Propane vs Diesel Heater: Which Is Better and Cheaper?

Propane is the standard. When you go shopping for an RV or trailer, you will find that propane-fueled appliances are the norm, not the exception. However, you may be surprised that there is a safer fuel to use that has more BTUs than propane.

When it comes to cheaper, fuel prices fluctuate and propane may be cheaper right now but that does not mean diesel’s price will not lower sometime in the future. As to better diesel is said to heat more evenly and has more BTUs per gallon.

To learn more about this topic just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about so you can decide between these two fuels. The diesel just may be the best way to go and it is safer to store.

Is it Cheaper To Heat With Propane Or Diesel?


If you are just comparing prices, then propane may be the cheaper fuel to buy and heat your RV, etc. Fuel prices change constantly so you can get lucky and have diesel costing less than propane.

There are other factors involved in this comparison. One owner said a 20-pound propane tank lasts him about 25 hours on high. Another owner said his 6 gallons of diesel lasted only 18 hours.

In those two comparisons propane is the cheaper of the two fuels. However, there are other issues to look at as well. Maintenance and repairs may be more expensive with a propane heater as moisture is a by-product of heating with propane.

That means any iron or steel parts can rust and cost you a lot of money when the coils, etc., rust and shut down. Repair-wise, diesel may be the better option. Then diesel heats better and more evenly.

Its 130,000 BTUs approx., heat a lot more space than the 75,000 to 90,000 BTU propane heater can. Then the most compelling issue in this debate would be the safety factor. Diesel is safer to store.

You do not have the explosion factor with diesel that you have with propane. While propane explosions are not common, they can be costly when they do happen.

Are Diesel Heaters Safer Than Propane?


Yes, they seem to be better and safer than a propane heater. As long as you have the combustion unit outside and the heater vented to the outside, you should be safe from any carbon monoxide fumes this fuel creates.

Also, diesel fuel is said to produce less carbon monoxide than unleaded gas will. Then like propane heaters, the diesel models come with similar safety features keeping everyone inside your trailer, etc., safe.

Plus, the diesel heater does not expose anyone or anything to an open flame. The propane heater needs a pilot light to work while the diesel option uses what is called a glow plug.

The glow plug uses electricity to ignite the diesel fuel. There is no open flame to worry about or have to go out on you in the middle of the night. Then there is the obvious factor.

Propane is highly volatile. It is also a little unstable when there is no room in its tank to expand. The damage caused by an exploding propane tank is vast. With diesel, you have no such worry and when you stick a lighted match into diesel fuel, it will go out. Don’t do that with propane.

Do Diesel Heaters Give Off Fumes?


Yes, and it also gives off carbon monoxide fumes when heated. But the amount of those latter fumes is far less than other heaters will give off. With the right amount of ventilation, you should not have to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning anyone in your RV, etc.

The good news is that the combustion chamber is sealed with an exhaust system vented to the outside. You should not have to worry about any carbon monoxide or other fumes escaping into your living quarters.

If there is a problem with your heater, then the safety devices should kick in and shut the heater off before anything dangerous escapes the heating system. But nothing is perfect.

There have been rare cases where a diesel heater did let off carbon monoxide gas into RV’s living spaces and there have been different articles about these problems.

Before you close your mind to using diesel fuel and a diesel heater, keep in mind that there have been articles about propane fuel systems doing the same thing. People have died when the carbon monoxide escapes each of the two systems.

Fuels do have their dark side even though they provide many benefits to humanity.

Which is Better Propane Or Diesel Heater?


Diesel fuel burns at about 30,000 to 50,000 BTUs more than propane heaters burn. This is depending on who you talk to as those BTUs change depending on the heater model used.

Also, diesel is said to heat a closed space more evenly than propane does. With the extra power and better heating, one could say that diesel is better than propane.

Of course, diesel is safer to use than propane as well as store. Propane can be set off accidentally in the wrong situation causing a lot of damage. Diesel does not produce the same amount of fumes in the air as unleaded gas or propane does. Thus it won’t explode on you.

It takes a lot of heat to ignite diesel fuel as well and an open flame, like a match, is no threat to anyone. As for efficiency, it is said that propane is the more efficient as it takes less fuel to burn longer.

At almost any given time. propane is usually cheaper to buy than diesel. Cost-wise, propane is probably better than diesel. But that savings is eaten up by the amount of fuel you use to hunt down a propane dealer.

Diesel is available everywhere so you will save on time and gas in your vehicle. It is up to you to decide which is best for your camping situation.

Diesel vs Propane Heater Pros And Cons

1. Propane


  • cost less than diesel, usually
  • needs little space to work
  • reliable and a quiet form of heating your RV
  • easier to install and work on
  • uses less power than a diesel heater


  • hard to locate the flue to exhaust outside
  • need licensed technicians to connect gas lines and do some repairs
  • doesn’t work in cold weather under 2 degrees F.
  • adds to humidity and condensation already in your RV
  • gas may not vaporize properly

2. Diesel


  • no license needed for installation
  • diesel fuel is available everywhere
  • it is a very safe gas to use and store
  • better heating performance and easier to control the temperature
  • produces a clean, dry heat


  • heater is more expensive to buy than a propane model
  • needs a larger operating space to work 
  • can be noisier than a propane heater
  • needs clear space beneath the heater for better operation 
  • needs a larger storage tank than propane

Propane vs Diesel Heater For Van


Overall, the diesel would be better for a van ad there are some very good reasons for saying this. One, you can find diesel fuel in remote areas whereas propane may be far away.

Two, diesel freezes at lower temperatures than propane keeping you warmer when it is really cold out. Three, propane may burn cleaner and not produce the fumes that diesel does but it does add condensation and humidity to your van.

Fourth, diesel burns hotter and more evenly keeping every square inch in your van warm and dry. Propane may cost less both in the tank and for the furnace but that is about the only category in that propane is better than diesel.

Then diesel is safer to use and store than propane. You do not need an open flame to burn diesel and diesel does not explode or catch fire very easily. There is always more to any comparison than just the costs.

With the wide availability of diesel, you save time and money on refueling runs than you would with propane. But do your own comparison and check your budget to see which fuel would work best for you.

Some Final Words

While propane has been the go-to fuel source for almost all RV and trailer makers (it is cheaper) diesel does seem to be the better option overall. You just have to get past the higher initial cost for a diesel heater to make the switch

Once some owners made the switch, they said they would never return to propane use. For heat that is. You can have both systems if you want and if your trailer, etc., is large enough to hold both systems.

Make your own comparison so you are satisfied with the heating system you buy.

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