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Propane Heaters Can Be Dangerous. Here's How to Use Them Safely This Winter

With COVID-19 still a threat to indoor gatherings, and the weather getting colder, many people are trying to warm up their outdoor spaces for use through the winter

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Restaurant owners are turning up the heat to extend their outdoor dining seasons, relying on propane heaters through the fall to keep their customers coming and comfortable. 

There has been a run on them for residential use as well during the coronavirus pandemic. 

With COVID-19 still a threat to indoor gatherings, and the weather getting colder, many people are trying to warm up their outdoor spaces for use through the winter. 

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“Propane has been called on to really step up more than ever, because it is a portable gas,” said Leslie Anderson, president of the Propane Gas Association of New England. 

Anderson said it is important that anyone using an outdoor heater understand how to use it properly and safely.

Starting Dec. 1, restaurants will no longer be able to use sidewalks and parking lanes for outdoor dining.

Start with a flat, stable surface: “You want to make sure that if you’re using these heaters outside that they are on a stable surface so that they are not going to tip over,” Anderson said.

“Make sure it’s properly secured," she continued. "Make sure that if you are going to move the heater, that you turn it off before you move the heater. Also think about if you have grandkids coming over or little kids that are there. Make sure that the part of the heater that gets hot is not somewhere that they could burn themselves.”

Keep the heaters outside, never bring them into your home. And place them out of the path of foot traffic and away from flammable materials. 

“The reason that they work so well to keep you warm is that they get very hot, so you want to be careful when you’re using them that you’re not putting them next to anything flammable,” said Anderson. “If you’ve got a heater that is heating up the top, that’s pushing heat down. You want to make sure that you don’t have it near the top of the ceiling or an outdoor tent. You want to have some space.”

Propane tanks are in short supply due to an increase in demand for outdoor heaters in restaurants. The cost of the heaters, usually averaging around $200 dollars, are now going for up to $1,500.

And you should never operate your heater if you smell gas. 

“Propane has an odorant added to it that is a distinct odor like a skunk or rotten eggs, it will make your nose wrinkle,” said Anderson. “If you smell that, turn it off and figure out where you have a leak before you use that unit.” 

Finally, you never want to store propane tanks indoors. Not even in your garage. The association recommends that you keep them outside on a porch or next to your home. 

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