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Propane heaters are a great option for providing warmth on the go. They’re cost-effective and portable, making them a seemingly perfect way for any van lifer to heat their rolling home in the cold winter months.

But there is one question your mind will keep drifting back to… Are propane heaters safer for use indoors?

After all, you’ve probably heard stories about campers using propane heaters in tents and campers that have not ended well. 

The simple answer is that yes, propane heaters are safe to use indoors, provided that you follow the correct precautions.  In this article, we’ll be discussing how to use a propane heater to safely heat your home. 

Indoor Vs. Outdoor Propane Heaters

If you’re like us, you’ll probably think of propane heaters as more of an outdoor appliance than an indoor one. Nonetheless, you can get propane heaters that are designed specifically for indoor use.

Obviously, indoor propane heaters are designed for use in enclosed spaces and are totally fine to use in your camper or even your tent as long as you take a few safety precautions. 

The main difference between indoor and outdoor propane heaters is the way they deal with the smoke that is produced.

Burning propane, as with burning any fuel, creates smoke, and this smoke includes several by-products. In the outdoors, this isn’t a problem, as any harmful fumes are swept away in the fresh air.

Indoors, or in poorly ventilated spaces, though, the fumes and byproducts can begin to accumulate, posing a health risk. 

Carbon Monoxide

Though burning propane creates several by-products, by far the most dangerous is carbon monoxide. The danger posed by carbon monoxide cannot be overstated.

It is a tasteless, odorless, and invisible gas, which makes it notoriously difficult to detect, and is lethal in high enough doses.

To make matters worse, it tends to build up in the immediate environment slowly, and thus begins to affect its victims slowly.

When you consider that some of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are drowsiness and confusion, it’s easy to see how a person could become overwhelmed by the fumes before they’d ever realized what was wrong. 

Although rare, deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning do occur amongst campers.

One study from the turn of the millennium showed that somewhere between 878-1512 people were killed by carbon monoxide from 1979-1988, though safety and awareness have increased significantly since then.

Indoor Propane Heaters

Whilst outdoor heaters make no provision for dealing with the carbon monoxide produced as it will be dispersed by fresh air, indoor propane heaters come with safety features to ensure they are safe for use indoors. 

The principal way in which indoor propane heaters stop dangerous carbon monoxide build-up is to come with built-in automatic shut-off switches.

These switches are connected to oxygen sensors, so that if the oxygen levels in the room drop below a set level the heater will immediately switch itself off.

That way, you can be sure carbon monoxide will never accumulate to dangerous levels, and you reduce the risk of the heater overheating and starting a fire.

Some indoor propane heaters also come with a carbon monoxide detector, which we’ll discuss later.   

Precautions To Take When Using A Propane Heater Indoors

Precautions To Take When Using A Propane Heater Indoors

Even when using an indoor propane heater that is theoretically safe, it’s still better to take some precautions to avoid any accidents. Here are just a few precautions you should take:

Crack Open A Window

It might seem counterintuitive to let the cold winter air into your van when your goal is to heat it up, but ventilation is an absolutely critical part of safely running a propane heater inside.

They don’t have to be wide open, just so long as you are creating enough of an airflow to help disperse the carbon monoxide created by the heater.

Even with indoor heaters and their safety features, it’s a good idea to do this in case those features malfunction. 

Cracking open a window will also help with another problem you’ll notice when using a propane heater inside your van- condensation.

Portable propane heaters will quickly cause rapid condensation build-up.

Burning propane also releases water vapor as a byproduct, which will then condense into water and coat all of your surfaces in water and damp, which is less than ideal when your home is a small camper.

Opening windows will let the water vapor escape with the carbon monoxide, avoiding most of these problems.

Use A Carbon Monoxide Detector

Every home, whether stationary or on wheels, should have a working carbon monoxide detector.

This will monitor the carbon monoxide levels in your home, and just like a smoke detector, will alert you should carbon monoxide levels begin to become dangerous. 

Check Your Heater

Another important thing to remember is that faulty propane heaters are far more likely to cause carbon monoxide poisoning than heaters that are in good working order.

Therefore, you should regularly check your propane heater to ensure that it is working properly, that there are no gas leaks, etc. 

Stay Alert

Another absolutely crucial aspect of running a propane heater indoors is remembering to stay alert. This means that you should only run your propane heater when you are awake and in your van.

Whatever you do, do not leave the propane heater running whilst you are asleep or out of the van, when you cannot react to any changes in the situation.

You may inadvertently suffer carbon monoxide poisoning, or you may end up with a fire. 

On that note, pay attention to yourself. If you begin to notice that you feel a bit funny, or are developing symptoms like a headache or drowsiness, turn off the heater and step outside.

It might save your life, as those symptoms could be the first warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Final Thoughts

Yes, you can use a propane heater indoors, as long as you make sure it is a heater designed for that purpose. Even so, you should take the precautions listed above to avoid any accidents, no matter how unlikely. 

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