If you look at any of the posts about dealing with the winters in Ishikawa, you’ve probably noticed that kerosene heaters get a lot of recommendations.
And then you probably thought, “How the hell do I use one of those [without accidentally killing myself]?”
I have to admit that, while I’m not new to living in regions with bitter winters, I am new at this whole “no-insulation, no-central air” thing. However, I think if we can get the comments rolling on this post, especially from you old hands, we could make a nice little English-language guide for using kerosene heaters.
Click here for a basic guide on buying and using your kerosene heater.
I live in a large, “well ventilated” (read: drafty and full of windows) apartment. Everyone suggested that I get a kerosene heater for the winter for the sake of cost and efficiency, and so I bought a Dainichi-brand “Blue Heater” kerosene fan-heater at Komeri, our local home goods store. I’ll admit I don’t know much about brands of heaters, but this one was rather inexpensive at 9,000 yen ($100). It’s fairly no-frills: it includes a timer you can set to turn on or off, a clock, a child lock, and some chimes to beep at you if you’re running low on fuel or if you’ve heated the room sufficiently. It heats a 12-mat room (１２畳 12-jou), which was marked on the information tag in the store. It requires 40 seconds （４０秒 40-byou） to get fired up, and it gets toasty quickly.*
So, you’ve got your heater. Now what? Take it out of the box. (Save the instructions and the warranty!). The instruction manual is probably going to be all in Japanese. It might be a good idea to have a bilingual friend or a coworker explain how to all the functions the first time, but here’s a really general guide to filling and using the heater safely.
Step One: Obtain kerosene.
First: You need kerosene. NOT GASOLINE. Do not use gasoline. Ever.
Also, never use kerosene that is older than three months. You cannot use the kerosene from last winter: it can ruin your heater and start a fire. Ask the clerk at the place where you buy kerosene (see below) to dispose of old kerosene before your first fill-up.
Kerosene is called 灯油 (touyu) in Japanese. You can buy it at gas stations or at Komeri and other home-goods/home-improvement stores. If you don’t have one already, you’ll need to buy a kerosene storage container. The plastic containers look like this and come in blue (red is for gasoline).
You’ll also need a siphon pump to get the kerosene from the jug to the heater’s tank. At the store, these should be near the jugs. You’ll want to get bucket or some small open container in which to store the siphon after use.
Before you check out at the store, tell the cashier you’d like to buy some kerosene (pointing to the jug helps). (Something like, 「すみません、灯油も買いたいですが。」Sumimasen, touyu mo kaitai desu ga. Excuse me, but I’d also like to buy some kerosene.) At my store, you tell them how much you want to buy (I got the full 18L jug’s worth) and you pay at the register. A clerk took me back to into the home-improvement side of the store and out to the kerosene fill-up station, where an attendant filled up the container. The price-per-liter is usually marked on gas station signs and outside stores that sell it–it’s usually about 60-70 yen for a liter.
Step Two: Store your kerosene.
After you take your kerosene home, do not store it outside. Ideally, you would store it in a well ventilated storage closet, away from the elements and out of your apartment. My apartment storage lockers are sealed pretty tight, so I just keep mine in the entry-way.
Step Three: Filling the tank
My heater has a removable kerosene tank. Before you try to fill or refill the tank, make sure the heater is off and that it’s cooled down from the last time you used it. On the bottom of the 5-liter tank is a screw cap which fits into the tank and releases the kerosene, but only when it fits together with that part of the heater. Remove the tank and take it outside with jug of kerosene, some rags or paper towels, the bucket, and the siphon pump. Yeah, it’s cold outside, but you don’t want to breathe in those fumes in a closed room or, worse, spill kerosene on your kitchen floor.
I recommend watching this video for how to fill the tank. It has some other good information, too, and it’s in English!
Basically, you’re going to unscrew the lid of the kerosene jug and the lid of the tank. Place the siphon in the jug and the drainage in the tank, squeeze and pump. Have the bucket and paper towels/rags ready. My tank has a fill indicator on the outside, so look for yours before your pump. BEFORE you hit the top of the fill line, pull the siphon upward, release the bulb if you haven’t already, and let the contents drain into the tank. Carefully remove the siphon from the containers and set it in the bucket with a towel to soak up the extra kerosene. Reseal the jug of kerosene and carefully store it and the siphon. Screw the cap back on the tank. Mine has a carrying handle on the opposite side, so flip it over and go back indoors. The valve can’t release without the part in the heater, so if the lid’s on tight, you’re good to go.
Step 4: Safety First
Safety tips from The Alien Times from Tsukuba, Ibaraki-ken.
Get a carbon monoxide detector (sankatanso kenchiki, 酸化炭素検知器), just in case. These are available at any home-goods store for about 6000-7000 yen. It’s worth the peace of mind, trust me.
Set the tank inside the heater so that the cap fits into the proper place. Give it a minute or two to fill with kerosene before you try to start the heater.
Now, where’s your heater sitting? Directions may vary, but my heater’s manual says to give it one meter of space above, one meter of space in front of the fan, and 2 cms on either side and in the back. You can put it on tatami, but the manual recommends getting a heater-mat to protect your tatami from discoloration and heat damage.
Do not set the heater underneath your laundry rack to dry your clothes. If you’re going to use a kerosene heater to help dry your clothes, get a movable clothing rack, and set it at least a meter away from the heater. If you don’t have enough space to have the clothing rack and the heater in the same room, don’t worry. If the air is warm and the heater is creating an air current from an adjoining room, your clothes will dry, just not as fast.
Kerosene produces smalls amounts of unpleasant waste gases like carbon monoxide, so you need to have your room well ventilated. Those little sliding windows on your regular windows are perfect for this. Open those or crack the windows at least an inch to let in more oxygen and keep the air flowing. At least one window should be nearby the heater. Or, open a bigger window at least once an hour.
Step 5: Turn it on
The “on-off button” should be similar to your laundry machine or dehumidifer’s button (入 [on] and 切 [off]).
Childlock: チャイルドロック (chairudo rokku)
Timer: タイマ (taima)
Change display: 表示切換 (hyouji kirikae) (to current time, set timer, etc.)
Extend operation: 運転延長 (untenenchou)–if your heater plays music to let you know when it’s heated the room to the desired temperature, you can press this button to keep the heater on.
Odor elimination: 消臭 (shoushuu)
Temperature: 温度 (ondo)
My display also shows the current room temperature on the right and the goal temperature on the left. To increase or decrease the ideal temperature, use the + – buttons.
Regarding fuel levels:
Advanced notice (low fuel): 予告 (yokoku)
Supply of oil: 給油 (kyuuyu)
My heater plays a song and the 予告 button lights up when I am running low on fuel.
E01: The machine senses it is being moved and shut off. This is a safety measure in case of earthquakes or being knocked over. Wait a minute and turn it on again.
E02: Problem with the oil filter. Water or debris may be blocking filter and preventing the machine from firing. It’s automatically turning itself off. The manual suggests removing the blockage from the tank or filter. If there is no blockage or water, have a professional look at it.
E03: There is a problem with vaporization or combustion of the fuel–the filter or flame detector might be broken.
Step 6: More safety
Did you know that you’re supposed to clean parts of your kerosene heater weekly/monthly to keep the heater in proper working order?
Do not leave the heater on if you are not home or are asleep. Kerosene heaters heat up fast, so you should be able to dash into your apartment, turn it on, and be nice and warm in a few minutes. However, you can set a timer to turn on the heater before you wake up or before you get home. I don’t recommend this for chronic snooze-button hitters or for people who don’t always go straight home from work. However, some heaters are made to turn off after about three hours, and some you can set to turn off at a certain time or temperature.
Sleeping with a kerosene heater on is not only a fire hazard, but a potential carbon-monoxide hazard. DO NOT SLEEP WITH A KEROSENE HEATER ON. If you need to have heat while you sleep, use an electric blanket or your air-conditioning unit (heater setting). If you prefer to save money, close off the bedroom and heat it before bed with a space heater and heat the futon with an electric blanket. Turn both off before bed; set a timer on the space heater for before you wake up. Also, use a hot-water bottle (after the electric blanket is off!).
Finally, in my search for information, I encountered a website warning users not to sit on the heater. Even if the top doesn’t get hot, the metal is easily dented.
Have a safe and warm winter!
Leah Zoller is a first-year CIR in Anamizu and can’t smell the kerosene scent anymore. Thanks to PA Bill Smith for additional suggestions (10 Nov. 2010).
*This article has good information on using the older type of kerosene heater, which may have been left to you by a mythic predecessor. While this author has very good information on heating your home in winter, neither I nor Ishikawa AJET is affiliated with or responsible for his homepage or the religious/political views contained within.