Pros:Good heat, nice construction, easy to use and maintain
Cons:Produces carbon monxide, Propane cylinders relatively expensive
The Bottom Line: In winter heat is sometimes a necessity that is hard to obtain. The Big Buddy by Mr. Heater covers most needs.
We have to work in an unheated and uninsulated garage when we do our woodworking thing. We also have to share the garage with a car and other stuff. Although temperatures are often mild enough in winter where we live to work out there without extra heat, most times it is uncomfortable for ungloved hands, a necessity in woodworking. Since electrical power is at a premium in the garage we decided to try using a Propane heater. Based on a recommendation by a relative on use by a friend, we chose Mr. Heater for our garage heat.
Recommend this product?
Mr. Heater MRH-MH18B Gas Utility Heater
This heater is a portable unit powered by Propane and, if the fan is used, four D size batteries. It uses one or two one pound propane bottles which are attached directly to the heater and reside inside doors on each side. The batteries fit in a compartment in the lower back. Also available is a hose and regulator for use with an external 20 pound Propane tank. In fact, with two hose assemblies two Propane tanks can be hooked up at the same time. Also available is a battery eliminator for more permanent use than the D size batteries.
The unit is mostly made of plastic. There is metal where appropriate for heat protection. The unit, gray with a red front, is about 18" wide, 13" deep including the protective front grill, and 17" high to the molded carrying handle. With two Propane cylinders installed, it is light enough for an older child to carry one-handed. Operation is pretty simple and typical for these heaters. With the Propane cylinder(s) installed you press down and rotate the temperature control knob at the top right front to Pilot. This causes a spark from the piezoelectric unit that should ignite the gas in the pilot. If not you will have to repeat the procedure a time or two. You then have to hold the knob down until the thermocouple has heated enough to keep the pilot going. This will take 30 or 40 seconds. You then turn the knob, after a slight depression, to Med until the left ceramic plate is glowing orange. You can then select Low, Med, or High. Turning the knob to off will extinguish the flames. Turning it to pilot will let the two ceramic plates (the second one only operates on High) cool while leaving the pilot flame on. It is easy to miss the detent for the various knob positions, but it is important that you be sure it is in the correct position to assure safe operation.
The BTU output ratings are 4000 BTU on low, 9000 BTU on medium, and 16000 BTU on high. The unit is rated for 400 square feet. Recommended uses are recreational and unheated work areas. The included manual gives lots of warnings about the dangers of unvented heaters and this unit is unvented. Any flame gives off carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless and will kill you. It is imperative that there is enough air exchange with the outside so that the oxygen in the heated area is not depleted and the carbon monoxide does not rise to a dangerous level. There is a device that will detect low oxygen and turn off the flame, but none that will detect excess carbon monoxide. Our garage has enough air leaks that the carbon monoxide sensor we use has never alerted. If, for example, it were used for emergency heat in a room in the house it would be dangerous and important to crack a window to allow some ventilation. The friend uses his in a cabin in Eastern Oregon. He installed a carbon monoxide monitor and has a roof vent he opens when it is in use. For three years now he has had no problems.
One frequent complaint is that after a while the pilot goes out after several minutes of use. This has been traced to not performing regular cleaning of the pilot tube. Note the length and color of the pilot flame when the unit is new. If the flame shortens or changes color, the pilot tube is getting dirty and needs cleaning. If the pilot flame gets short enough or cool enough to let the thermocouple cool, the unit will shut off. In addition to the maintenance information in the manual there is a tip on the web site that the friend also told us about. You take a Q-tip and run it down the pilot tube a couple of times before blowing the tube out with compressed air as the manual instructs. There is also a tip-over switch which is pretty sensitive to sudden movement and can shut off the unit.
We have used this unit in a twenty by twenty garage with two uninsulated walls and an eight foot uninsulated ceiling. We generally turn the unit to high with the fan on for about thirty minutes then drop it to low. On very cold days we leave it at medium heat. We find the squirrel cage fan does distribute the heat better throughout the space, but it's always warmer when we stand in front of the radiant elements than other places. The brochure with the unit gives the following use time expectations with the various Propane options:
One 1lb. Cylinder: 1.5 to 6 hours
Two 1lb. Cylinders: 3 to 12 hours
Two 20lb. Cylinders: 50 to 220 hours
Installing the Propane cylinders is made easy because the valve assembly rotates out of the bottle compartment to allow the cylinder to be easily screwed on tight and then rotated into its compartment, a nice touch. In our use two cylinders keeps us warm enough for two or three long work sessions. We have the unit on the cement floor and pointed toward our lathe and scroll saw work area. We use the fan with the optional battery eliminator plugged in. The work area is quite comfortable and the other areas of the garage are warm enough that our hands don't get cold and stiff. We usually have our shop coat on and that is enough with the heater running. If we have the dual 500 watt halogen lamps on, we can often turn the Big Buddy off after the initial warm up. We haven't been using this heater long enough to evaluate its long-term potential, but if it meets that of the friend, we will be happy. It carries the typical one year limited warranty. We also have the optional hose for connection to an external 20 lb cylinder and have been using that option to save money the last couple of weeks.
We had a Mr. Heater Turbo Propane heater on the East Coast and were happy with it. We think this one is good value for the money.
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