Camping in a cabin in chill weather conditions invites the use of an assortment of heaters from electric to gas heaters. The main question is: Are cabin heaters safe? This remains a major concern when taking into account the statistics of deaths and fires resulting from heaters as asserted by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The commission estimates that over 25000 fires are caused on a yearly basis and are linked to space heaters. However, this should be an alarm not necessarily a hindrance to use cabin heaters.

There are many cabin heaters that campers resort to. Among others, propane and kerosene heaters have risen in popularity due to attractive low costs when compared to electric heaters. Propane heaters, in particular, are prevalent in many households, commercial buildings, and camping cabins. They come in various sizes and shapes.

Because of the associated dangers of using cabin heaters, there is a need to understand about their safety.

We will explore the safety features, the dangers, and better ways to stay warm while in the wilderness. Our discussion is centered on propane heaters as the most common fuel-burning appliances that get rid of the chill both outdoors and indoors.

Is a Cabin Heater Safe?

When we talk about cabin heaters, we either refer to indoor or outdoor appliances. Provided they are used and maintained properly, there is no danger that can emerge from cabin heaters unless if it’s a factory fault.

Many of these fires that are reported yearly in the United States are attributed to user negligence when using fuel-burning appliances.

Due to unbearable climatic conditions during winter, users tend to take any heater into the cabin without understanding the safety precautions. For instance, an outdoor-designated propane heater should not ever be used in an enclosed space, especially where ventilation is lacking. Why? Because carbon monoxide might be written on your death certificate soon!

Negligently using cabin heaters in wrong settings can lead to unforeseen deaths if you do not follow the proper instructions. Outdoor and indoor propane heaters have different configurations due to the amount of ventilation in the cabin and outside. This shows that they are not interchangeable.

How to properly use a cabin heater?

The main reason for using the cabin heater is to warm up the room before you sleep or before getting ready for the next adventure. However, using it inappropriately might mean the difference between life and death because of the infamous carbon monoxide (CO) gas which is a byproduct of any fuel-burning appliance.

Stoves and gas grills are producers of carbon monoxide too. That being said, you should not take a burning stove or gas grill into the cabin without extinguishing it.

Propane has a strong odor which you can smell with ease if there is a leakage from your heater. Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of propane combustion, however, does not have any odor that might alert you that you are being exposed to a deadly gas.

This is how it has ended many lives so far. It is a clear and tasteless gas that results from the combustion of fuel-burning cabin heaters.

If you opt for an electric heater, then you are safe from carbon monoxide. Nonetheless, there are still some dangers associated with electric heaters in addition to their expensive price tags.

An exposure to carbon monoxide leads to carbon monoxide poisoning. The presence of this gas depletes available oxygen in your cabin and penetrates your blood system. If there is no urgent help, you may end up being unconscious and eventually succumb to the dangers.

While we may not readily detect carbon monoxide with naked eyes or our senses, there are some common symptoms that you should take into account. Many people experience these symptoms but end up misdiagnosing them as flu symptoms.

Carbon monoxide symptoms

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pains
  • Nausea
  • Unconsciousness
  • Fatigue
  • Numb body
  • Weak body and more

Different people can experience different symptoms based on various factors.

If any of your fellow cabin dwellers experience weird symptoms while having the propane heater in the cabin, seek medical attention and evacuate the cabin.

Not everyone may experience any of the symptoms at the same time. Those with pre-existing conditions such as heart problems can experience the symptoms quicker.

CO symptoms improve with time when the victim is exposed to ample ventilation after being exposed to the gas. Never take the victim back to the cabin until the problem has been solved.

Preventing carbon monoxide in the cabin

fire in beaver creek because of a cabin heater accident

[The fire was caused by a propane heater left overnight too close to a curtain.]

Carbon monoxide is preventable in many ways. The deaths resulting from this gas are largely based on negligence of the underlying problems of cabin heaters or the improper use of the heaters. As aforementioned, there are heaters designed for outdoor and others for indoor use.

In an outdoor setting, there is enough oxygen which cannot be depleted by any amount of carbon monoxide emission. As thus, there is no effort required to manage or prevent the CO gas if you are using a propane heater or fuel-burning stove outside.

The problem begins when the same energy source is taken in the house where there is limited oxygen supply, especially when sleeping with doors and windows closed.

If left unattended, a cabin heater can emit carbon monoxide slowly until all the oxygen molecules are depleted. How can you prevent that?

  • To start with, do not leave the heater burning unattended while you are sleeping. Only take it to the cabin to warm it for a few minutes and switch it off completely before taking a nap.
  • The other option is to make sure that your windows are at least an inch open to let in ventilation. But still, ensure that the heater is switched off before you sleep.

Take a look at some instructions below for the use of cabin heaters. The instructions are given by manufacturers upon the purchase of the appliance.

Propane heater safety measures

  • Always switch off the heater when sleeping
  • Ensure proper ventilation to improve the combustion of fuel and reduction of carbon monoxide. Either leave the window or the door an inch open
  • Ensure that your heater is well maintained and vents are cleared out. Heaters that were not used for a long time can have clogged vent hoses due to insect infestation. This will compromise the elimination of CO gas from the cabin.
  • Ensure a safety clearance of flammable materials from the heater. Nylon fabric can catch fire with ease if put too close to the heater
  • Children should stay away from the heater
  • When refilling the heater, let it cool first completely to avoid burns

For more instructions, read the package of your cabin heater. Cabin heaters often come as freestanding or as attachments. Attached appliances may be integrated with vent hoses to let in ample air to balance carbon monoxide and oxygen. With freestanding ones, you have to exercise extra caution when heating your cabin to ensure maximum safety.

Also, noteworthy to the cabin heat safety are the add-on features such as automatic switches when carbon monoxide is in excess and oxygen depletion sensors when oxygen levels drop. Such features are your best companions in safeguarding your life from this senseless killer gas.

Use of Oxygen Depletion Sensors

Modern cabin heaters are undoubtedly safe with additional features such as the oxygen depletion sensors. The sensors are integrated into the heater to monitor the levels of oxygen in your enclosed cabin. If they drop, the heater switches off automatically because that will be signaling the prevalence of carbon monoxide.

Until there is enough ventilation, the heater will not work. 

Other sensors can detect the excess of carbon monoxide and then release the alarm. Never ignore the alarm. Take preventive measures and check if you or any of your fellows are experienced the symptoms we have highlighted above. Then open the window or take out the heater to avoid any aggravated situation of carbon monoxide exposure.

These sensors need to be maintained too. Any faulty sensor can fail to protect you against the dangerous CO gas. It is best to ensure that they are well-maintained prior to the start of your journey. If you have separate sensors that run on a battery, ensure that the battery is fully charged so that you do not miss any alert. Instead of risking your life, buy new heaters or sensors.

Propane or kerosene heaters designed for outdoor use seldom have oxygen depletion sensors or carbon monoxide detectors because manufacturers assume that there is enough ventilation outside. Even if you decide to use a heater in a garage, ensure that there is enough ventilation.

Outdoor propane heaters can be reasonable to use in a cabin during the day when no one is sleeping just to ensure that there is warmth before you sleep.

Benefits of Using a Propane Heater in a Cabin

Although we’ve discussed the dangers associated with propane heaters, we do not insinuate that people should be scared of buying one. The heater itself has no problem, but negligent operations have problems.

In a nutshell, you should stop using an outdoor heater in a cabin without proper ventilation; stop leaving the heater on while sleeping; stop using an old and malfunctioning heater in your cabin. This way you will enjoy your camping without any possible dangers that could lead to death.

The use of propane heaters has immense benefits in your cabin. Firstly, it is cost-effective when compared to electric heaters. Besides, electric heaters also have their own problems.

Propane heaters warm the room instantly. Propane is converted into an infrared heat that heats your space instantly. Moreover, propane heaters come with numerous settings for customized temperatures. As already indicated, modern heaters come with oxygen depletion sensors and carbon monoxide detectors.

Tips to Get Warm in your Cabin

Apart from relying on cabin heaters, campers should consider other ways of keeping warm in their cabins. This will reduce reliance on propane heaters and thus reduce carbon monoxide. Here are the tips:

1. Pack warm clothes

Ensure that you have warm clothes like jackets for cold temperatures when you head to your campsite. This will keep your body warm even before you sleep. The heater can only warm your cabin for a limited time only.

Even when getting ready for your next adventure, warm clothes will negate the need for the heater. Also, it can be a good thing reading this post as well, that touches on the topic Essential tips for spending Christmas in a cabin.

Wearing warm clothes entails well-insulated jackets, hiking shoes and socks. Invest more on your camping clothes to survive the inclement weather conditions.

2. Pack comfy sleeping bags

As much as you’re sleeping in a cabin, it’s very tempting to overlook the need for a comfortable sleeping bag. It could mean the difference between over-reliance on cabin heaters and sleeping in a cozy sleeping bag. There are, for example, natural Down insulations and synthetic Gore-Tex insulations to choose from. Pick the best bag that can survive winter seasons. Others are coupled with sleeping pads and mats.

You need to assess the features of your sleeping pad and sleeping bag. We recommend considering the ones that are rated zero temperature to ensure that you withstand treacherous weather conditions.

Suggested Cabin Heaters

To survive the inclement temperatures in the wilderness while camping in your cabin, you must have the best heaters to keep you and your family warm. Among a plethora of cabin heaters on the market, we have handpicked the best ones below based on their superior performance and safety features.

We know that most of the cabin heaters are notorious for killing many people due to carbon monoxide exposure. Here’s our list of the top 3 cabin heaters.

Cabin Heater AH-200 – Best for the Money

This is a high-end heater that will provide unparalleled warmth to your cabin especially during winter. Its 180-degree bracket rotation ensures that the entire area is warmed up with a maximum 6000 BTUs per hour and a fan output of 200 CFM. You can customize the speed with the Cabin heater AH-200.

This water-based heater is worth an investment more especially if you are a regular tourist in areas notorious for treacherous weather conditions. But, it is the best deal for small cabins.

Firestorm UTV Cab Heater Kit – Best All-Round Heater

If you aim to purchase quality cabin heater with almost all the components, the Firestorm UTV Cab Heater Kit could be your best pick. It’s one of the products we’ve realized it is worth an investment due to their epic performance, safety, and longevity.

It comes with hoses to control emissions, connectors, needed hardware, and louvers. The installation is made easy with the instructions provided. The manufacturer is giving you a 3 years warranty against all factory faults.

Important: it is not compatible with EPS models. The temperature is customizable.

Maradyne H-400012 Santa Fe 12V Floor Mount Heater – Best Affordable Cab Heater

Maradyne is a renowned producer of a wide spectrum of heaters and fans in recreational vehicles. Maradyne H-400012 Floor Mount Heater is a flagship that is characterized by great features.

This heater can be a great add-on in large spaces with its 13 200 BTU per hour with a fan rate of 200 CFM. It has a 2-speed fan control switch.

The durability of this heater is impressive because of the rigid steel case with gray finish. The louvers are adjustable. The mounting hardware has been provided, so you will not spend extra money needlessly.

We hope that you will find these cabin heaters useful as you plan your next excursion. Read the instructions of every heater to acquaint yourself with safety precautions at all the times.

Wrapping up!

This article has given you a fresh perspective on how to use cabin heaters. It is unfortunate that many deaths are caused due to the negligence of using cabin heaters. These heaters are typically not dangerous but an improper use is dangerous.

Apart from the exposure to carbon monoxide resulting from the combustion, there are other dangers such as explosions, burns, and fires. All these possible dangers should call for a proper care when heating your cabin.

Every heater comes with manufacturer instructions. Read those instructions carefully and familiarize yourself with the dos and don’ts. Although carbon monoxide seems to be a deadly gas that is causing many deaths, it can be managed with ease. As highlighted in the content above, do not leave the heater unattended. Make use of oxygen depletion sensors and carbon monoxide detectors to stay on the safe side.

Again, avoid using an outdoor-designated cabin heater in an enclosed space without proper ventilation. Outdoor heaters do not have more settings because manufacturers assume that there is enough oxygen outside. When using heaters in your home, make sure they have ventilation hoses attached to get rid of carbon monoxide from spreading in the cabin.