I have propane for my hot water heater, but I would like to avoid using it if possible. I will be looking at a solar hot water heater in the future and if that works out I could eliminate the need for propane except for cooking. After reading the article on this alcohol stove I think that’s the ticket to eliminate the use of propane for cooking.
Alcohol fuel has the benefit of clean burning and being renewable. It is also possible to distill your own should it become scarce. You will never be able to make your own propane. Alcohol is not under pressure and a leak wont blow up your house. Alcohol does not produce carbon monoxide that will kill you like propane (big plus). The downside is that alcohol packs less of a punch (BTU’s) compared to propane and is a bit more expensive.
Storage life of alcohol is on par with propane except you don’t need special pressure vessel. Stored in sealed 1 gallon metal cans the shelf life is many years and you can store as much or as little as you like. The limit to propane is about 500 gallons as the tanks get pretty large and expensive.
As an experiment I bought a Origo Heat Pal 5000 off eBay for about $70. This unit contains the same single alcohol burner that is used in all Origo stoves/ovens. I wanted to get a sense of how well they work and how much performance will be sacrificed to go alcohol.
The unit arrived undamaged which is not surprising since the design is really really simple. There is a heat shield on top to prevent accidentaly dropping something directly on to the burner when using the device as a heater.
Removing the heat shield reveals a typical cook top suitable for heating a pot of something. I’m not sure a standard frying pan would fit as the walls around the burner are very high. Removing the burner reveals the heart of the stove which is a stainless steel canister that holds the alcohol fuel. This canister is packed with a fiber of some kind that absorbs the fuel. You can actually turn the canister upside down and no fuel leaks out.
I filled the stove with denatured alcohol from home depot and fired the unit up. Using a long butane lighter I stuck it thru holes in the cook top and it lit right up. Heat is controlled with a simple and ingenious mechanism that slides a plate over the top of the alcohol canister partially or fully obscuring it (which extinguished the flame).
I placed a pot of water that was a double helping of oatmeal to see how long it would take to boil. About 8 minutes later I had a pot of violently boiling water. I would say that this was about 20-30% longer than the small gas powerd hotplate that I currently use.
The heat pal is designed to be used as a small heater. I ran it for about 2 hours one morning to take the morning chill off the cabin after the stove burned down. Typically the cabin would be about 50 degrees by morning. The morning I tried the Heatpal it stayed above 60. Its not going to replace your wood stove but does make a nice little space heater.
The origo cook tops provide adequate heat for most cooking you just need to be a little patient. I have zero issues leaving one running overnight as a heat source. I like the fact that the fuel is renewable and very safe. I also like the fact that I can store as much fuel as I like without the expense of a tank (unlike propane).
I will be looking for an Origo 6000 cooktop/oven combo to outfit my bodega with. If you know anyone with a used one, drop me a line.
Note: It looks like the HeatPal 5000 has been replaced with the HeatPal 5100. Looks to be a similar design and I would expect similar performance. eBay is probably your best bet if you want a HeatPal 5000.