Do Patio Heaters Really Work?

Whether you want to grill year-round or you cherish your daily cup of tea on the deck, a good patio heater can be the deciding factor between a Siberian climate and serene. But, you’re skeptical. “Do patio heaters really work?” We’re here to tell you that they do. How they work, however, depends on the different types and sizes available to you.

Patio Heater Close Up

Photography by Alan Wu

How Patio Heaters Work?

Patio heaters either burn a fuel such as propane or natural gas, or they heat using electricity. Whatever the source, patio heaters emit radiant heat. Instead of blowing hot air that will dissipate into the space between you and the heater, like space heaters do, radiant heat travels through the air to keep you toasty and warm.

  1. Radiant heating = heating objects
  2. Forced air heating = heating air molecules

Often, patio heaters will show in their specifications their coverage (in square feet) and their BTUs. The size of the heater you need will depend on how big an area you’re trying to heat, and how much you’re trying to raise the temperature.

For example, an area of 10 square feet that you want to raise from 60 degrees to 70 degrees up to eight feet from the ground will need 800 cubic feet times 10 degrees, or 8,000 BTUs. An area of 20 square feet would need 64,000 BTUs to raise the temperature from 50 degrees to 70.

Also, if the location you would like to place your heater has wind greater than 15 miles an hour, we recommend that some form of wind protection be used to reduce the cooling effect of the wind.

Read: Determining How Many BTUs Your Home Needs

Types of Patio Heaters


Propane heaters are the king of outdoor heaters. More than half of outdoor appliances use propane. They can be set up pretty much everywhere since they don’t need any installation.

  1. Upside: they have a higher heating capacity than electric heaters.
  2. Downside: propane costs the most comparatively.


Electric heaters will cost of use lies somewhere between propane and natural gas. They have zero emissions and operate efficiently. You’ll never need to refill them, since they only require an outlet.

Natural Gas

Natural gas heaters are the cheapest of the bunch. Once they’re installed, you won’t have to worry about them since they’ll have a constant supply of fuel. However, like with all natural gas appliances, you need to get them professionally plumbed and installed, so the initial cost is more than than a propane or electric heater. They’re permanent fixtures and can’t be removed. View all Patio Heaters

What Sizes are Available?

Patio heaters come in different shapes and sizes. The most common one, the heaters you see on the patio of your favorite restaurant, is the full-size freestanding unit. There are also table-top heaters, wall heaters and hanging heaters. If you’re looking to keep yourself warm on a brisk evening, a residential heater may suffice. If you’re looking to frequently entertain outdoors, a more powerful commercial heater may be a better choice.

Are Patio Heaters Safe?

Patio heaters have safety features built in to protect your family, such as a tilt shut-off valve. As with anything that emits heat, be sure to read the manual before installing to make sure you provide enough clearance on all sides of the heater from combustible materials.

For a more in-depth look at every component of a patio heater, read our Patio Heater Buying Guide.

Patio Heater Buyers Guide

The Patio Heater Buyers Guide by

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