WE’VE BEEN RECOMMENTING the Olympian Wave 3 catalytic propane heater for a while now. We think it’s a much better choice than the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy which produces more heat than necessary and is plagued with reliability problems. Here’s a previous article about the pros and cons of these two heaters.
We think the Mr. Heater Little Buddy, with its lower heat output is a more suitable size for vehicle living. However, it’s not only designed to use expensive 1-pound propane bottles, the bottles serve as the heater’s base. Connecting the Little Buddy to a bulk propane tank requires some finagling. Here’s a previous article about that hack.
What is a catalytic heater and why is it better?
Rather than creating heat with a flame, a catalytic heater uses a chemical reaction between oxygen in the air, propane fuel, and a platinum-impregnated mat. The reaction creates a fancy thing called far-infrared wave emitters that produce radiant heat.
Olympian explains, “Like the sun, Olympian heaters radiate heat directly to people, floors, walls and other objects without heating the air first, so warmth is felt immediately. Radiant heat is absorbed by objects and then emitted into the air to heat the surrounding area.”
Catalytic heating also has significantly higher thermal efficiency than conventional methods.
Olympian continues, “The operational surface temperature of the catalytic heating element is 720°F maximum, well below the temperature of conventional flame type heaters, which operate at 2,100°F. For this reason, catalytic heaters are considerably safer than conventional flame type heaters.”
Although we believe the Wave 3 is a superior heater, it costs almost four times as much as the Portable Buddy and five times as much as the Little Buddy.
What if you could get the benefits of a catalytic heater for the same price as a Little Buddy?
The Flame King Portable Propane Gas Heater – YSN-AD03
The Flame King YSN-AD03 is a compact, inexpensive catalytic heater outputting 3,000 BTUs on high — the same as the Wave 3. And it costs only about $60 (at the time this was written). It uses a piezoelectric starter (or can be lit with a flame) and has an adjustable heat dial rather than simple low-high settings.
Flame King claims the thermal efficiency of catalytic heat allows this heater to run at the high setting up to 7 hours on one 1-pound bottle.
But what we particularly like is the fact this heater doesn’t stand on the propane bottle. Not only is it far less prone to tipping, it allows a very easy connection to a bulk tank. Here’s how.
Assuming you have a bulk propane tank, you’ll need a hose like the one below. And because propane leaches heater-damaging compounds from hoses, you’ll need a filter like the one shown above.
Screw the filter into the heater, the hose into the filter, and the other end of the hose onto the tank. And you’re set. Nothing to build.
But since resting on the hose might put stress on it and the connections, I slipped on a piece of pool noodle to support and pad it. Any number of other things could accomplish the same goal.
Since it’s very important to keep the heating element clean and dust free when not in use, it can be covered with a dollar store shower cap (after the heater cools down, of course).
Using the Flame King
Catalytic heaters behave differently. First off, they don’t seem like they’re lighting because there’s no immediate glowing, hissing heating element blasting out eyebrow-melting hotness. Catalytic heaters are quite, no-drama appliances. Because, as Flame King says in the instructions:
Burning occurs within the pad at a lower temperature than a normal flame due to even heat distributed within the pad.
The catalytic process takes approximately 10 minutes to reach full heat output.
Also, it might not feel like the heater is working because catalytic heaters warm the objects it’s pointed toward — you and the stuff in your rig — not the air. 3,000 BTUs isn’t going to make you feel as hot as a rotisserie chicken, but you’ll realize you don’t feel as cold as before.
If you’re trying to survive in seriously cold climates you’ll probably need a more powerful heater than the Flame King. Otherwise, this small, inexpensive catalytic heater works very well.