Tealight Room Heater Reviewed

“Heat an entire room for 8 pence a day!” says the title of a video making the rounds on social media. After watching the video, I could already see some problems with this claim. But the heater looked useful, so I decided to try it out, and see what it COULD do.

A link to the original blog post with the video that I watched is at the end of this article.

The setup consists of a bread pan, two clay pots (one large, one small), and four tealights. The tealights are placed in the bread pan, and lit. The small clay pot is placed upsidedown over the tea lights, balanced on the edges of the bread pan. The larger pot is balanced in the same manner over the top of the first one.

The first problem I had, was with the design of the setup. It looked like a fire waiting to happen. Tea lights, in a bread pan, sitting on a magazine. Tea lights get hot when they burn down. Probably not hot enough to light a magazine on fire, but to me, a child raised in a home with wood heat and taught by her father to respect fire, too much of a risk.

So I purchased a clay pot tray, and turned it upsidedown for a fire-proof base. I had to improvise some of the other elements a little also, but the end result was equally efficient, with one major difference:

My setup held only three tealights, not four. It does not significantly change any of the aspects which I am reporting on – I did not try to heat a large space, and the number of candles does not affect any of the other numbers, since I used his original numbers as a baseline.

These are the problems I found with the system:

1. The room the Brit heats in the video is a VERY small room. It is also generally a fairly WARM room. So the amount of heat he required was fairly minor. A toaster oven used to heat his noon meal would have produced sufficient heat for an hour or two in a room that size. Just pointing that out, because “an entire room” in this case, wasn’t much at all. By comparison, we are talking about a bathroom, or a bedroom in a 1970s singlewide trailer (you know, those little bitty bedrooms).

2. He lists the price of tea lights at about 1 pence each. This converts to anywhere between 1 and 2 pennies USD, depending on the exchange rate. This price is found NOWHERE for tea lights. At least, nowhere I can access that actually ends up BEING that low a price by the time the costs are tallied. The lowest I found was 4 cents each. I paid 6 cents each for mine. While this is only pennies we are talking about, the cost doubles, or triples when the actual cost is calculated. That is very significant. His 8 pence a day now becomes 16 or 24 pence – or 32 to 48 cents.

3. He claims that the tealights burn for “about 4 hours”. This, again, is rather an exaggeration. Mine burned for 2 and a half hours. Perhaps tealights are larger in Britain, but I doubt it. Perhaps they are made of a different type of wax – but if it burns longer, it also burns cooler, so there is a trade-off. Since mine burned for just 2 1/2 hours, I have to base my calculations on that. Our costs just increased by 50% again, if we have to do three burns instead of two for the same heat. We are now up to 48 to 72 cents per day.

4. Some people with whom I discussed this suggested that “residual heat” in the clay pots would compensate some for the shorter burn times. The pots cooled fairly quickly, retaining radiant heat for only a short time, and being completely cooled within half an hour. This means that they’d only have useful residual heat for about 20 minutes. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call the burn and heat time, combined, about 3 hours. We still have to do three burns for anywhere close to 8 hours of heat (based on his original concept of 8 hours equaling a day).

5. Because he only counts a day as 8 hours of heat, you still have 16 hours unaccounted for. To truly heat for a day, you’d have to again triple your cost. This brings the cost of heating a tiny room up to somewhere between $1.44, and $2.16 for an actual full day. Now, I realize people are NOT going to try to use this to heat a home, but we have to calculate it in that manner in order to see how it compares with other heat forms. If you can heat an entire 3 bedroom house for about $200 a month, in SEVERE cold (yes, we did so in Wyoming – an 1800 sq foot home), then it works out to about $6.66 per day to heat the whole house. The room in the video was about 8X12 ft, so that works out to about $.36 per day to heat that space using gas or electric, for a full 24 hour time period. Here, in the south where we live now, it is half that amount. For any amount of real heating, the tealight heater is simply NOT economical. I point that out, because his main claim is that it is cheap heat. It is not. It is actually very expensive heat.

So is this little thing good for anything? Turns out, that when you take it for what it IS, and not for what it is NOT, it is actually good for something!

1. Spot heating. When you need a little extra heat in a single area, for a short period of time – this kind of heating is ALWAYS more costly than whole house heat, on a square foot basis. What makes it economical is being able to heat just a single small area rather than having to increase the heat throughout the house. I am using mine to rapid-cure silicone. In the summer, our silicone for our Fermenta Cap products cures in about 4-5 hours. In the winter, even with the heat on in the house, it can take 24 hours, sometimes more, to cure. This slows our production to the point of getting us seriously behind in order fulfillment. I can pour my silicone, light three tealights in the burner, and walk away – the heater is safe to leave unattended as long as there are no pets or children in the room (my heater is also safe ONLY because I have tested it and know it to be safe). The burner puts out just enough extra heat in that one small area, to cure my silicone within 4-6 hours. MUCH faster. That is worth 18 cents per day to me! If I need to leave the house, and the burner has only been lit a while, I can blow it out, and place the clay pots over the tops of the silicone molds, where the residual heat works on them, safely, while I’m gone. This has been a benefit to us, and a good method of heating this tiny area.

2. A cozy alternative to a fireplace. The warmth of an open flame just has more romantic appeal on a cold winter evening. A candle powered heater, and a warm mug of hot chocolate, and a good story to read with the family could make any evening special.

3. Emergency heat. It is likely that the heater would get hot enough on top to at least heat water, and in an emergency, a little heat is better than none. Because it is off-grid heat, all you need is to be sure you have SOME ventilation if you light more than one, and be sure you have matches on hand.

There are some safety issues if you decide to experiment with this type of heater. The issue with heat from the bottom is only one potential issue. Since this is an open flame, standard cautions regarding candles and fires apply.

1. When you have tealights concentrated together, they create more heat than a single candle. The wax in each tin will quickly reach the melting point all the way through, since you have a covering over the lights that make the candles heat up more. Liquid wax tends to wick out over the edges of the tin, so that whatever surface you have them on can become covered in a thin film of melted wax. Under the right (or wrong) conditions, this can be a fire hazard. Make sure that you have them in a fire proof dish or container, and that the bottom is insulated from heat build-up so it does not overheat the surface the assembly is sitting on.

2. The clay pots need to be placed over the candles, at a great enough height to avoid a flash fire on the surface of the candles. Since the wax becomes liquid fairly rapidly, a build-up of heat on the surface of the tealights can cause the entire surface to ignite – this only happens when there is sufficient heat to maintain the fire without needing a wick. If this happens, you’ll hear the sound of the flames (a quiet roaring), and black smoke will billow out of the hole in the pots, and around the edges. If wax has wicked out onto other surfaces (which often happens), it is a major fire hazard, PLUS it produces so much smoke that the smoke alone could be deadly. The fire is also very difficult to put out  – you’ll need to find a way to smother all of the candles at once or they’ll re-ignite. To avoid a surface flash fire, make sure the inner pot is at least 2″ above the surface of the candles. Depending on how you have your larger pot set up, it may need to be more. Also make sure that you have not closed off the sides around the candles in a way that concentrates heat back into the center of the candle group – give it a place to radiate OUT, as well as UP. Test the setup thoroughly before leaving it unattended, and test it again if you make any modifications, no matter how small. It is probable that the original setup with the tealights in a bread pan is also at risk for flash fires, and that what looks like a simple setup may not be so simple. Variations in the size or shape of the pan can make what is safe for one person, very unsafe for another. Test carefully, and be prepared to put out a surface fire if needed – a second bread pan to turn upside-down over the top of the first one would work well to put out the candles, or you could use a cooking pot, by using the flat bottom to smother the candles if they are in a different arrangement.

3. To generate additional heat, some people close the hole in the smaller pot. If you do so, make sure that whatever you use to close or block the hole can withstand very high heat. The greatest heat build-up is right at the top of that smallest pot, and it can be far hotter than you think.

4. Make sure you have hot mitts close by, in case you need to blow out the heater. You have to remove the pots – you’ll need a safe place to set them also. Think about this BEFORE you have to do it, and things go more smoothly.

5. Keep it away from kids and pets. This thing gets HOT on the surface. It is designed to trap and radiate heat, and it does just that. It will get blisteringly hot on the surface of those pots. If you don’t like such risks in your home, don’t use this kind of heater.

My conclusion is that the video circulating is inaccurate, and even somewhat careless in how it presents the options for this type of heater. But I also feel that it CAN be useful, if you understand what you are dealing with, and the actual potentials for use.

I will be assembling some of these, and testing various setups, so I can include a few in my emergency supplies. I think they CAN be a help in a power outage, and in some other unique situations.


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