Sunday, November 16, 2014

Care and Feeding of a Perfection Heater

It is snowing outside and that means it is 32 degrees or cooler. The wind is kicking up and my animals refusing to go outside. I don't blame them since it is a comfortable 70 degrees inside. I am maintaining the temperature inside with good old fashioned kerosene heat.

I did lots of research on the best and most efficient way to heat my home. I have already shared my rational for this when I wrote about the efficiency and costs comparing kerosene and Propane back in January of 2013. Here it the link: broke down all the pros and cons and gave some great statistics about kerosene heat safety.

Of course, the first thing that should be focused on when it comes to heating (and cooling) any tiny house is to make sure it is insulated effectively. Using a good insulation, installed properly, is key to keeping the house comfortable and the elements out. The higher the R value the better. I used R13 in my tiny house and oh what a difference it makes. The difference between my building that is insulated and the one that is not is significant. Because each building is only about 325 square feet, heating them is really not difficult, but keeping the heat in is key to keeping costs down and the chill out.

I put the time in as I contemplated different types of heating and explored all the pros and cons. Electric is common and portable electric heaters that will make a small space comfortable are relatively inexpensive and pretty safe. I considered using baseboard heaters because of their efficiency and ease of installation, however I needed to consider power outages. Here in the country power outages in the winter are common and can stretch from a few hours to several days. Last winter power was lost in my area for 3 full days. Depending on electric heat as a sole source of heat would be a mistake. I plan on installing baseboard heat in the bathroom when it is finished to keep it consistently warm, but I am not depending on electric heat to keep the house warm. I have decided to use kerosene heaters to supply the heat for my Shouse.
Aladdin on left, Perfection on right.

I have purchased three kerosene heaters. Two are modern kerosene heaters and one is a vintage Perfection heater. The modern models put out a comfortable 23000 BTU's of heat and burn for about 12 hours before needing to be refilled. The tank holds 1.5 gallons of kerosene and has modern protective features such as a wide base, auto ignite, and a wire burn guard cage. It is the most common style heater sold on the market today. I will be using those in rotation in the building I have not yet insulated. They will keep the bedroom and bathroom from getting too chilly and make sleeping in the building tolerable. The perfection heater will be used in the insulated  building and will be the focus of this post.

Perfection outside open.
Perfection heaters were the equivalent and most popular space heaters available for over 65 years. Kerosene delivery in cities was done by truck and you simply brought your containers out to the truck to be filled. Trucks stocked brand new Perfection and similar style heaters that sold inexpensively. Marketing similar to cell phones today, kerosene companies were eager to sell you a product that would make you dependent on their product to keep it working. Recurring customers was an excellent business model then and is it is still today (just ask the CEO of any cell phone service provider).

The Perfection heater is easy to use, portable, and throws off about 10000 BTU's of heat. It is super simple in design and equally as easy to use. There are very few parts to the Perfection heater: the outside, the font, the burner, the flame spreader, and the wick. The font is filled with kerosene, the flame spreader extended all the way up, the wick lit, and the outside helps disperse the heat. All things being equal, the Perfection heater will heat a space for 8 to 10 hours.

There are many, many of these sold at garage sales, on Craigslist, on Ebay, etc. To be sure you get one that functions, let's go over all the parts:

The Outside of my Perfection heater is painted black and has chrome accents. They also came in and Robin's Egg Blue, a cream color, and a brown. Mine is is great condition, but many of not survived as well. I suppose they could be restored using high-heat paint, but many tried to restore them just using modern spray paint. Beware of restored models because if they are not painted with high-heat paint, the paint will smoke and then burn off the first time you go to fire it up. High-heat paint is sold at most hardware stores and even some big box stores. To clean the outside of the Perfection heater just use a soft cloth and some window cleaner. I vacuum out the vents with my vacuum to prevent dust from building up and to clean out any cobwebs after it has been stored during the summer.

The font portion of the Perfection heater is really the workhorse. The font is what holds the kerosene, the burner, the flame spreader, and the wick. It controls the amount/speed of burn and thus the amount of heat that is produced. My font has a clever little gauge which helps me to see how much fuel is left inside. It is actually a cork and it pushes the indicator up and lowers it as the fuel burns.

The flame spreader regulates how far up the wick is extended while burning. The wick is turned up until the flame spreader prevents it from being turned up any higher. This is the ideal burning height.

The wick is the only other consumable part beyond the kerosene. You never want to allow the fuel to go dry as this will allow the fire to consume the wick and thus shorten the life of the wick. The wick really should last a long time unless you allow the tank to dry out and before you know it you have to replace the wick. Replacing the wick is really not hard. It is much easier to understand when the process is shown visually, so here is a video to show you how:

The beauty of a Perfection heater is that while the outside may have changed in style, decoration, color, etc,, the insides did not. The simplicity of its function has been carried across the close to 100 years it has been around.

Millions of Perfection and similar style heaters were produced over the last century. They are not "rare" as many ads like to state or imply, so take your time if you are looking to buy one. Units should not be over $100 unless they are in fantastic condition. They weigh less than 10lbs, so shipping should not be too high.

Kerosene heaters are a good way to heat a small space and are excellent to have to back up electric heating. Just remember to maintain your unit and don't leave it burning unattended.

Now I think I will get a cup of hot coco and watch the snow fall from the warmth of my living room. Stay warm!