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With over 10 years in the business (and when I say ‘the business’ I mean the space heater-only business… successful years at that) we’ve compiled a list of mistakes that our clients have formerly made when purchasing a space heater. We’ll keep this short and sweet:

#1: Focusing on BTU Rating

By far, the biggest mistake made is focusing or thinking incorrectly about BTU rating. Here’s a quick rundown: BTU stands for British Thermal Unit. You probably knew this. You probably also know that it is: the amount of fuel required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

So, why is it wrong to focus on BTUs when buying a space heater? Because it’s a measure of fuel consumption, not efficiency. If you have a 400,000 BTU space heater that has an average efficiency rating of 75%, that means for every four gallons of fuel you burn, one of them is completely wasted. As in, it only effectively converts fuel into heat efficiently, three times out of four.

And, since diesel fuel has a BTU rating of approximately 140,000/gal, that 400,000 BTU heater chugs through roughly 2.86 gallons an hour. That means with a 75% efficiency rating you waste 0.72 gal/hr. In a seven hour work day, that’s five gallons wasted! Five days a week and you’ve dumped 25 gallons of diesel down the drain.

Actually, it’s worse than that. It’s been burnt inefficiently, which means the smell, fumes, and carbon monoxide have entered your system. You’ve been paying to kill yourself!

The bottom line: BTU equals fuel consumption. BTU does not equal heat output or efficiency. So if you have a higher BTU rating and are not getting as much heat as our VAL6, then what are you doing??? You’re wasting fuel.

#2: Buying on Initial Cost

Now, to be honest, most folks aren’t even going to have a 400,000 BTU heater. Although, if you want the honest truth, it would take one to compete with our most popular model, the KBE5L on high, and definitely the EPX on high.

But, let’s be friendly and say you’re considering a heater in the 180,000 BTU range. It’s a bit of a slap in the face to us, but we’ll let it slide because we like you. You can buy this heater for approximately $400. Since diesel has a BTU rating of 140,000/gal, that means this heater will burn 1.29 gal/hr. And, with an average efficiency rating of 75% (I don’t care if they claim to be 99% efficient; if you get smell, burning eyes, headaches and a carbon monoxide reading over 1-2ppm, it’s not 99% efficient) you’ll actually be throwing away 0.3 gallons of diesel away, per hour. But, I digress.

Now, compare that to the KBE5L. This is our most popular model. It’s got all the bells and whistles in a compact form, and if you want quality heat, this will do the job. Technically, we can’t give pricing online (just give us a call) but what I can do, is show you an approximate entry point on a line graph along with the cost to use the heater, alongside that of the torpedo heater, so that you can see exactly when your decision to buy on price will bite you in the ass.

Let’s say you run each heater five hours a day, five days a week. Chances are it will be more if you’re using it for work, but we’ll be conservative. At the time of the authoring of this blog post, the national average diesel price was $2.565. Now, the KBE5L, being a far superior heat, only burns 0.75 gal/hr. Here’s what that looks like during a season of use:

Total Cost Comparison of Portable Heaters Over Time

For your reference, I’ve put in every single one of our diesel heaters, and as you can see, in just 24 months of use, the total cost of the torpedo heater, in addition to being noisy, smelly, and death-inducing via carbon monoxide levels 10-20x higher than any VAL6, will cost more than even our priciest model, against which it pales in comparison in terms of heat output and comfort.

The real comparison for a 180,000 BTU torpedo heater would probably be our MPX model. And as you can see, in between the fourth and fifth months of use, the torpedo will cost more than the MPX.

That’s why you shouldn’t buy on initial cost. Instead, buy on total use cost over a period of time. And, for the record, you might be scoffing at our months. Often a torpedo heater won’t last more than a couple years if you take care of it. But, we’re not joking with our VAL6 heaters. We have 30+ year-old VAL6 heaters that are still running strong with simple, annual tune-ups.

The bottom line: Buy on extended use cost, not initial cost of the heater.

#3: Not Knowing the Three Types of Heat Transfer

The subtitle to this section could be, “and not knowing which type to get for which situation.” When I was a kid, my dad had a pole barn where, in the bitter cold, howling-wind, freezing-your-ass-off winters of Nebraska, he would attempt to get this, or that piece of farm equipment to stop being so belligerent and just work. If you’re not familiar with a pole barn, it’s just a three-sided building with no insulation, because, what’s the point?

So, inside this barn, the wind would sweep in, the snow would blow in, and the cold would just take over everything, including my dad. So, he got himself a torpedo heater.

Torpedo Heater:
Type of heat transfer – Convection

This thing would howl louder than the wind around the rickety sheet metal siding of the pole barn. And, even though it was in an open area, it would stink up the place and give awful headaches to whomever was standing near it. Dad just wanted a little reprieve, but he still needed to wear his coveralls, boots, long johns, stocking cap, etc.

So, why was this convection style heater the wrong heater for the job? Because the type of heat (hot air) wasn’t contained in any way. The wind would just come in and sweep it away. For his situation, he would have been much better using a radiant-only style heater, like our VAL6 KBE5S, KBE5L, EPX and GN5/GP5 models. This would have heated him up like sunshine, not to mention everything he was working on.

Radiant heat is deep, penetrating heat, which is why it frees up gelled fuel lines in a jiffy, and will thaw out frozen pipes.

The other type of heat transfer, for those of you interested, is via conduction. Where something hot, touches something less hot and transfers heat. So, if you’re snuggling with your honey on a cold winter’s eve, and her cold-as-ice butt finds its way to your warm loins, she is attempting to steal your body heat via conduction.

The bottom line: In general, the best type of heat is radiant. Radiant heats things. When a cold hand then touches the warm things, the heat will transfer via conduction. And when the air travels over the warmed things, the heat will transfer to air particles via conduction and that warmed air will warm other things via convection. Radiant rocks.

VAL6 Daystar Radiant Heater in Basement

#4: Assuming All Radiant Heat is the Same

So, now that I’ve sold you on radiant heat, you’re all set to run out and grab one. Except, here’s the problem. One of the biggest wasters of fuel and one of the biggest wasters of money and one of the biggest culprits of inefficiency around is the dreaded tube heater. These are those flim flams at the top of many a commercial building. Long silver tubes hanging from the ceiling that when you step underneath them, you might feel a bit of warmth.

These are radiant heaters. But, here’s the problem. They’re basically exhaust pipes that have a chimney going out of your building. Not so bad, right? It keeps the fumes, away. Plus, we all know that exhaust is bad, right? Or is it? 😏

Do you really need to chimney out your exhaust? The answer there, is no. None of our VAL6 heaters have chimneys. The amazing thing about these babies is that they are so efficient, the only exhaust they put out is clean exhaust. Exhaust isn’t a bad thing, unless it’s really dirty, nasty exhaust, from inefficiently burned fuel. When it’s clean, it’s a tremendous source of heat, and one that our VAL6 heaters utilize.

The bottom line: Just because a heater is radiant heat doesn’t mean that it is efficient. It doesn’t mean it’s going to save you money. It doesn’t even mean it’s effective. It just means it’s primary method of heating is radiant.

#5: Buying Based on “Square Footage” of a Radiant Heater

Often, we’re asked what is the ‘square footage’ of our heaters. The problem here is that all but two of our heaters are radiant-only, and the other two are radiant/convection. Why is this a problem? Because when the heater is radiant, and you ask about square footage, you’re speaking in convection terms. It’s like asking the CFM on something that doesn’t blow air.

What people are really asking is, “How big of a space can I heat with this?” Fair question. And the answer is, “It depends on what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with.” Let me liken this to the solar system.

In the center floats the sun, right? Now, at last count, since the abolishment of Pluto as a planet, we had eight planets, all of which are orbiting around the sun. But, the sun’s heat waves go out in all directions simultaneously. This that unless one planet is right in front of another planet, all planets get heat at different levels based upon distance from the sun.

So, if you’ve got a 30x30 building, but right in front of the heater are either five average sized people, or two above-average sized people, no heat is getting past them. Those folks will be toasty, but nothing else. However, you could have a 100x100 building, and as long as it’s you and a tractor, you can direct your heat exactly where you need it, and your fuel lines will free up, your tools will warm, and you’ll be happy.

The bottom line: Radiant heat works on line-of-sight. A six-foot tall man will block a six-foot tall man’s shape of heat from traveling past him to the folks standing behind him.

EPX Warming Spray Foam Installation

#6: Buying with only Heating in Mind

If you’re getting a heater because you’re cold, this is a good reason, but it’s certainly not the only reason to consider. You should be looking wide before looking narrow. Most VAL6 owners will get their heater and start playing around with all the different ways they can use it. They go looking for new and interesting ways they can get their money’s worth out of it because they know it’s the top heater on the market, they paid for it, and by golly, it’s gonna go to work for them.

For instance, on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, our VAL6 heaters were used for drying concrete when they were behind schedule, as well as melting ice that had overtaken their work site.

As previously stated in this blog post, most farmers and truck drivers who own a VAL6 will at some point thaw gelled up fuel lines with their VAL6. In addition, the MPX model in particular, due to its 45° tilting burn chamber can be snuggled up in the wheel wells of trucks in order to melt ice, and get the trucks serviced in record time.

Livestock love our VAL6 heaters, especially when they decide to give birth in the middle of winter. The amount of baby calves that are froze up in the field, brought into a barn and put in the line of a VAL6 heater to thaw them out and give them their fighting chance are too many to count. Think about that in terms of the sale price of an adult cow you saved as a newborn.

Construction crews, particularly foam insulators love the VAL6 because when the weather is cold, foam insulation tends to put on a shrinking act. This means more and more material is needed to cover the same space. However, if you warm up the area with a VAL6, as well as the equipment, the foam spreads nice and thick, saving money. And, through heating up the application surface, the foam binds better, providing a greater seal.

Helicopter painters, like the insulation crews, have used the VAL6 to heat up their materials and create a better bond between the surface and the paint, not to mention warming up their work areas in winter meaning they can continue their high work rate without slowing down for the cold. The VAL6 also helps to dry the paint once the painting is done.

The bottom line: Honestly, with clients like the U.S. Army, the Air National Guard, the NCAA, the NFL, Union Pacific, and countless businesses around the world, not to mention private residential owners of our smaller models for man caves, the potential is only as limited as your imagination. And ours, led us to cook some prime rib.

#7: Misconceptions about Cost of Propane vs Diesel

We see a lot of people intent on buying torpedo heaters before we get to them and convince them that we have a better option. We’ve spoken about a few of the reasons above, and here is the final big one: They believe that the lower price of propane compared to diesel will mean that their use-cost will be less if they purchase a propane-fired torpedo heater.

First, let me just say that within the last couple of years, VAL6 has entered the propane and natural gas market, with the GP5 (propane) and GN5 (natural gas) models. Check out the video. And, for the record, we achieved 100% efficiency. (Take that gas cooktops!)

Okay, back to the cost. Yes, propane is generally going to be a little bit cheaper. However, what you need to take into account is the BTU for propane as compared to diesel. Diesel, as stated above, has a BTU rating of 140,000. Propane, on the other hand, has a BTU rating of 91,600. This means it takes around 1.5 gallons of propane to heat the same amount as one gallon of diesel if the heaters are burning at 99-100% efficiency. (As yet, the VAL6 is the only heater series that can provide this equivalency comparison.)

So, if you want to go with propane, or even natural gas, great. We’ve got you covered there with heaters that are 100% (literally) efficient. That will cost you a fraction of what you might have paid when it came to a propane-fired torpedo heater. This also offers the option to be plumbed into your building or that your heater can be ‘always on’. Huge benefits there.

On the other hand, if you want to go with diesel, you can rest assured that our heaters make the most out of every dollar of fuel you put into them.

The bottom line: Propane, natural gas, or diesel, it doesn’t matter. The VAL6 is the brand to go with. It’s what some of the biggest names around the world trust to get the job done.

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