Patio Heater Buying Guide I Portable

Read this Patio Heater Buying Guide to learn everything you need to know to purchase the right patio heater for your home or business. Gas and electric are the most common types of patio heaters with gas being the more popular of the two. This page will give you a complete understanding on fuel types, materials, and answer frequently asked questions.

Table of Contents

  1. How do Patio Heaters Work
  2. Types of Fuel Patio Heaters Use
  3. Types of Patio Heaters
  4. Determining What Size Patio Heater You Need
  5. Reflector Size and Shape
  6. Patio Heater Weight
  7. Materials
  8. What Type of Warranty to Look For
  9. How Many BTU’s Do I Need for My Patio Heater
  10. How Many Watts Do I Need for My Patio Heater
  11. Safety Features to Look For
  12. Patio Heater Assembly
  13. What About Maintenance and Cleaning

1. How do Patio Heaters Work

Patio heaters are heat sources that are designed for outdoor spaces like a deck, terrace, balcony, or veranda. These heaters provide warmth by converting gas or electricity into heat and directed it towards a desired area.

Patio heaters differ from space heaters in that they do not use fans to “push” air in a certain direction. Instead, they utilize what’s called a reflector. The size of the reflector determines how concentrated the heat is directed. (More on this later.)

Patio heaters use radiant heat, a type of energy that heats physical objects as opposed to air molecules. As you might guess, this is much more efficient in outdoor areas where wind can easily blow away your precious hot air and leave you out in the cold.

Radiant heat is the same way that the sun heats your skin (minus the harmful UV rays). Ever look through night vision goggles? Well what you’re looking at is radiant heat emanating from physical objects. If you’re confused, you can read this article to learn more about radiant heat and infrared technology.

Hanging Halogen Patio Heater provides heat while remaining a stylistic accent to your outdoor living area.

2. Types of Fuel Patio Heaters Use

Propane Patio Heaters

Propane patio heaters are the most popular type of outdoor heater. You’ve probably seen them on decks at upscale commercial venues. Propane is readily available at local hardware stores and convenience locations like 7-Eleven. Propane patio heaters offer several benefits:

  • They are mobile; don’t have to be anchored near an electrical outlet.
  • Have a higher heating capacity than electric patio heaters.
  • Do not require professional installation. Simply replace or refill the old propane tank.
  • Most have a dial that you can adjust to crank up the heat.

Electric Patio Heaters

Electric patio heaters are a modern outdoor heating solution that has fared well in recent years. They use a bulb that is similar to a heat lamp to provide warmth to your outdoor space. Electric patio heaters offer several benefits:

  • Unlike propane and natural gas, electric patio heaters can be used in partially enclosed areas.
  • Produce Zero Emissions meaning they are safe for the environment. The choice for Green Activists!
  • Electric heaters are economical. They cost less to use than propane heaters.
  • There is no need to refill a propane tank. Simply plug and play.
  • Can be plugged in at different locations but must be within distance of a standard 120V outlet.

Note: Never use extension cords on patio heaters. Learn why here.

Natural Gas Patio Heaters

Patio heaters that use natural gas are much less common and are typically only seen in commercial establishments or luxury estates. They require professional installation (don’t try this on your own) so the initial cost shadows that of propane or electric patio heater.

  • Provides the lowest operating cost.
  • No need to refill propane tanks. Natural gas heaters are connected to your homes gas lines.
  • Stationary patio heaters. Once installed, you cannot remove them.

Note: Natural gas patio heaters require professional installment. Since they are permanent fixtures, they will cost more to repair and/or replace in case of equipment failure.

3. Types of Patio Heaters

Ceiling Ceiling patio heaters can be mounted to a pergola with an open top. Use caution when selecting a location for your ceiling heater. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions included in your owner’s manual.

Wall Mount – These units can be installed or attached to exterior walls. They direct heat in a single direction and can be an effective means of saving floor space. Heating capacity of 3,000 BTU’s.

Tabletop – Placed on top of tables. Typically smaller and producing around 12,000 BTU’s.

Free-Standing Outdoor Heaters – Freestanding patio heaters offer the highest heat output. Most free standing patio heaters having a heating capacity of 40,000 BTU’s. To put this in perspective, this is enough to heat a small house!

Spot Heaters – These heaters are designed to direct heat in a single direction. This works well in small arrangements or areas where you have flammable materials in the surrounding area. Spot heaters are typically powered by electricity and are very effective.

4. Determining What Size Patio Heater You Need

Take the square footage of the area you would like to heat and multiply that number by how many degrees Fahrenheit you would like to increase the temperature. This will give you an idea of the size of patio heater your backyard or outdoor establishment requires.

Depending on individual heating capacity, warmth from patio heaters will transmit with a range a diameter of 6ft-20ft. You can find a formula for calculating BTU’s for your patio heater by reading below.

35″ Watt Indoor & Outdoor Infrared Heater

5. Reflector Size and Shape

The reflector, or dispenser, is the large circular item that almost appears as a hat on the top of your heater. The reflector directs heat to the surrounding area. Larger dispensers are preferred as they disperse heat to a wider area. Although they offer a look of sophistication, square shaped reflectors do not serve a functional purpose and can actually detract from heating capabilities.

6. Patio Heater Weight

Weight can be a good indicator of material quality and overall craftsmanship. Lightweight heaters (40 lbs) are often composed of questionable parts and will not last as long as heavier patio heaters (120 lbs tankless). A lightweight heater will also be more susceptible to falling over and becoming damaged during strong wind gusts.

7. Materials

Generally speaking, outdoor patio heaters are made with stainless steel exterior surfaces. Stainless steel fares well against outdoor elements and it’s easy to clean. The finish can come in a variety of colors including regular stainless steel, black, copper, green, white, and gold.

8. What Type of Warranty to Look For

Warranties vary vastly by manufacturer. That’s why we always recommend sticking with reliable brands. When your heater requires warranty replacement, you contact the manufacturer and not the retailer whom you purchased the item from. This is why it’s important to consider the standing of the manufacturer.

Warranties range from nearly non-existent 30 Day Warranties to comprehensive 5 year warranty. 1 Year is the standard for outdoor patio heaters.

9. How Many BTU’s Do I Need For My Patio Heater

Square Footage X (Current Temperature – Desired Temperature) = BTU’s Required

What are BTUs? – To learn more about BTU’s and heating efficiency, we have these resources that you can refer to:

  1. Understanding BTU Reading – The Simplified Version
  2. Determining How many BTU’s Your Home Needs

10. How Many Watts Do I Need for My Patio Heater

You can estimate the required wattage to heat your outdoor space by using the following formula:

Wattage/100 =Heat Radius provided

11. Safety Features to Look For

Automatic Shut-Off Valve – Turns off your heater if it reaches a certain temperature. This prevents malfunctions and serious fire hazards.

Anti-Tilt Switch – Heater will turn off it is knocked over.

Safety Approvals – Reliable heating devices are approved for use by independent industry organizations. Choose patio heaters that are UL Approved and/or CSA-tested. These products undergo testing to verify their safety.

12. Patio Heater Assembly

Assembling a patio heater is fairly straight forward. If you have some experience swinging a hammer or driving in a screw, you’ll be fine. You can follow the instructions provided in your owner’s manual for step by step details.

Most patio heaters require 2 people for assembly being that they are so heavy. Many times, all you’ll need is a screwdriver, crescent wrench, and an open wrench for nuts and bolts.

13. What About Cleaning and Maintenance?

Cleaning your patio heater is simple and easy. You might need a step ladder but that’s the hardest part! Simply clean with mild soap, warm water, and a damp cloth. Be careful not to use abrasive surfaces or cleaners that could damage the finish of your patio heater. Check your owner’s manual for specific details on your unit’s requirements.

Aside from a simple wipe down, the only thing you have to do is replace your propane tank (if applicable) and store away in the winter to maximize the lifetime of your patio heater.

Patio Heaters Frequently Asked Questions

1. How much gas do patio heaters use and what does it cost to run?

Under normal circumstances, a propane tank will last 16 hours or between 2-4 weeks depending on frequency of use. Using these metrics, it will cost you between $16 and $32 dollars per month.

Natural Gas Heating Cost – $0.476 per hour
Electric Patio Heaters – $1.316 per hour
Propane Patio Heaters – $1.60
*These calculations are made based on a standard 40,000 BTU unit of the given fuel type.

2. Where do I get gas for my patio heater?

Propane tanks can be refilled at many locations. You can find replacement tanks at local hardware stores like Home Depot, Lowes, and Menards. You can also find self-serve locations at places that provide water jug refills like 7-Eleven.

3. Can I leave it outside year round?

Although patio heaters are made of all-weather materials, the term does have its limitations. Just as with outdoor patio furniture, it’s best to store patio heaters in the winter or during extended periods without use. You can invest in a patio heater cover for best results.

4. What happens if my patio heater gets knocked over?

Most new models come with an anti-tilt feature that will automatically shut off your heater if it reaches a predetermined angle. This prevents burn injuries and/or potential fire hazards. Refer to the Safety Features listed above.

5. Can patio heaters be used indoors?

Gas patio heaters should never be used in enclosed areas including but not limited to garages and outdoor structures with closed tops. However, patio heaters are okay under awning or overhangs that allow hot air to escape. The point is you don’t want gases building up or surfaces becoming too hot.

6. How far does my patio heater have to be from the wall?

Most manufacturers provide guidance on proximity to walls. Follow instructions on your individual unit when determining how far you have to place your patio heater from walls. Avoid placing your patio heater in areas that experience high winds, near low-hanging branches, or on uneven surfaces.

Patio heaters with heating capacity of 30,000-50,000 BTU’s require at least 30 inches of clearance in all directions. Make accommodations of 24” for smaller patio heaters emitting 10,000-30,000 BTU’s.

7. Are patio heaters safe for children?

Patio heater are safe for children as long as proper supervision is present. Similar to outdoor grilling and fire pit safety, children should always be monitored around the units. Never leave a child unsupervised around a patio heater.

About the Author
Megan Meyer is an interior design consultant focusing on crisp modern interiors with a tinge of retro styling. She offers design and consulting services for residential and commercial spaces. Follow her for fool proof design tips for everyday homeowners.