs.

0.2 gallons of water is 1.67lbs, 0.02 gallons of water is 25 ounces of water, a 3k btu Wave heater can burn for 30 hours for a gallon of LP.. your talking 0.8oz (1.6 table spoons) an hour of water outputted.. dudes math is off by a couple orders of magnitude.
 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
Propane = C3H8. About 44g molar mass. Water = H2O. About 18g.

Thus 4 * 18 / 44 = 1.6x.
So roughly 1.6 pound of water produced per pound of propane burned.

Liquid propane has a density of 0.507.
Water is the standard at 1.0

Thus 1.6*.507 = 0.81 gallon of water produced per gallon of propane burned.

9k BTU furnace runs 10 hours on a gallon of propane producing 0.8 gallons of water per hour. 0.8 ÷ 10 hours x 128 (oz/gal) = 10.24 oz of water per hour
 

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