Mr Heater Portable Buddy - Emergency Heat
After spending a long week at hunting camp where the temperatures inside my tent were getting cold enough to make things more than a little uncomfortable, I decided it was time to do something about it. So I began searching for a lightweight portable heat source that didn't require electricity.
The Mr. Heater brand of portable propane heaters have been around for quite awhile and have a good reputation, so I decided to give one a try. They make several models and while I liked the idea of using one as an emergency backup heat source for my house; my primary use would be for camping. Furthermore, because of the limited heat output of most small portable heaters I knew I wasn't going to be able heat the whole house with one; so I decided on their Portable Buddy heater which was rated for 200 square feet. I figured this would work for my 120 square foot cabin style tent and would be big enough to heat a bedroom in an emergency.
The Mr. Heater uses the standard 1 lbs green propane bottles found in most stores that have a good sized sporting goods section. They also make accessory hoses (not included) that can be used to run your Portable Buddy heater off a 20 lbs propane tank; this is the size that most people use for their outdoor propane grills. These larger tanks obviously greatly increases the runtime of the unit and would make sense if you were planning to use the unit for extended periods of time. However, these larger tanks are not rated for indoor use because they are refillable; apparently refillable containers present a risk for a gas leaks which isn't a good thing indoors.
The Mr. Heater Buddy works like many gas grills, with a red push button ignition switch on the back and a knob on the front to control the output of the gas. To start the unit you rotate the knob to the pilot position and hold it for a few seconds to let the gas start flowing, then press the ignition switch. This will ignite the flame at the bottom of the burner plate, and once the flame has stabilized you can release the control knob. Next, you press down on slightly to rotate the knob to the "High" setting to fully ignite the burner tile and get it glowing red, you then can leave the unit on "High" or move the knob to the "Low" setting.
The Buddy version heater is equipped with a "Low" setting that supplies 4000 BTU output and is listed as having a 6 hour runtime on a 1 lbs propane cylinder or 110 hours on a 20 lbs tank. The "High" setting has a 9000 BTU output but the runtime is reduced to 3 hours when using a 1 lbs propane bottle or 48 hours on a 20 lbs tank. It is also important to note that the manual states that this heater might have difficulty running at altitudes over 7000ft; so that is something to consider if you live at a high elevation or want to be able to use your heater on high altitude trips.
This heater is listed for emergency indoor use and comes with a long list of things to watch out for and how to use these heaters properly in an emergency. I'm not going to go through the list, but here are a few things to keep in mind. All propane heaters can pose a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and present a fire hazard if used improperly. So if you are going to use any propane fueled heater as an emergency heat source, you really need to read the instructions and warnings very carefully and understand the risks because they can be dangerous if misused.
Mr. Heater Buddy
While this is a propane fueled heater, it does have some key features that make it better suited for emergency indoor use when compared to most other propane heaters. First, it features a tip over switch that shuts off the unit automatically if it is tipped over, which along with the wire cage covering the burn plate reduces the chance of an accidental fire. Next, this unit is also equipped with an low oxygen shut off system, which turns the unit off if it doesn't sense enough oxygen in the air thus reducing the chance of carbon monoxide poisoning. While I know the tip over sensor works and have no reason to doubt the low oxygen sensor works, it is important to only put so much faith in safety features.
Testing - Recreational
It is important to note that the manufacture states not to use this heater while sleeping; which is probably to reduce the chance of a fire or carbon monoxide going undetected. I have used this heater multiple times in a 10x12 cabin style tent to pre-warm it and my sleeping gear before going to bed; and if I wake up and its cold I run it for awhile to warm things up and shut if off again. I also use a separate carbon monoxide detector that works like a smoke alarm for added protection; I store this in the Mr. Heater box and use this every time I use the heater as and added safety measure.
Testing - Indoor/Emergency
A winter power outage gave me a chance to try out the Mr. Heater indoors, feeling it would be a good test and knowing I had a generator if things got too bad. I sat the heater up on a table in the living room and read by lamp light as the temperature began to drop in the house. Then as bedtime approached I moved the heater to my bedroom and let it warm up the room, which it did nicely. I did run the heater on and off through the night, and it kept the room comfortable. While not a substitute for a generator, wood stove, or whole house heat system, the little Portable Buddy heater did what I wanted which was to keep one small room warm.
I have had my Mr. Heater Portable Buddy for several years now, and it has become a valued piece of my camping and survival gear. While no propane heat source will ever be completely safe for indoor use; the tip over switch and low oxygen sensor of the Mr. Heater make it a better choice than most propane heaters. Combining these safety features with knowledge of proper use; and a few added safety precautions like a carbon monoxide detector and fire extinguisher should insure that you are both safe and warm if you need to use this heater in an emergency. Those looking primarily for an emergency backup heater should look at the Mr. Heater Big Buddy, which uses two 1 lbs propane bottles, puts out twice the heat and features a battery powered blower fan.