Patio heaters are a great way to extend your home to the outdoor space. During the summer months the patio is a great place to enjoy evenings and time to relax with friends and family. Patio heaters allow you to extend the life of your outdoor space to 9 or even 12 months, depending on the location. It makes your backyard a functional space even in the coldest temperatures. It brings indoor comfort to an outdoor living space. Many of them are adaptable and can be used indoors also when necessary. Patio heaters can provide the opportunity to enjoy the heaters for gardening and swimming pool spaces for a greater length of time.
To find the best patio heaters 2020 you must first know the different benefits that each heating system has to offer and how they operate. The most common types of classifications are by power source and then a heater style.
Patio Heater Power Source Options
Only the most common options are listed (you might find also other types for special purposes):
- Propane – mobile, with a gas tank
- Natural gas – stationary, permanent connection
- Electric – efficient, easy to use, requires electricity
- Wood (Fire pits) – fun, but needs a lot of maintenance
PropaneThese systems are versatile and among the most economical to operate for the amount of heat that they produce. Many of them are designed to sit on a tabletop in the center of a patio or outdoor area and will direct heat to the surrounding area. Generally they produce enough warmed air to heat an extended area on which they are placed.
One of the best propane heater features is the mobility and independency on electricity or gas lines. A disadvantage is that a gas tank must be refilled from time to time. If you’re purchasing a propane gas patio heater, make sure to look at the gas tank size. Small tanks will need to be replaced more often, and larger heaters are less mobile.
For more details check our propane patio heater reviews of individual products.
Natural GasVery similar to propane type, just that they are stationary. To connect these heaters, a natural gas connection must be installed by a specialist (plumber). Of course, if you have such connection available then it’s a better choice than propane as you don’t need to worry about the refill. The only disadvantage is that you can’t move them around as easily as propane heaters.
ElectricThey can be used indoor or outdoor, such products are a green alternative, they are 100% energy efficient converting every bit of the input energy to heat. They also reduce environmental impact compared to other fuel types. Electric patio heaters are the easiest to use and provide the most results for their intended purpose because the heat they put out is not affected by wind or other weather conditions. Since most use a standard residential outlet, you can plug them in almost anywhere making electric outdoor heaters extremely low maintenance.
For more details check the electric patio heater reviews of individual products.
Wood“To poke a wood fire is more solid enjoyment than almost anything else in the world.” ~Charles Dudley Warner.
This is a special category of fire pits. They offer the most fun and entertainment and even an inexpensive fire pit can provide an opportunity to cook up some food. Keep in mind that fire pits must be constructed of a masonry material as wood can easily catch on fire and other patio materials are at risk of melting. Also even the best fire pits produce smoke, mess and require a lot of cleaning and maintenance.
The best wood for fire pit is seasoned firewood. That means it was left out to dry for an extended period of time. Avoid wet wood because it is more difficult to burn and produces less heat.
- Table Top – very decorative and ornamental, they could come in different materials and styles, vary from looking like miniature floor heaters to traditional lamps, they’re sometimes referred to as outdoor heating lamps.
- Wall Mountable – suitable where is lacking space, they mount onto the side of your home or ceiling and provide heating to large area of your patio.
- Free Standing – provide a great and flexible heating alternative to wall mounted heating units, they come in various styles, materials.
- Tower – don’t take much space, easy to fit with the décor but always you have to consider the stability. The anti-tilt system has to be reliable. The fire type gives out less heat than traditional ones but they are more appealing to watch.
- Flush Mount – these infrared heaters provide built-in heating solutions to both indoor and outdoor spaces. They come in a variety of color options to coordinate with the surrounding environment and aesthetic.
- Floor Lamp – they cannot warm a big area but they are a good choice for a small and cozy place, easy to move, this type of outdoor heater comes disguised as a handsome floor lamp.
Residential vs. Commercial
Some products could also be labeled based on their targetted usage as residential or commercial. Residential patio heaters are typically mobile and portable and can be used when and where needed. While commercial patio heaters are suitable for full outdoor and indoor heating ranging from large restaurants and cafes to warehouses and nightclubs or bars. These products are usually more durable and require dedicated suppliers and licensed professionals for installation and maintenance.
Natural Gas and Propane
The heating power of gas patio heaters is usually described in BTU’s per hour. It stands for the British Thermal Unit, which is a traditional unit of work equal to about 1055 joules. It is the amount of work required to increase the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. For example one wooden kitchen match consumed completely generates approximately 1 BTU.
Typical mushroom patio heaters produce heat of 40,000 – 60,000 BTU/h. Smaller and mobile versions then reduce it to 4,000 – 20,000 BTU/h. It is generally better to choose rather bigger values than needed and control (decrease) the heating power with a thermostat. But if you need to move the heater more often than smaller dimensions and power are more convenient.
Do not forget that in case of propane patio heaters bigger heating power means you will have to change a gas tank more often (or get a large one). The most common gas tanks for mushroom patio heaters are 20 lb of Liquid Propane gas. With 50,000 BTU/h power the consumption rate is around 10 hours using a full 20 lb tank.
The power ratings of electric appliances are measured in kW, so you can use this value to estimate the power and cost of operation per hour (energy is billed in kWh). Unlike with gas heaters, you can accurately predict, calculate and control the cost if you want to.
If you would like to compare the power of gas and electric patio heaters, then use the following formula:
1 BTU/hr = 0.29307107 W
Based on this you could for example calculate that an equivalent of 40,000 BTU/hr is 11,722 W (40000 x 0.29307107).
There are features that you should check if they are provided:
- Piezo ignition
- Automatic Shutoff
- Tilt-Over Protection
- Cool-Touch Glass
With an electric ignition system you can light up a natural gas or propane heater with just a push of a button.
Automatically shuts down if a pilot light goes out, or if it detects low oxygen levels.
Shut-off tilt valve that turns the heater off automatically if it gets tipped over.
Cool-Touch Fire Glass
Clear fire glass covers the burner and adds a touch of elegance. Being cool-touch prevents from getting burned.
Base with Reservoir
Due to the shape of mushroom heaters, they can top over in heave winds. Therefore a heavy base is a must. This, however, decreases a mobility and transport of the heater. This can be resolved by having a base with reservoir system, which can easily be filled with either water or sand, creating a low, heavy, and steady base weight for secure placement and enhanced stability. And then just empty it when needed.
An alternative solution, common for natural gas heaters, is to have ground fixtures.
Wheels make a patio heater easy to move and maneuver. This is convenient when you would like to move it in or out of the storage, so it does not take space in a garden when not needed. Especially with propane outdoor heaters which do not require any permanent connection to a gas line, you might want to move them often from one side of the deck to the other as needed. It is desirable to have heavy duty wheels to take on wild terrains of rough patios.
- Below 40 degrees, setup at maximum, you need to stand close to and it will only warm up your head if it’s a mushroom type. Good for short breaks outside.
- 40-50 degrees – setup at maximum, you can have a light jacket and it keeps your upper body warm while standing close.
- 50-55 degrees – setup at medium you can comfortable sit down right underneath and keeping you warm (it’s about 3 feet from the heat source sitting down).
- 55-60 degrees – setup at low, you don’t need a jacket, probably long sleeve (4-6 foot range, no wind).
- Over 65-70 degrees – setup at low, easily wear short sleeve (comfy at 6-8 foot).
An average heating area (defined by a manufacturer) is usually based on relatively low humidity environments, with temperatures between 55-70 degrees, and very little. With greater wind the heating effect is significantly decreased. If your location is windy then you may want to consider putting up a wind break.
The heater spacing will depend on the level of protection of the area to be heated. For colder and high wind areas you will need more heaters, placed closer together.
Any patio heater is not designed to keep you warm if it is below 40 degrees outside. It’s really for keeping your warm during those cool summer nights or warm cold days but not supposed to keep you warm in the middle of winter. Before deciding what type of heater you want, you have to consider the following: propane and natural gas heaters are for outdoor use only. Some electric heaters can be used in semi-outdoor spaces like covered porches. Outdoor heaters should sit on completely level surfaces that can hold their weight.
Always consider the safety measures, check for the safety approvals (e.g. CSA approval, ETL) and do not hang any inflammable material on or close to the heater. Don’t place them in a windy area. The two major health risks from heaters are open fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. The latter risk applies only to gas powered, not electric heaters or power pits. The risk of fire from heaters may be minimized by low surface temperatures, or by safety switches that cut power in the event of the device being tipped over (Tilt-over protection) or by thermal cut-out circuit breakers. Also the surface temperatures of the heaters can be considerable. Therefore it is desirable to mount them high on walls or ceilings, away from the reach of children.
Price is an important factor when making a decision which product to choose. Patio heaters for personal use start already at $50 for smaller mobile version and $100 for bigger ones. Commercial patio heaters sell from $200 and higher.
Do not choose the cheapest product available as those are usually not reliable and tend to brake when used more often. Always check the patio heaters reviews and ratings before buying.
If your budget is higher then try to consider buying rather multiple cheaper patio heaters than a single powerful and expensive one. This way you can install them in several locations and move them close to each other as needed based on the outdoor temperatures and amount of people. If one breaks then you at least have some backup rather than to loose the only heater available.
To have an idea about the price of the best rated patio heater of each type (propane, natural gas, electric, fire pit), you can check the links below:
AccessoriesThe gas heaters usually come with LPG (propane) regulator and pre-attached flexible hose already included. Sometimes even with a weatherproof head and element cover for storage. And if not, then you should definitely consider buying a proper cover separately to extend your patio heater’s lifetime and keep it in good condition.
Find out how much of assembly has to be done before you buy (ideally from experience of other customers). It might take a significant amount of time. But if the product is good and includes clear instructions, then you can expect to spend just around 1 – 2 hours with an assembly.
Electric outdoor heaters are much easier to use and some even come with a remote control. Adjustable flames for the propane or natural gas can allow you to adapt them to your needs. The length of warranty is also very important, the best outdoor heaters will have long warranty, meaning the quality materials are used so you can rely on durability and endurance.
By now you should have enough information to know how an outdoor patio heater benefits you personally or your business and how it works. You should also be confident to select the best patio heater product for your needs. You might want to read our outdoor patio heater reviews about individual products or just head straight to Amazon using the links below.
After you buy a patio heater read the manufacturer’s manual carefully. Learn how to assemble the heater properly and how to operate it safely with maximum efficiency.