Wednesday, December 20th 2023

Do Clay Pot Heaters Really Work?

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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Do Clay Pot Heaters Really Work?

The other day, I saw a post about clay pots in a local expat group. In Mexico, it’s rare to find a home with central heating. Let’s face it, in most Mexican states, it gets cold for about a month at the most, then it’s back to sunny skies!

However, those few weeks can get really cold. Many homes have colonial architecture that is meant to keep a home cool, but gets even colder in the winter. Lots of places lack warm blankets. Electric heaters are costly because electricity is expensive in Mexico. So you might be tempted by a solution like a terracotta pot heater.

In this article, we’ll explore the upside and downside of clay pot heaters. You’ll hear both sides of the argument and then you can decide for yourself whether or not to put one in your home. It’s important to remember that an open flame in any area is a fire hazard, and terra cotta pot heaters are no different.

The best thing you can do to protect your family and your property from a fire is to get home insurance. With our Smart Quote Tool—click here to access it—you will get a quote for insurance from a variety of different policies in less than a minute! One of them is sure to fit your budget.

What Is a Terra Cotta Heater?

Do Clay Pot Heaters Really Work?

Terracotta heaters are small do-it-yourself heaters. They’re made by taking simple clay pots—like what you’d find at your local garden store—and putting some tea candles underneath them.

One thing that’s necessary is to elevate them from the ground—or whatever surface you choose—so that air can flow through to feed the candles. Many designs involve two clay pots, a lid, or even hanging by a metal chain.

These have become so popular that now you can buy terracotta heaters online. Some look really classy, like mini adobe pizza ovens, and can sell for hundreds of dollars! However, for about $15 USD, you can make your own.

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How to Make a Clay Pot Heater

Do Clay Pot Heaters Really Work?

There are two basic ways to make a terracotta heater. The first is to stack a couple pots atop one another, with some space between them. Then elevate it by stacking that on some bricks or another surface, and finally putting the tea candles underneath. The second is to get a clay pot base and a clay pot and attach them to a screw rod, then hang it by a chain.

For an in-depth look at how to build both of these terracotta heaters, click here to read an article by HGTV. They recommend adding a screen to protect people from the open flame, as well as using beeswax tea candles because they’re safer, but we’ll cover that in a later section. Overall, they’re really easy to build yourself.

(Click here to watch a video on how to make a terracotta heater.)

The Case for a Clay Pot Heater

Do Clay Pot Heaters Really Work

In my research on the subject of clay pot heaters, the most scientific video I watched was by a Canadian man who built one just like they describe in the HGTV article. In the video, the host goes into detail about exactly how to build one.

In his experiment, he heated up a small bathroom, approximately 8’ x 9’ (about 2.4 m x 2.7 m). It seems like this is the maximum limit for what you want to try and heat. In other videos, it works very well heating up a small boat cabin, but a clay pot is insufficient even heat up a 15’ (5 m) RV cabin.

This Canadian man’s experiment was very scientific. He had a base temperature of 18°C (64°F), and over the course of three hours, he slowly managed to heat the room up to 20°C (68°F). Using a radiation thermometer—which is basically like a radar gun, but for heat—the terracotta pot itself got up to 71.1°C (160°F).

This man said that the 2° increase was noticeable, though it seems like a small increase on paper.

One thing to note is that all the people running experiments on terracotta pots—even the naysayers—agree that these terracotta pots are very good at drying the air in wet conditions and getting rid of condensation on windows.


The Case Against a Clay Pot Heater

Do Clay Pot Heaters Really Work

The main case against clay pot heaters is that it doesn’t amplify the heat in any way. That is to say, that the candle doesn’t get hotter because of the clay pot. This would violate the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy is never created or lost, it simply changes.

(Click here to watch a video where a clay pot myth-buster discusses this.)

So, the heat created by the candles is the same, whether or not there’s a pot above it. Theoretically, the heat created by the candles should heat up the room the same, with or without a terracotta pot.

However, proponents of the clay pot heaters would say that the clay pot absorbs the heat, helping it to radiate. The heat doesn’t just rise to the ceiling of the room, instead creates a way for heat to be trapped in the pot—which is convenient if a human being is in close proximity.

That said, this would mean that terracotta pots are just convenient for something like warming your hands, not for heating up a small room.

(If you’re interested in reading a huge rant against terracotta pot heaters, then click here. Trust me, this is the article for you.)

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Safety Concerns

Do Clay Pot Heaters Really Work

There are massive safety concerns when it comes to terracotta pot heaters. First of all, they have an open flame. People can get hurt and things can burn--even homes or other valuable objects. That’s why it’s so important to get home insurance, because accidents do happen. If an earthquake struck while one of these was going, you could lose your house or worse someone could be terribly injured.

(Protect your loved ones! Click here to get a quote on health insurance and home insurance policies in less than a minute.)

One man was very lucky to have survived a small fire in his yacht’s cabin. He had one of the hanging terracotta heaters. The terracotta pot literally erupted in flames—as you can see from the photo. It burned so hot that it melted the hook from which the clay pot was hanging, and the flaming terracotta pot heater fell to the cabin floor! He has since called the devices "totally and utterly lethal".

(Click here to hear the story in his own words.)

It seems that each tea candle releases about 30 – 40 watts of energy. So four tea candles would represent up to 160 watts of energy. Now, these tea candles are never supposed to be placed within 8 centimeters of each other. That’s because most of them are made with paraffin wax, which turns into a liquid when it gets hot. Then that hot, liquid paraffin wax can ignite if the candles are too closely spaced together—as they would be in a terracotta heater.

Even the HGTV article that I mentioned above recommended that these clay pot heaters are only for heating a room in an emergency situation, and they recommended using beeswax tea candles, not paraffin wax candles. If not, you might burn down your house.


Do Clay Pot Heaters Really Work

In the end, terracotta heaters may be more troublesome than they’re worth. When you factor in the poor results and the serious safety concerns, then you have to arrive at the conclusion that it simply isn’t a viable option for heating your space unless it’s an emergency and it is your only option.

Unfortunately, the clay pot heaters won’t do much to heat your space, but if you put a couple in a small bathroom, it might just be enough to save your life. Then again, a physicist would tell you that you can just burn those tea candles in that bathroom without the need for the clay pot.

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