Prepping

Which is Best: Kerosene or Propane?

fuel canisters

Although the answer may be different for everyone depending on the specific situation and heating needs, preppers may wonder which is best: kerosene or propane?

Whether you’re preparing for a power outage or looking to supplement your main heating system, if this is a decision you’ve been wrestling with, there are several factors to consider when making your decision. We’ll touch on these factors below. But one thing is certain. If you want to survive any kind of extended SHTF situation, you’re going to need a good fuel source.

Fuel Efficiency

One of the key factors to research if you are trying to decide whether to use kerosene or propane for a fuel source is the fuel efficiency. When comparing fuel efficiency, make sure you are comparing correctly.

It’s best to compare heat content in MM per BTU and consider the efficiency rating of any heating appliances when researching fuel efficiency to ensure you are making equal comparisons. Kerosene has more potential energy in BTU per gallon than propane which gives it the potential to be more efficient.

Cost of Fuel

For most people, the cost of fuel will be a significant factor. For those who are deciding between kerosene or propane for a long term heating solution, cost can be prohibitive. If you need a short term heating solution as a backup to your main heat source in a short term emergency, cost of fuel might not be as big an issue.

You can use a heating fuel comparison chart as a general guide. The approximate average cost of residential kerosene per gallon is $2.25. I’ve seen it as high as $4.65 per gallon in some areas.

The popular belief up until recent years was that propane is less expensive for heating than kerosene. And this may still be the case if you are buying small amounts via your local gas station.

But recent price hikes have turned the tables and you may find propane costs more than kerosene when bought in bulk amounts for residential heating purposes.

Make sure you do the research for pricing specific to your area to be certain. When researching prices, ask about off season pricing. You may find it’s cheaper to buy heating fuel in spring or summer months which are slower months for fuel companies.

If so, a little advanced budget planning can pay off in dollars saved. Also ask about bulk delivery, if you have the proper storage container, which can help make both fuels more budget friendly.

Fuel Storage

One factor you definitely need to consider when choosing between propane and kerosene is fuel storage. Think about your heating needs, the location of your fuel supplier, and how often you could be snowed in or otherwise unable to travel to purchase additional fuel. This will help you determine how much fuel you may need to keep on hand.

For longer term storage needs, propane often makes more sense. While propane is flammable and storing in your home is not recommended, it is more shelf stable than kerosene and be stored for years without breaking down.

Store propane tanks a minimum of 25 feet from your home for safety. Underground propane tanks should be no less than 10 feet from your home. Storing propane in cold weather may require additional preparations to ensure the propane can be used when you need it.

Kerosene is a flammable liquid, and red dyed kerosene or K-1 is manufactured for residential heating purposes. Kerosene can become contaminated if stored improperly, so make sure you use only new containers, clearly identified for storage of kerosene.

Stored properly, kerosene can be stable for up to five years, less if you use plastic containers. Bacteria, condensation, mold, and water vapor can cause kerosene to break down more quickly.

Other Factors

When choosing between kerosene or propane, it’s also important to consider other factors. Once you’ve determined the proper fuel based on efficiency, cost, and storage, one or more of these additional criteria may sway your decision.

Safety & Reliability

Both kerosene and propane heating solutions require proper ventilation when used in any type of enclosed space. Since kerosene can break down and has a shorter shelf life, propane can be a more reliable fuel source when you are storing quantities long term.

You should also make sure you have working carbon monoxide alarms, a low oxygen alarm, and working smoke detectors in any area where you are using propane or kerosene. When buying either fuel in bulk, be sure to clarify with your provider if there are any additional costs for fuel delivery which could significantly increase your costs.

Ease of Use

If you are using portable heaters, either kerosene or propane, you’ll want to consider how often you may need to move the heaters and how long a period you might need to use them consecutively.

Kerosene heaters are more difficult to move and to refill as it’s a liquid fuel with a strong odor. Propane is harmful if inhaled and it can be harder to detect a leak. Either fuel works great as a backup for short term use, kerosene heaters give off a dry heat that will feel warm quicker whereas propane heaters heat up gradually and may not feel as toasty initially.

Flexibility

When it comes to kerosene or propane for preppers, keep in mind that with proper planning, propane fuel will give you a bit more fuel flexibility. You can use propane as fuel for furnaces, portable heaters, or fireplaces.

You can also use propane for tankless hot water heating, radiant floor heat, to run a refrigerator, stove, bbq grill, a generator, lanterns, to heat your pool or even to run a clothes dryer. It’s even used to fuel some vehicles, although it has a lower Btu rating than gasoline and thus will use more fuel. It also burns cleaner than kerosene which makes it better for the environment and less of a health risk for your family.

Of course, kerosene and propane are not the only two fuels to consider for your heating needs. Other fuels to consider include firewood or wood pellets, solar, wind, or hydro power, and geothermal heating techniques.

The best everyday heat source for your family will largely depend on your location, your budget, and your specific needs. Choosing your fuel source is as individualized as choosing your favorite gun.

Do you currently use kerosene or propane for your residential heating needs? Do you have one of these fuels stored as a backup fuel source? Feel free to tell us why you chose the fuel did and share any issues you’ve experienced in the comments below. And if you don’t, be sure you pin this for later on Pinterest!

kerosene vs propane pinterest

Megan Stewart

About Megan Stewart

A mother of four and grandmother of nine boys and one girl, Megan is living the lifestyle any prepper would want. Gardening, homesteading and constantly planning for emergencies big and small, she's a beacon of knowledge in the prepping community.
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11 thoughts on “Which is Best: Kerosene or Propane?

  1. I’m a Propane dude myself, K1 is ok, but for a prepper 5 years storage (at best) is “ok”, BUT considering your storing fuel for a very VERY long time if you’re truly thinking EMP/Lights-Out type of thing. Whereas Propane will store for a min 50 years, doubt if I’ll see that long, but you get my point.

    I do store 2 drums of K1, but that mainly for Lighting (hurricane lamps) and a small Gen-set, smalle heartr in the garage, whereas propane is easy, a couple of 1K gallon underground tanks and your set for more than a few days. Also 100# P-tanks are cheap if purchased used (ALWAYS replace the valves) and fill, again these will last a long time in a ‘SAFE’ storage facility.

    Obviously if TSHTF long term all fuels will run out, but again if long term a LOT of things including lifestyles are going to revert back 300 years. Best learn those skills now, and not wait till everything goes dark.

    1. NRP,

      I’m a Propane dude myself,

      Same here & I’ll elaborate later.

      a couple of 1K gallon underground tanks and your set for more than a few days.

      They don’t even have to be underground. Our oldest is 20 years old and only requires the occasional wire brush and white Rustoleum paint to keep it in good shape.

      Also 100# P-tanks are cheap if purchased used (ALWAYS replace the valves) and fill, again these will last a long time in a ‘SAFE’ storage facility.

      We sometimes fine the 20# and justtake them to the local Wal-Mart and do a tank swap. The propane for that swap is a bit costly; but, it takes care of old tanks & valves and they don’t seem to mind or even check the tank or its condition.

      Obviously if TSHTF long term all fuels will run out, but again if long term a LOT of things including lifestyles are going to revert back 300 years. Best learn those skills now, and not wait till everything goes dark.

      True; but, that’s why you have alternate heating and maybe cooking, like wood so you can save the propane for the generator use. Run only a few hours per day to keep the refrigeration going, pump some water, and charge some batteries, and you could be in pretty good shape for quite a while.

        1. The Ohio Prepper;
          Yep, same with all the other P-Tanks, 80% max filled.
          BTW, when you do trade in those tanks at Wally-World or where ever, do something crazy like weigh them, they are more than likely short on the “full” side.
          BUT agree on getting a replacement tank.
          Just wish they would do an exchange on larger tanks.

          “True; but, that’s why you have alternate heating and maybe cooking, like wood so you can save the propane for the generator use. Run only a few hours per day to keep the refrigeration going, pump some water, and charge some batteries, and you could be in pretty good shape for quite a while.”

          I’ll agree, alternate fuel is a good thing, like Wood and Solar, for sooner or later (talking 5 years) that stored Propane will run out and that Gen-Set will come to a stop, hence the knowledge to preserve foods, and all the rest without the modern conveniences. Seriously, how many really know how to dry and store meats, or to can veg’s without that fancy kitchen? ann alone NOT going to Wally World 3 times a week for EVERYTHING under the sun.
          Let’s just pray we never need to find out, will be a dark day for sure.

          1. NRP,

            Yep, same with all the other P-Tanks, 80% max filled.
            BTW, when you do trade in those tanks at Wally-World or where ever, do something crazy like weigh them, they are more than likely short on the “full” side.

            The 80% isn’t always hard & fast, since I’ve had them filled to 90% on some occasions when I talk with the guy as he’s filling them and he knows we cook , heat water, and run the genset and it’s not just sitting around in the tank until the heating season.

            I know. They should contain 4.7 gallons and I suspect often contain only 4 gallons; but, since I’m usually getting a new tank & valve in exchange for an old, often trash picked tank, its still a fair exchange.

            Just wish they would do an exchange on larger tanks.

            For some of us that would be good; but, since the ”portable” tanks only come in 20#, 33#, & 100# they could get a bit heavy for the typical user to haul around, and in all my years using propane, I’ve never even seen a 33# tank, plus I suspect most portable propane are the 20# used for the weekend BBW grill.

            I’ll agree, alternate fuel is a good thing, like Wood and Solar, for sooner or later (talking 5 years) that stored Propane will run out and that Gen-Set will come to a stop, hence the knowledge to preserve foods, and all the rest without the modern conveniences.

            Conveniences is the proper word to use, and although it would be uncomfortable and a real PITA, we could do OK with out them

            Seriously, how many really know how to dry and store meats, or to can veg’s without that fancy kitchen?

            I can and have done all of that except for canning eggs which we use as we get them from our hens, often trading or gifting the extras to neighbors.

            NOT going to Wally World 3 times a week for EVERYTHING under the sun.

            Our Wal-Mart and other stores are a 15+ mile drive (30+) mile round trip, so we make lists and plan our trips, often coupling them with meetings or other appointments.

            Let’s just pray we never need to find out, will be a dark day for sure.

            Not only dark; but, for me, the end of the line, since when my pacemaker battery needs to be replaced in 5 years, and one is unavailable, the PM stops & I stop with it.

  2. I’m waiting on TOP’s full reply on this topic.

    We have supplement heated with kerosene for many years. It is not cheap, but last winter it was less expensive than it has been for a while. We don’t have long term storage, just fill the ‘jug’ when it goes dry. That can be hit or miss, as sometimes the gas station doesn’t get a delivery, or their pump goes down.

    We have also acquired a Mr. Buddy propane heater. We’ve also used it on multiple ocassions. We actually used it more this past winter than others. We have the ‘thingy’ to refill the 3 gallon tanks from larger tanks, and boy was that a learning experience!

    My personal opinion: I like my kerosene heater. We use an additive that is supposed to lessen the smell as well as extend wick life. With older kerosene heaters, I can place a pan of water on top to add humidity to the air (and often add aromatics/herbs to help cleanse the air. Our newer model, it doesn’t get as warm on top. But older models, you can, and you could potentially even cook on them.). There is a ‘smell’ on start up and shut down, but otherwise I don’t notice it. On the other hand, I find that I can ‘smell’ the Mr. Buddy all while it runs. And I don’t find it to be as warming. That could be because it has a fan feature to help disperse heat.

    I could be biased because I have used kerosene much longer than I have used propane. But I am glad to have the option of using them both. I don’t know the math, but it has kept our natural gas bill way down.

    1. Grammyprepper,

      We have supplement heated with kerosene for many years. It is not cheap, but last winter it was less expensive than it has been for a while.

      We used it for supplemental heat for a long time; but, prefer the propane; however, purchasing propane a bit at a time like your kerosene is also rather hit or miss on the price.

      We have also acquired a Mr. Buddy propane heater. We’ve also used it on multiple ocassions. We actually used it more this past winter than others. We have the ‘thingy’ to refill the 3 gallon tanks from larger tanks, and boy was that a learning experience!

      We need to talk, since I don’t know of any 3 gallon tanks and would like to know what you’re using. The canisters usually come in 14 & 16 oz with the next being the 20# tank that holds almost 5 gallons and may be connected with a special hose to the small buddy heater.

      My personal opinion: I like my kerosene heater. We use an additive that is supposed to lessen the smell as well as extend wick life.

      When we used kerosene for supplemental heating with an old Kerosun heater, we found that ”real K-1 when you could find it and the more expensive fiberglass wick (instead of cotton) always worked rather well. We probably still have that old heater around here somewhere, and should probably locate it. LOL

      With older kerosene heaters, I can place a pan of water on top to add humidity to the air (and often add aromatics/herbs to help cleanse the air.

      Our KeroSun worked that way and was hot enough to cook, although we only did that once as a test.

      I could be biased because I have used kerosene much longer than I have used propane. But I am glad to have the option of using them both. I don’t know the math, but it has kept our natural gas bill way down.

      We all have our biases and in the end have to use what works for each of us from both a functionality & cost perspective.
      I also don’t think the math, as in really crunching the numbers, is as important here, as much as comfort. You can turn down the thermostat and really don’t care if the spare bedroom gets too cold and keep the room where you spend your time at a cozy temperature.
      This is another reason I sort of prefer cold to hot, since keeping that same space cool can only be done one way, by spending money on your electric bill.

      1. That was my bad, TOP. I meant refilling the 1# small green canisters from the 20# tanks. It definitely is a two person job. We also have the adapter to run the Mr Buddy off the 20# tank, but who wants to keep a 20# tank in the house!
        And the advantage of the smaller units like the Mr Buddy or a Kerosun is definitely that you can heat a smaller living area. We do close off unused rooms, and prefer our sleeping area cooler, so this is a system that works well for us, in our small house (about 900 SF). If I had my druthers, and had a bigger house, my dream would be a wood fired cookstove to do double duty (which would require a learning curve, of course).

        1. Grammyprepper,

          I meant refilling the 1# small green canisters from the 20# tanks. It definitely is a two person job.

          Thos are either 14 or 16 oz canisters and I have that same adapter, Not only does it take 2 people, to do it right requires a scale and either freezer space or to do the work in the outside during winter, something this old body likes less each year. In my heaviest I weighed 235 pounds and now hang in around 150 and while that loss of extra weight makes most things easier, the loss of insulation makes me tolerate the cold a lot less than it used to. The upside is that I also tolerate the heat much better.

          We also have the adapter to run the Mr Buddy off the 20# tank, but who wants to keep a 20# tank in the house!

          I have read different things about having that tank in the house. The paperwork that comes with the hose says to run it out a window; but, I think that is just CYA and hard to do with a 12 or 22 foot hose. If you can safely use the heater with the canisters, then using them with a tank should not be a problem, assuming you check all of the connections to make sure there are no propane leaks. The heaters have a low O2 shutoff feature that I think most kerosene heaters do not; but, smoke and CO detectors are also a must in any case.

          the advantage of the smaller units like the Mr Buddy or a Kerosun is definitely that you can heat a smaller living area.

          True; but, our two ventless wall mounted heaters connected to the tank farm are variable heat output. One allows selection of 1, 3, or 5 panels operating @ 6000, 18000, & 30000 BTU’s per hour, while the newer one is just 30,000 with a thermostat. I saw that new one when Almost There asked me about it, and she has since purchased one.

          We do close off unused rooms, and prefer our sleeping area cooler, so this is a system that works well for us, in our small house (about 900 SF).

          If it works for you, that’s all that counts. We have about 3000 ft2 of space and have most of the house closed off now, since all three kids are grown & gone. Those unused bedrooms however still contain a bit of clutter that we are sorting through.

          If I had my druthers, and had a bigger house, my dream would be a wood fired cookstove to do double duty (which would require a learning curve, of course).

          I have used one of those at camp years ago. We could use coal or wood and it had the hot water reservoir on the side so you always had hot water when you had it running. This was a winter camp, so I’m not sure how well cooking and keeping hot water works in the heat of summer.

  3. Megan & all,

    Although the answer may be different for everyone depending on the specific situation and heating needs, preppers may wonder which is best: kerosene or propane?

    You might also want to add fuel oil (heating oil) to the mix, since it is also a rather common fuel. Heating oil is diesel fuel dyed red to indicate it is not legal to run in an on the road diesel vehicle, because no road taxes were paid. Over the years we have heated with all of these and ended up with propane as our favorite and most versatile fuel.

    Fuel Efficiency

    It’s best to compare heat content in MM per BTU and consider the efficiency rating of any heating appliances when researching fuel efficiency to ensure you are making equal comparisons. Kerosene has more potential energy in BTU per gallon than propane which gives it the potential to be more efficient.

    What is MM per BTU? That measurement makes no sense to me.

    To measure basic heat content efficiency, 1 gallon of kerosene will produce 135000 BTU’s of energy, 1 gallon of propane 91,600 BTU’s, and 1000 cubic feet of Natural Gas, 950 to 1150 depending on the gas mixture. As a comparison, a cord of seasoned White Oak provides 28,000,000 BTU’s and weighs about 6300 pounds.

    At first glance it looks like kerosene has more energy per gallon, and that is true; but, propane has so many more advantages that it has been our chosen fuel for the last 33 years.

    You can use a heating fuel comparison chart as a general guide. The approximate average cost of residential kerosene per gallon is $2.25. I’ve seen it as high as $4.65 per gallon in some areas.

    At that low of $2.25 for 135000 BTU’s, that comes to $0.16 per 100 BTU’s and at $1.40 (actually 1.39.9) for our last propane fill, the cost is $0.15 per 100 BTU’s so propane is a little better; but, at the $4.65 price point, the cost of kerosene rises to $0.84 per 100 BTU’s, a much higher cost.

    But recent price hikes have turned the tables and you may find propane costs more than kerosene when bought in bulk amounts for residential heating purposes.

    This depends on several factors. The quantity you purchase, when you make the purchase, and who owns the tank. If the propane dealer owns the tank, then by law only they can fill it and you will pay more as their captive audience. If however, you make the investment in your own tanks, you can call around and have anyone fill them. When making the call, be sure to ask if there are additional charges, such as a Tank Safety inspection &/or a delivery charge. We usually save $1.00-3.00 per gallon with a midsummer bulk fill.
    When calculating cost, especially on large bulk fills, keep in mind that you may have to pay sales tax on both fuels.
    Thus a 1000 gallon propane fill @ $1.50 with 6% sales tax will cost $1590.00 and not just $1500.00

    Make sure you do the research for pricing specific to your area to be certain. When researching prices, ask about off season pricing. You may find it’s cheaper to buy heating fuel in spring or summer months which are slower months for fuel companies.
    If so, a little advanced budget planning can pay off in dollars saved. Also ask about bulk delivery, if you have the proper storage container, which can help make both fuels more budget friendly.

    We always fill our tanks in midsummer (June-August) and call several suppliers for the best cost. Remember best price may not be the only thing if they have a delivery fee or other charges.

    Fuel Storage

    For longer term storage needs, propane often makes more sense. While propane is flammable and storing in your home is not recommended, it is more shelf stable than kerosene and be stored for years without breaking down.

    This is one of the primary reasons we went with propane, since you can keep a lot on hand and don’t have to worry about spoilage. Kerosene even in the right conditions with a stabilizer added has a significantly shorter life.
    We do also keep some propane in the house; but, it’s those little 14 or 16 oz cylinders used for torches and small space heaters, that are quite safe to store and use in the house.

    Store propane tanks a minimum of 25 feet from your home for safety. Underground propane tanks should be no less than 10 feet from your home. Storing propane in cold weather may require additional preparations to ensure the propane can be used when you need it.

    Our above ground tanks (3 1000 gallon and a 500 gallon are more than 100 feet from the house and we’ve never had a problem with them.
    As for cold weather, you would need sustained temperatures of -44°F to have a problem, and in all of our time using propane, have never had this problem in Ohio. The one thing that can freeze up is the second stage regulator at the house, since it has a pressure equalization screen that can plug up with ice if it gets wet and the temps are 32°F or lower. Ask me how I know this? LOL

    Kerosene is a flammable liquid, and red dyed kerosene or K-1 is manufactured for residential heating purposes. Kerosene can become contaminated if stored improperly, so make sure you use only new containers, clearly identified for storage of kerosene.

    Those containers are usually colored Blue for kerosene and red for gasoline. Don’t mix them up.

    Other Factors

    Safety & Reliability

    Both kerosene and propane heating solutions require proper ventilation when used in any type of enclosed space. Since kerosene can break down and has a shorter shelf life, propane can be a more reliable fuel source when you are storing quantities long term.
    And thus the reason we chose propane.

    You should also make sure you have working carbon monoxide alarms, a low oxygen alarm, and working smoke detectors in any area where you are using propane or kerosene.

    Smoke detectors should be in use everywhere, since even an all electric house can have a fire.
    CO detectors should be used when using any combustion device
    Low oxygen detection should not normally be a separate unit; but, integral to the combustion unit to shut it down; however, some inexpensive Kerosene heaters may not have these so beware,

    Ease of Use
    For us, propane is always just there, or for portable use, you simply connect the hose to the tank or install the cylinder and you’re good to go. No pouring and possible spilling of flammable fuel.

    Kerosene heaters are more difficult to move and to refill as it’s a liquid fuel with a strong odor. Propane is harmful if inhaled and it can be harder to detect a leak. Either fuel works great as a backup for short term use, kerosene heaters give off a dry heat that will feel warm quicker whereas propane heaters heat up gradually and may not feel as toasty initially.

    I disagree. Propane like natural gas has the odorant ethyl mercaptan added to it. It is related chemically to skunk spray and has a distinctive odor making detection easy. Checking leaks with pressurized gas only requires a spray bottle with soap solution in it. The same stuff you make for the kids to blow bubbles will blow bubbles on the pipes, hoses, and connections made for gas delivery if there is a leak. Those bubbles are BTW also flammable. LOL
    Propane fueled Mr. Buddy heaters can be very portable and may use the cylinders or a hose to a large tank. All of the ones I have or know of also have integral low oxygen detection & shutdown.
    Any of these use a ceramic panel (plaque) that will glow red within minutes of starting and give a fine, dry , radiant heat, with no odor that easily matches kerosene.

    Flexibility

    When it comes to kerosene or propane for preppers, keep in mind that with proper planning, propane fuel will give you a bit more fuel flexibility. You can use propane as fuel for furnaces, portable heaters, or fireplaces.

    We use propane for nearly everything, most supplied from our 3500 gallon tank farm.
    The propane comes to the house via several buried service lines, where it runs:
    • Gas forced air furnace (85,000 BTU 90% efficient).
    • Two 30,000 BTU ventless plaque heaters.
    • Gas oven and 4 burners with pilot lights.
    • Domestic water heater with a 50 gallon insulated tank.
    • Whole house auto start generator
    • A planned second gas oven with burners by summer’s end for the summer kitchen.

    We have been very happy with propane for the last 36 years and have had no regrets selecting it.

    1. I forgot one additional way we heat with propane. By placing one or more Terra Cotta slower pots, inverted over the gas burner, they will heat up an radiate heat into the room (usually the lichen).
      This is safe since the ceramic material was created in kilns @ 1800-2000° and is heat tolerant and you are not restricting the air flow to the burner flame, so it’s just like heating a pot of water. The drain hole in the bottom now becomes the chimney outlet on the top and everything burns clean & safe.
      One word of caution if that the pot gets really hot, so be carefull not to touch it or thoughtlessly pick it up (once again, ask me how I know LOL)
      You can also do this same thing using a pot and a can of Sterno or candles for a real emergency heat source, making sure you have the pot tipped a little with a pencil or something to let air in under the top rim (now on the bottom)

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