There are many online videos and tutorials detailing ways to heat your space in an emergency using tealight candles and a flower pot.
I wouldn’t count any of these heating methods as especially safe, but in an emergency, they might be useful. This article will explain the dangers of flower pot heaters and why you should think twice before using them.
What is a flower pot heater?
A flower pot heater consists of an inverted flower pot with tealights or candles placed underneath to produce heat. Some versions recommend 2 flower pots, one smaller than the other connected with a metal screw. The flower pot becomes dangerously hot so people use bricks or stones to place the pot on and the tea lights are spaced slightly below the pot before being lit.
Historically, the Inuit, the Chukchi, and the Yupik people used Qulliq lamps for warmth and light in harsh, arctic conditions. Wood was in scarce supply so lamps were made from soapstone containers, filled with seal oil or blubber (which released fat when lit), and the wick was made from any material available such as cottongrass or dried moss. The flower pot heater can be seen as a modern version!
Why do people use terracotta candle heaters?
If it’s cold and there is no heater, then people improvise. On boats, in camper vans, if your car breaks down and even in tents, the main reason for using these heaters is to keep warm. Another reason is cost because buying a few tealights and some matches is a cheap way to provide some warmth overnight.
If you are a boat owner who uses a gas fire to heat the space in cold weather, you’ll be aware of the build-up of condensation on windows when the heater is on. One advantage of flowerpot heaters is that they reduce condensation so they are seen as an effective, alternative heat source, that doesn’t cause windows to steam up, which is great for navigation.
Do flower pot heaters warm up the space?
Josh Centers and Thomas Gomez experimented with a flower pot heater to see whether it generated enough heat to be useful in an emergency situation.
They measured the surface temperature of the flower pot, prior to lighting the candles, as 62.8°F. They measured again after 30 minutes and the temperature had risen to 115.3° They also measured the increase in temperature on a drape that covered the area. Inside this cover, the temperature measured 60°F (16°C) whereas outside, it was a chilly 32°F. A later temperature test read 270°F (132°C).
Essentially, the pot traps and absorbs the heat from the candle, acting like a mini radiator.
What are the dangers of terracotta flower pot heaters?
According to a senior officer at the London Fire Brigade, this heating system is very unsafe, and there are several reasons why:
- There is a serious risk of fire. If several tealights are placed closely together, all the melted paraffin wax can ignite.
- The terracotta flower pot becomes extremely hot and can cause burns if touched.
- Tealights also produce soot which is not good for air quality in an enclosed space.
What type of flower pot can be used?
Do not use plastic because it will melt and emit toxic fumes. Metal pots are unsuitable too because they will get extremely hot.
Earthenware pots are the best choice as they absorb heat. These pots will become very hot very quickly so turn the pot upside down and try to use bricks or something similar to keep the tealights from coming into direct contact with the pot. Use gloves as soon as you light the tealights and do not place the heater in a location directly in contact with or near to flammable materials.
What are the best candles for a flower pot heater?
Tealight candles are usually made from paraffin. You will notice that these candles turn to oil, which is combustible at high temperatures. Beeswax candles will lower the danger slightly as beeswax doesn’t melt like paraffin or soy wax. They also burn cleanly, producing very little soot.
How to make a flower pot heater as safe as possible:
Remember flower pot heaters should only be used in an emergency and aren’t recommended for general use.
- Make sure that the tea lights are not in direct contact with the earthenware pot. Place them in a container (like a metal tin box) to reduce the danger of knocking them over.
- Use bricks or stones to elevate the flower pot (if available) but do not use books or anything that can catch flame easily.
- Remember not to touch the pot after lighting the candles as it soon becomes hot enough to burn your hands.
- Wear gloves if you have some.
- If you need to generate heat in an emergency and there’s more than one person, snuggle up closely together because bodies produce heat. If you’re camping somewhere cold, wear several layers of clothes and a hat, because most heat is lost from the head.
- Remember that most fires in domestic homes are caused by naked flames so make sure your tea lights and candles are supervised at all times. Great caution should be taken in enclosed spaces like tents, even if it is an emergency.
- Make sure the candle is not in direct contact with the pot.
- Placing the candles in a metal box is an option. Make sure the candles do not get knocked over while you sleep.
- Try not to use paraffin candles if possible. Beeswax is less of a fire risk.
You might like: Garden furniture and fire pit ideas