Heaters: Kerosene vs. Propane

Our Heating Experts Share the Differences

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Last year, we had quite a cold winter up here in the Northeast. If you’re thinking of getting a back-up heater in case of a power outage, you may be considering a kerosene- or propane-fired one. To find out which is the right option for you, our Chadds Ford heating experts explore some of their differences:

Heat Content

When it comes to fuels, each one has a different heat content, which means each one releases a different amount of heat when burned. For example: when you burn a pound of coal, it produces 13,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units, the measurement of heat energy). A gallon of kerosene produces 135,000 BTUs while a gallon of propane produces 91,600 BTUs.

Fuel Cost

As you know, fuel prices fluctuate, but for the sake of cost comparison, we used average U.S. fuel prices ( At the moment, the average cost of a gallon of kerosene is $2.69, while the average cost of a gallon of propane is $2.95. On the surface, it looks like kerosene is the pricier option, but let’s look a little further.

Putting Them Together…

If each heater holds five gallons of fuel, then your kerosene heater will cost roughly $13 to fill and your propane heater will cost roughly $15. Here’s how you figure out their heating efficiency:

Since kerosene produces 135,000 BTUs per gallon, that means it will emit 675,000 BTUs total (for five gallons). Propane, on the other hand, produces only 91,600 BTUs and will emit 458,000 BTUs total. When you divide kerosene’s 675,000 BTUs by the cost of $20, you’ll get about 51,923 BTUs per dollar. Dividing propane’s 458,000 by $14 results in 30,533 BTUs per dollar.

Given these current numbers, a kerosene heater would be a better investment (though fuel prices do fluctuate, so take that into account).

Heater Cost

There are many different types of kerosene and propane heaters, including forced air, convection, and portables heaters. In general, a kerosene heater tends to cost more than a propane heater. Before you buy one, however, do your research.


Both kerosene and propane heaters emit carbon monoxide into the air, which can be deadly when ingested. It’s important that, no matter which heater you choose, you vent it properly. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, so it can be quite dangerous. Improper venting can cause a backup of carbon monoxide into the room.


When comparing kerosene and propane, propane actually burns cleaner than kerosene and allows you to have a smaller carbon footprint.

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